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ART REVIEWS : A Promising Aesthetic in Feminist Art


"June Bride (. . . the bride strips bare)," a group show of work by women at Sherry Frumkin Gallery, is full of (dirty) white lace and (broken) promises, plastic pearls and dead flowers. There are also brutal heels, cheap valentines, lead underthings and inedible chocolates arranged in silver foil cups, which turn out to have been cast from nipples--perhaps the ultimate anti-fetishes.

The strange thing about this show is that it is both cynical and naively enraptured by its cynicism, as if calling attention to bad faith were itself redemptive. The title, borrowed from Marcel Duchamp and unceremoniously tweaked, is meant to "acknowledge the artist as the active agent of her own exposure." But knowing references are no substitute for criticality, and active agency isn't merely a naughty gesture or an inverted truism.

What, then, is a girl to do? Feminist art's pivotal question is how to conjure the feminine without recapitulating the patriarchal logic that has historically oppressed women. A single show can't answer that, but several of the artists in "June Bride" are pursuing a promising aesthetic.

There's a kind of obsessiveness that muddies the line between the patience required for "women's work" and the heroism demanded of greatness. You see this a bit in Noele Giuliani's patchwork wedding dress, created out of bits and pieces of Jockey shorts, and Lea Whittington's cascading bouquet of dried chicken bones.

Liza Lou, who has been written up both in the National Enquirer and Germany's Bild der Frau for her magnificent, beaded kitchen (appliances and all), takes this aesthetic quite a bit further. Scattered on the floor like an exotic dancer's dirty laundry, Lou's painstakingly beaded socks, brassieres and panties are heroic and frivolous at the same time. They suggest that vast ambitions are petty absurdities in disguise, and none the worse for it.

If these works don't quite offer an answer to feminism's dilemma, they offer a further provocation. In the end, this is probably a more propitious thing.

* Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-1850, through July 1. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Art of Mixing: At Domestic Setting, Charles LaBelle mixes metaphors, bodily fluids and the high and the low with the blithe confidence of the iconoclast, the con man or the naif; it's very hard to tell which, even for those keeping close watch.

This is one of the many charms of his work: His restless intelligence is commanding, even when he isn't completely in command of it.

In earlier work, LaBelle turned to the Situationist notion of psycho-geography to get at the uncanniness of urban space and human experience. In his new work, he continues to exploit the psychological frisson of maps, though his scope is at once wildly intemperate and more circumscribed.

LaBelle covers sheets of white paper in impolite splotches of rectal mucus, meandering drips of menstrual blood, orderly drops of saliva and urine, or Rorschach-like blots of any one or all of these.

These compositions often resemble subway maps or other kinds of two-dimensional evocations of three-dimensional places. However, instead of mapping stops on the IRT, constellations, chains of islands or indeed the body that generated them, these works map the equally fragile vicissitudes of taste. That they are themselves tasteless is all to the point (I think).

In his most revealing pieces, LaBelle is both coy and ingenuous. The brownish stains in "Helter Skelter" are labeled with the names of the local painters and sculptors who were in MOCA's career-making show (the biggest stains are awarded to Charles Ray and Paul McCarthy). If these artists are renowned for cultivating outrage, LaBelle suggests that he, too, could fit into this august company.

This may well be true, but it won't be simply by virtue of the shock value of his materials. In any case, LaBelle first needs to clarify why a male artist feels the need to appropriate female fluids--and why the registers of the biological and of the cultural are mutually revealing, if indeed they are.

* Domestic Setting, 3221 Sawtelle Blvd., (310) 397-7761, through July 8. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


On a Voyage: Lita Albuquerque's quest for the mystical has never been as perfectly aestheticized as in her new work at Dorothy Goldeen Gallery. Though she has always produced exquisite objects, these are especially so.

With a palette restricted to blues and golds, and materials including glass, honey, powdered pigment, coal and steel, Albuquerque comes up with dozens of permutations: intersecting images of celestial spheres, cups of iridescent coal with the aura of religious icons, bits of honeycomb adrift in golden seas of honey. These parts cohere into a unified whole, like the planets circling the sun.

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