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SIGHTS : Intelligent Look at a Touchy Subject : 'Erotikos' succeeds in its ability to provoke the imagination.

August 11, 1994|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Despite a history as long as humanity itself, erotica remains a dangerous and delicate area of interest. Subjectivity rears its head with special intensity, especially where eroticism merges with the art world. The line between prurience and sensuality, between aesthetics and baser provocations, is a thin blue one.

Coming away from "Erotikos," the current celebration of erotic/artistic instincts at Art City II, you leave with an ambivalent impression. On the whole, it's a good impression: This is a show, curated by artist Alex Morosco, that manages to deal with the subject from inside and out.

The show invites us to think about the different aspects of the theme, rather than just bask in its blue glow.

Walking into the gallery, suspicions are aroused by the looming presence of Doug Lipton's gaudy pavilion-like installation. Curtained-off, like the "adults only" section of your local videoteque, the assemblage artist's display is a shrine-like repository of erotic bric-a-brac. Note the phallic chandeliers.

But the end result of this collection of found objects has more to do with goofy kitsch than the business of base instincts. Without overt moralizing, Lipton points up the cartoony ludicrousness of the products of the porn industry.

"Thank God It's Only a Movie" is TV-minded assemblage artist sTeVe Knauff's contribution, dangling like a big plywood question mark in the far corner of the gallery. On his list of materials is "scrambled porn"--images of tangled body parts from porno promotional materials on translucent film and applied to the face of a motorcycle helmet.

Some of the more explicitly fleshy works in the show actually veer sharply away from standards of erotic diversion. Alain Sailer's striking paintings portray mutant, sometimes androgynous, anatomies that nod toward the influence of Salvador Dali's dream-world, flesh-phobic tendencies.

Morosco's own painting, "Leda and the Swan," presents a billowy, willowy merging of a female nude and a bird. Alex McDonald's "Dewdrop on Moonflower," with its unfurling shades of pink and red, follows the Georgia O'Keefe-ish agenda of macro-close-up floral imagery suggesting genitalia. Kakine's photograph, an ambiguous entanglement of limbs belonging to an indeterminate number of people, sides with subtlety.

On the gallery floor are a healthy variety of three dimensional pieces. Often as not, humor takes the floor, as in Matt Harvey's "Fish Goddess," part frog, part human nude form and cowboy boots--on the half-shell.

Joanne Duby's pun-happy "Tongue in Cheek," in almost fleshy pink alabaster, is a flowing form suggesting both a tongue and derriere. Neil Pinaster's "1-900" is similar to Duby's piece in its winking fusion of anatomy, though less enshrouded in coy innuendo. Frank Lauran's figurative tableau, "Rompers," depicts a nude couple romping, somehow, with a veneer of Norman Rockwell-ian innocence intact.

Sculptor John Lambie's slyly designed "Dancing Half Torso" is of the touch 'n' spin variety. The viewer is invited to activate the kinetic properties of the work, and, in the process, fondle the artist's finely detailed female genitalia. It's a bit of a cheap trick.

Paul Lindhard's "Self-Love" has been shown before, but it represents one of the most successful "erotic" approaches of the lot. Half-abstract, half-anatomical, it exemplifies the essential equation of what makes erotica erotic, lying somewhere between what is seen and what is provoked in the imagination.

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LINES AND SHAPES: Oregon-based artist Jan Schmitz goes in at least a couple of different directions, as seen in her show at the Ojai Center for the Arts. The exhibition, under the catch-all title "Figures and Surfaces," is a frilly and funny thing.

Schmitz oscillates between whimsical female figure studies and seep-and-splatter abstractions, sometimes structured around imagery of masonry. It's all pleasant to behold, if short on concept.

Also showing at the center is Ojai-based artist Stephen Bartomeo, whose works show a nice, loose painterly hand. His iconographic tendency is toward metaphysical scenes, but without any of that nasty New Age aftertaste.

You might expect pretentiousness to reign in a painting entitled "Two Lovers Sleep While the Ever-Present Eye of Awareness Watches." Instead, it's a sumptuous two-shot portrait. "Baja on My Mind" is a ruggedly realized, folk art-inspired landscape, with the artist's typical, enviable blend of intuition and control.

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SUMMER FARE: "Collector's Gallery '94," now at the Conejo Valley Art Museum, is something of a mid-summer transitional show. The museum maintains a regular policy of showing works mostly by area artists on the fringes of its featured exhibitions.

Here that sector takes over for a month. A number of notable pieces makes it a show worth checking into, whether or not you're a collector on the prowl. It's a summery show with a hidden agenda.

Michele Weston Relkin's "Hubba Hubba" resembles a festive, funky quilt. Gabor Korany's "Conqueror" evokes a sense of rustic folklore. Michael Appuliese's photographs of the Southwest have an economical grace, and Sylvia J.K. Simmons' "Earth Chant" is an abstraction with a dark, earthy palette, an iridescent sheen and a tactile allure.

Details

"Erotikos"

* WHERE: Art City II, 31 Peking St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Through August.

* ETC.: Call 648-5241.

"Figures and Surfaces"

* WHERE: Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai.

* WHEN: Through August.

* ETC.: Call 646-0117.

"Collector's Gallery '94"

* WHERE: Conejo Valley Art Museum, 193-A N. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks.

* WHEN: Through Sept. 4.

* ETC.: Call 373-0054.

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