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ART REVIEWS : Lannan's 'Percept': Intense, Rigorous


The exhibition "Percept/Image/Object" pinpoints the differences between seeing and knowing. At the Lannan Foundation, seeing isn't believing, and knowing isn't what we thought it was.

In the foyer, nine small lithographs by Gerhard Richter alert us to the fact that art doesn't always obey the rules of the ordinary world. In one picture, the armature of a cube sits in a lawn chair. Closer inspection reveals that this geometric form behaves like a pretzel. Its straight edges defy the laws of perspective, twisting pictorial space and entangling us in perplexing illusions.

A mesmerizing installation by James Turrell plays out similar contradictions in three dimensions. In a dark chamber, a shimmering blue cube hovers in the opposite corner. As you approach it, the cube suddenly appears to be a rectangle cut out of the adjoining walls.

With unsettling effectiveness, Turrell seems to magically transform a solid volume into an empty void. Only when the shadow of your head eclipses his trick do you realize that the blue cube is simply light projected on walls painted a highly reflective titanium white.

Once you know the source of Turrell's illusion, its capacity to stun diminishes. In the main gallery, Robert Irwin's wall-mounted disk creates similar sensations, at first disrupting space with an elusive optical glitch, then fading into an exceptionally clever visual game.

The other artists abandon such illusionism. Jackie Winsor's inscrutable cube, made of cheesecloth stretched taut over a wooden frame, sits vulnerably on the floor. Two abstract canvases by Ad Reinhardt demand painstaking concentration, rewarding the effort by drifting out of focus.

Charles Ray's "Rotating Circle" turns perception into a physically threatening exercise. Perfectly set in the wall, the rapidly spinning disk is almost invisible. Its 3,500 revolutions per minute look like absolute stillness, but pack a walloping conceptual punch. If you touch the disk to prove that what you see is what you know, you risk real pain.

Perversely fascinating are the works by Tom Friedman. These include 3,000 garbage bags, stuffed one inside another; a stack of Lifesaver candies incrementally licked toward invisibility; a sheet of note-paper punched thousands of times with a pin and a hair-thin wire balanced on end. All of his pieces teeter maddeningly on the edge between utter inconsequentiality and awesome patience.

Two multi-panel paintings by John M. Miller are initially daunting. Their apparently inflexible patterns are too complex to apprehend rationally. They force intuition to the forefront of experience, momentarily aligning perception and cognition. Endlessly engaging, Miller's dazzling works encapsulate the strongest impulses of the show.

This concise selection of paintings, prints, sculptures, drawings and installations from the Lannan collection includes works by eight artists rarely shown together, spans 40 years (or three generations), and draws from Los Angeles, New York and Germany. The confident mastery with which "Percept/Image/Object" was organized matches the intensity and rigor of its works. Both demand that we shake off lazy habits, abandon untested assumptions and experience our visual environment afresh.

Unfortunately, an exhibition like this won't be organized again. Since the Lannan Foundation recently announced it has stopped collecting contemporary art, its holdings have been cut off from the dynamism and excitement of ongoing projects. Without an active connection to the present, the Lannan's impressive collection will become a static, closed set of objects that can be rearranged but never reinvigorated.

* Lannan Foundation, 5401 McConnell Ave . , (310) 306-1004, through May 15. Closed Mondays.


Emotional Appeal: A quick description of Catherine Howe's paintings makes them sound like pat, politically correct exercises. However, the young New Yorker's six large canvases at Kim Light Gallery are too odd to be dismissed so easily.

Five supple paintings in the main gallery depict attractive black women wearing summer dresses and casually standing before snazzy backdrops. These fields resemble soft versions of Clyfford Still's hard, jarring abstractions from the 1950s.

In the back gallery, a lone white woman poses stiffly in a smarmy field of pastel smears. Her pinched expression conveys the distastefulness of over-studied spontaneity. Likewise, the background combines the vigorous brushwork of Willem de Kooning with the fluffiness of cotton candy.

To see Howe's images exclusively in terms of art historical references is to miss much of their intrigue. Despite predominant interpretations, her paintings are not simplistic feminist send-ups of Abstract Expressionism. Howe's skills as a painter save her work from being merely critical.

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