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ART REVIEWS : Finding a Space Between Mind and Matter : Joseph Kosuth's new work at Margo Leavin Gallery is not sterile or academic; in fact, it's so serious it's funny.

October 28, 1993|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For those who would continue to critique conceptual art as unrelievedly sterile and academic, Joseph Kosuth's new work at Margo Leavin Gallery--so serious it's funny, and so funny it's surprising--offers a counterproposition.

Formalist scrutiny is, in any case, superfluous to Kosuth's ongoing project. For the past 25 years, he has pursued a notion of art that disdains the caprices of taste. For Kosuth, art is not an insular object contained within the space of aesthetics, but a proposition--an inquiry and/or an investigation into its own nature. Art envisions the artist's struggle to make meaning in a particular context, and insists the viewer engage with the productive process. Kosuth's current work, though more aggressively physical than in the past, follows apace.

Circling the gallery walls, freshly painted a light-absorptive black, are 20 pairs of laminated glass panels, lit from behind by white neon tubing. One panel of each pair is silk-screened with quotes from St. Augustine, Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt and so on. The other is silk-screened with newspaper and magazine cartoons: Calvin and Hobbes' meditation on post-auratic art; Blondie's treatise on metaphoricity; the Wizard of Id's comment on paradigm shifts--or at least that's how the cartoons read when they don't read, simply, as cartoons.

Kosuth sets up a dialectic between the displaced cartoons and the appropriated texts. Their relationship is continually oscillating. Sometimes there are direct connections; sometimes connections hang by a thread; and sometimes it is the movement through the space that renders meaning out of what initially appears oblique. Here, then, the internal logic of the comic strip is recapitulated; meaning is shaped most profoundly not by what is put forward in the panels, but by the narrow space that lies in-between.

This is not to say that Kosuth proposes the cartoon as a model for an art that incorporates language. It is, rather, that he wishes to stress what philosopher Georg Lichtenberg notes in one of the quoted texts: " . . . speaking, no matter what, is itself a philosophy." Implicit in this statement is the kind of generosity that has long structured Kosuth's work, though it is visible in this context to a degree that is, for him, unprecedented.

\o7 * Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., (310) 273-0603, through Dec. 18. Closed Sunday and Monday.\f7

Microscopic Motors: As the first exhibition in its newly expanded space, the Museum of Jurassic Technology presents "Nanotechnology: Machines in the Microscopic Realm," a collection of mechanical contrivances with motors so infinitesimally tiny their springs measure one-hundredth of the diameter of the period at the end of this sentence.

It is impossible to view these objects with the naked eye. What could be more perfect for a museum whose name is only the first of a dazzling series of oxymorons, non sequiturs and conceits to follow? Where better to encounter all but invisible objects than in a museum that is, in fact, not a museum, but a conceptual artwork, multimedia assemblage and Dada pun?

Before anything else, the museum is a wicked simulacrum of a natural history museum, complete with dusty artifacts, verbose wall texts, obscurantist slide shows and obsessive dioramas. What makes the simulacrum so wicked is its proximity to its model. You don't quite believe in "purification by sublimation" or "symbiotic auditory phytomimesis," but the trappings nearly suck you in. Perhaps that's the point--to get you to consider the question of authenticity other museums repress.

In this context, the exhibition of micromachines is anxiety-provoking: How likely is it that an electrostatic micromotor is actually tucked into the eye of the needle displayed under glass? Looking at the remarkable images that line the walls, produced via scanning electron photo-microscopy, and through the dozen microscopes arranged in the center of the room finally convinces you. That under intense magnification the minuscule motors conjure Francis Picabia's absurdist machine drawings or Kasimir Malevich's abstractions is the final irony. It's impossible to escape art, even in a museum consecrated to the task.

\o7 * Museum of Jurassic Technology, 9341 Venice Blvd., (310) 836-6131, through Jan. 15. Open Thursday-Sunday.\f7

Being and Becoming: Your garden-variety geranium plant--plucked so as to resemble a botched bonsai tree with a few delinquent leaves--provides the key to Richard Hawkins' installation at Richard Telles Fine Art, "into the heart of china."

Hawkins is interested in fumbled exoticism, stalled desire and misdirected efforts to become one's true self. The faux bonsai provide one locus of his project. The mixed-media collages they accompany--featuring fractured glimpses at super-model Marcus Scheckenberg in exotic haberdashery, neo-grunge insouciance and/or moist-lipped supplication--provide another.

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