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ART GALLERIES : Tiffanie Morrow's Minimalist 'Writing' at Newspace

March 03, 1994|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

David Smith's large, steel sculptures have been characterized as "drawing in space," but Tiffanie Morrow's sculptures might be construed as "writing in space." Geometric and linear, her painted-canvas constructions at Newspace pull Smith down to earth--way down, so you have to kneel to see them properly.

Marching along the floor like lines of text, these works reward the effort by being ever-so-politely grammatical, in the sense that grammar is always marked by internal logic. Yet, as with any grammar, you are lost if you don't know the rules. Without a primer or lexicon to guide us, the meanings of Morrow's messages remain indecipherable, forever just barely out of our grasp.

Projecting vertically from half-inch strips, Morrow's 3-D pictographs allude to such architectural forms as archways, ramps and pergolas. These references press issues of scale and of the body's position in the space carved out by a work of art. This is the province of Minimalism. The only titled piece in the show, "Undertow," is explicit in suggesting the extent to which Morrow's art is engaged with the philosophical propositions of this historical style.

"Undertow," an uninterrupted expanse of solid black, measuring 6 inches high and more than 34 feet long, leans against the wall with precarious grace, conjuring the work of Richard Serra. Serra's massive structures underline a sense of danger and, thereby, the unequal power relations between artist and viewer; but Morrow's slight, virtually weightless art is altogether different. It turns Serra around, configuring the viewer's body as dominant and the work of art as conditional.

Both less and more threatening than her Minimalist predecessor, Morrow allots the viewer power, but also responsibility, insinuating that it is up to us to guard the art object's fragility. What's more, we're left alone to figure out how to derive meaning from the experience.

* Newspace, 5241 Melrose Ave., (213) 469-9353 , through March 19. Closed Sun. and Mon.

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Photo as Art: When Man Ray photographed the Marquise de Casati in 1922, he gave her, in typical Surrealist fashion (by accident, that is), three pairs of brilliant, black eyes. She was said to have adored the photographer's mistake, his vision of woman as uncannily, dangerously all-seeing.

When Photo-Secessionist Baron Adolfe de Meyer photographed the Marquise a decade earlier, she was depicted as a chic patron-muse, her intense gaze framed by a pair of bejeweled hands and a fur collar and muted by a soft-focus lens seemingly designed with flattery in mind.

If De Meyer's portraits are less than probing, they are nonetheless fascinating, especially in terms of the history of fashion photography. Sixteen of De Meyer's photogravures are on view at G. Ray Hawkins Gallery. The selection, which also includes still lifes and genre scenes, recapitulates the presentation of De Meyer's work in the October, 1912, issue of Alfred Stieglitz's famous periodical, Camera Work.

De Meyer, like the other pictorialists Stieglitz favored, was committed to "art photography." It was paramount that the image be more than a mere document; the artist was to soften edges, refine compositions and forge beauty where the ordinary threatened to appear. De Meyer's still lifes are gorgeous--transparent vases catching and reflecting the light, with darkened petals silhouetted against hazy backgrounds.

De Meyer was indeed a great manipulator of light and shadows. In his portrait of the dandyish Teddie, the subject is situated within a stylishly Cubist milieu of juxtaposed light and dark. The effect De Meyer achieves, however, is strictly formal: Psychological complexity is beside the point.

De Meyer's Orientalist fantasies are likewise oblivious to their own subtexts. The visual tropes of one ethnographic image--dark skin, glistening earrings, turban and mysterious smile of Aida, a Maid of Tangier--are reinvented as fashionable accouterments for well-bred ladies in other images. For De Meyer, beauty provides its own social agenda, a notion that bears close consideration, especially in terms of the contemporaneous work of Henri Matisse, whom Stieglitz featured in Camera Work just three months before De Meyer's debut there.

* G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, 908 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 394-5558, through March 5. Closed Sun. and Mon.

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Thin on Attitude: For better or worse, William Quigley's new paintings at A/B Gallery are Julian Schnabelesque in their bravado. Quigley eschews the smash-and-grab aesthetic of Schnabel's broken plate extravaganzas, as well as the shock-meets-schlock ethos of his velvet paintings. But like Schnabel (at least early on), he piles on the paint as thick as the attitude, while trying to decide if he is for real or strictly for laughs.

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