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ART REVIEW : Playful, Impulsive Works Get 'Hooked on a Feeling'

July 21, 1994|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Artist-curated group shows usually make little intellectual sense yet look great as installations. Sculptor Patrick Nickell's "Hooked on a Feeling" at Kohn Turner Gallery is no exception.

The playful arrangement of 19 sculptures by 11 L.A.-based artists clearly demonstrates that art's primary appeal is visual, and that ideas alone cannot hold together an exhibition. One of the most pleasurable group shows in recent memory, it doesn't force diverse works into preconceived categories, nor abandon the desire that a group show be greater than the sum of its parts.

Part of the fun is because of Nickell's eye for each artist's best work. Sally Elesby's three little clusters of felt, glitter, ribbon and sequins resemble webs made by spiders with a taste for tacky decoration. Jacci Den Hartog's wall-mounted lumps of plaster and rubber are imaginary, abstract landscapes that look almost edible. Carl Bronson casts polyester resin sculptures from Jell-O molds.

Putting a whimsical, surreal spin on the show are Mike Pierzynski's miniature mountains cast from fishbowl accessories and Tim Hawkinson's Christmas tree that has lost its needles but has gained hundreds of masts of model sailing ships. Nickell's own cardboard, plastic and string constructions rank among the most formally resolved and visually captivating he has made.

The loose logic that unites these works is hinted at in Nickell's title. Taken from a 1970s pop song, "Hooked on a Feeling" suggests impulses that aren't wholly conscious or rational, but are still powerfully persuasive. As you amble through the show, you don't find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with definite propositions, but instead feel yourself falling for its irresistible rhythms.

* Kohn Turner Gallery, 9006 Melrose Ave., (310) 271-4453, through Sept . 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Graphic Images: A comprehensive survey of Bruce Nauman's prints at Cirrus Gallery offers more than an excellent supplement to the artist's concurrent retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The 40 silk-screens, lithographs, etchings and aquatints made between 1970 and 1990 add up to a solid show of their own.

Nauman's graphic work is more traditionally beautiful than his extremely influential installations, abrasive neon signs, diabolical videos and mind-bending sculptures. Five abstract images from the early 1970s demonstrate his facility as a draftsman.

Initially, the elegantly inscribed circles, squares and lines in these lithos and etchings makes them look like purely formal studies. When you realize that Nauman's prints are based on a film he made of ball-bearings racing around various tracks or mazes, the menacing undercurrent that marks all his work becomes apparent. The light they capture has the eerie glow of TV or the unnatural pallor of skin lit by neon.

In other images, some of which depict only words, mind-numbing repetition more explicitly embodies a sense of entrapment, absurdity and quasi-pathological detachment. Violence boils over in "Raw War." Pleasure goes bad in "Caned Dance." Logic short-circuits in "Perfect Odor." "Help Me Hurt Me" speaks of the painful ambivalence at the root of many human relations.

In seven small etchings from 1990, Nauman masterfully fuses beauty and viciousness. These handsome, gracefully rendered images depict generic animals whose limbs have been awkwardly patched together, like some demented, bestial version of Frankenstein's creature. They show the artist at his best, marrying humor and morbidity in pieces whose psychological complexity resonates long after you stop looking at them.

* Cirrus Gallery, 542 S. Alameda St., (213) 680-3473, through Aug . 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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