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ART REVIEWS : 'Reflections on Cinema' Offers Tarnished Perspective

July 22, 1994|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like many art films, the group exhibition "Screening Space: Reflections on Cinema in Recent L.A. Art" is more rewarding to think about than to see. Curated for Jan Kesner Gallery by artist Charles LaBelle, this 10-artist show is an intelligent if overly literal meditation on Hollywood's influence on everyday life.

Predominantly made of low-tech leftovers scavenged from the movie industry, it has the feel of a countercultural rebellion. Its pieces embody substantial disdain for a monolithic industry, while acknowledging how badly the odds are stacked against the artists.

The work of each artist seems doomed when it tries to challenge Hollywood's well-financed power. There's something pathetic about Carter Potter's paintings made from strips of film wrapped around stretcher bars, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto's squares of home-movie screens stitched into a grid, and Jody Zellen's collaged magazines photo-transferred to window blinds.

Likewise, Cindy Bernard's photographs of locations where old movies were shot were made so long after the fact that they resonate only for fanatical film buffs. Brad Dunning's increasingly blurry and finally blacked-out film stills from "The Postman Always Rings Twice" offer a slow-motion replay of Bernard's sendup of film's aura.

Chris Komater and Mary Parker strike hollow poses. He collages his face over those of actors and actresses in stills from film noir classics, and she dresses up as "Maryboro," a transsexual version of the Marlboro man.

Having worked as a propman and gallery assistant, Kevin White is the only artist whose understanding of Hollywood runs deeper than a layman's. His three pieces combine film's capacity to create compelling illusions with art's similar goals.

White's exact clay, foam and plastic duplications of antique icons from Asia seamlessly fuse real life and the movies. By playing Hollywood's game on its own terms, he raises the stakes of the exhibition, suggesting that the best way to undermine the status quo is not by frontal assault, but by sneaky infiltration.

* Jan Kesner Gallery, 164 N. La Brea Ave., (213) 938-6834, through Aug . 29. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

*

Mixed Media: Jamey Bair's solo show at 1301 looks like a group exhibition. Its four sculptures, three paintings and six photographs share very little stylistically and only tentatively resemble the young, L.A.-based artist's earlier work.

Although many artists since the 1960s have built prominent bodies of work in diverse media, few with as much talent as Bair have followed this strategy as ineffectively as he has. His mix of media does not appear to be part of an ambitious conceptual program but seems to result from confusion and laziness.

Confusion is an essential ingredient of art that strives to do more than illustrate ideas. Even laziness can be interesting. The problem with Bair's show is that it doesn't put either element to good use.

His lead sculptures, cast from Lincoln Logs, Milk Bone dog biscuits, a light bulb and a small slide viewer, are little more than trinkets made from a poisonous material. His canvases, which consist of dozens of layers of oil and resin, look like muddy, muddled reprises of previous paintings depicting giant eyeballs or tiny optical explosions.

In contrast to these half-baked bodies of work, Bair's super-saturated close-up photographs of snapdragons are not infatuated with their own glibness or plagued by cool insincerity. Their sumptuousness is stunning.

Made with many filters, these intense, vivid pictures are more beautiful than meticulously cultivated gardens or gorgeous floral arrangements. Ravishing light seems to radiate from behind them. These handsomely framed prints look like liquid stained-glass windows through which a surplus of sunlight incessantly pours.

Bair's photographs of flowers do more than steal the show. They reveal the depth of a largely untested talent.

* 1301, 1301 Franklin St., Santa Monica, (310) 828-9133, through Aug. 27. Closed Sundays through Wednesdays.

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