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Art Reviews : Lukas' Alternative Scenario Playhouse

May 27, 1994|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The experience of art is profoundly hierarchical, with the object helpless before the gaze of the viewer and the viewer subject to the whims of the artist. But Emil Lukas foils such logic. In new work at Thomas Solomon's Garage, he continues to insist upon alternative scenarios, reversible relations and perpetually unfinished narratives.

There is no single way to read his art. Everything is multiple, like a hall of mirrors wherein a single form endlessly reverberates. Paintings are lined up in a row, then flipped around to reveal what's usually hidden to view. Or they're neatly stacked only to be unstacked, thereby eluding all structures, formulas and premeditated effects.

Lukas' imagery is perhaps too amorphous to merit the term. His surfaces are blistered with paint, smeared with maggots, bisected by fine wires, smothered by filmy sheets of plastic and dappled with trout eggs, as golden as the sun. That they allude to cycles of decay and regeneration tallies with the artist's broader philosophy. Here, nothing is static and no truth fixed.

Lukas, however, gets sidetracked in the show's title piece. "When Limbs Rub" sprawls elegantly across the floor--in large pieces of scarred and blackened wood scraped raw where they are joined to one another. That the formal structure is no longer in flux is disappointing.

The result is staid, the central metaphor forced. Lukas is more successful when he allows the viewer to coax forth the metaphors--or not.

* Thomas Solomon's Garage, 928 N. Fairfax Ave., (213) 654-4731, through Saturday. An Academic Exercise: Fran Murphy's audacity is remarkable. At Sherry Frumkin Gallery, the Seattle-based artist takes on the intertwined histories of photography and painting, the battle of the sexes and comparative religion, sometimes in a single image. That the work should fail is perhaps inevitable, considering the morass of aesthetic, philosophical and psycho-sexual conundrums Murphy has invented for himself.

What's lamentable is that the failure itself isn't more interesting. The artist begins with scratched, bent, stained and otherwise manipulated photographic negatives. These are blown up and mounted on panel, the surfaces covered with up to two dozen layers of glaze. Color is trapped between the layers, creating an effect somewhere between painting and photography.

This experiment mimics those common in photographic practice of the 1970s. Yet, even the first time around such innovations made for rather banal images.

For subject matter, Murphy goes back further, to the sentimental, allegorical and more than occasionally gratuitous themes favored in the mid-19th-Century Pictorealists. Murphy offers "Earth Conceiving the Vault of Heaven," a topless woman with stars spilling onto her luxuriant locks; "Andromeda Re-Enacting the Origin of the Milky Way," a nude woman with shackled arms, a blacked-out face and breasts gushing dark milk; and the "Anatomy of Creation," a huge cruciform panel, wherein an image of Pygmalion fashioning the nude Galatea is sandwiched between God creating Adam.

The brushy edges of the prints, the aggressively aged surfaces and the cast of characters are surprisingly familiar. Murphy's project is rather close to that of well-known photographer Joel-Peter Witkin.

Whereas Witkin fearlessly transcends the border of taste, commanding attention on that count alone, Murphy is altogether sincere. Sidestepping camp, grotesquerie or even a modicum of self-consciousness, he indulges in an academic exercise.

* Sherry Frumkin Gallery, 1440 9th St., Santa Monica, (310) 393-1853, through June 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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