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Art Reviews : Finley's Low-Tech, High-Touch 'Control'


Chris Finley's wall-mounted sculptures consist of an eccentric inventory of plastic containers packed inside each other like those hollow Russian dolls that open--again and again and again--to reveal an identical, slightly smaller doll nestled inside.

Rather than suggesting infinite regression (and mirroring the Kafka-esque experience of living in a bureaucratic state), Finley's art celebrates unpredictability. Titled "Cruise Control," his quirky exhibition at the newly opened Acme Gallery offers a hands-on demonstration of spontaneity's place in an increasingly regimented world.

Initially, Finley's works have the presence of gerrymandered computer technology. About the size of desk-top hard-drives and monitors, each of his piecemeal units seems to have been rigged to perform a specific, if unknown, function. All five cubical structures present elaborate variations on the molded, synthetic skins that ordinarily protect the chips, circuits and software enclosed within.

Unlike computers, however, whose programs are engaged only through keyboards and screens, Finley's user-friendly sculptures invite viewers to disassemble their loosely conjoined components. Once you begin unpacking, unwrapping and unfolding, a seemingly infinite array of interactive possibilities opens up.

For example, the removable face of "Wet and Reckless" is a plastic car caddie whose compartments for drinks, coins, pencils and cassettes have been filled with cut-up place mats and bits of synthetic rubber that are themselves removable and rearrangeable. Before you lift off this part of Finley's interlocking sculpture, you must set aside a yellow plastic dish that was designed to hold a single cob of corn but is currently filled with kitty litter and whittled stubs of pencils.

Underneath is a Ziploc sandwich bag containing ties for garbage bags and fragmented images snipped from magazines. Under that is a plastic storage bin stuffed with scraps of perforated plastic, foam and rubber that dangle from the wall like synthetic intestines.

Other pieces, like "World's Greatest" and "Closer Than They Appear," are chock-full of hidden surprises, including life-size plastic squirrels, tiny giraffes, ducks, inflatable owls, six-pack rings and photographs of kids in a tree-house. No object's position is permanently fixed, and your memory is tested when you try to return the pieces to their original configuration.

Finley's compact sculptures deliciously confuse the 3-D space of tactility with the untouchable space of computer technology. More importantly, they conflate both of these realms with the invisible space of the human imagination. Finley's loaded, low-tech instruments take place at the intersection between cyber space and old-fashioned American ingenuity, where adaptation, flexibility and trying things out for yourself count above everything else.

* Acme, 1800-B Berkeley St., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5818, through Nov. 12. Closed Sundays-Tuesdays. *

Old Mold: Soap scum and Wonder Bread are the main ingredients of Yolande McKay's predominantly monochromatic sculptures. Titled "Family Crust," her amusing exhibition at Ovsey Gallery pits symbols of aristocratic identity against slices of bland, mass-produced bread. The artist's earnest works also play architectural ornamentation against congealed wads of bathtub residue.

Rather than bringing art down to earth to infuse it with vitality, McKay's resin-coated pieces of moldy, rotten bread contend that attempts to make beautiful objects are based in the misguided desire to deny organic life's messy underside. Her fiberglass-reinforced swirls of soap scum, formed into frothy patterns of wainscoting and wall-molding, imply that high art is little more than a manipulative attempt to wash away real life's lowly dirt.

McKay's conceptual decorations are meant to undercut the ideal of aesthetic purity first put forth in the 19th-Century and promulgated by a small band of formalists in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, the debate over the viability of art-for-art's-sake has not been articulated in terms of purity for more than two decades. Even though McKay's attack on this outdated position is accurate, the staleness of the argument dulls the critical edge of her sculptures.

They try to resuscitate an anachronistic viewpoint only to make fun of its limits. Today, that is more manipulative than trying to make an object of beauty.

* Ovsey Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., (213) 935-1883, through Nov. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.)


Sweetly Sinister: Adam Ross' new oil, alkyd and acrylic paintings on wood, iron and porcelain put a palette of delicate pastels to such perverse use that these ordinarily saccharine-sweet colors look sinister. At Sue Spaid Fine Art, 14 small abstractions pack the same sort of punch possessed by cotton candy laced with strychnine.

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