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ART REVIEW : 'Matrix's' Obvious Theme on Man and Nature Meanders

August 11, 1995|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"A Vital Matrix" is a 45-artist exhibition loosely based on the obvious idea that human beings are a part of nature, not passive spectators to its sublime spectacles but sentient organisms embedded in its mundane processes. Organized by artist Jane Hart (whose work it includes) and split between Domestic Setting's two venues (one in an apartment, the other in a house), this rambling, unfocused show of vaguely related pieces by mostly young artists feels like three or four exhibitions wrapped in one.

There's the decaying grunge contingent, whose festering confections include Damian Rojo's rooster feet, Laura Whipple's insect wings, Anya Gallaccio's flowers and Dunnieghe Slawson's wax-coated twigs. There are the slick pseudo-scientists--Cor Dera, Mark Dion, Matthew Ritchie and Alexis Rockman--whose cool neutrality is belied by their fondness for charts.

Holly Rittenhouse's orifice-pocked, hair-sprouting wall-sculptures stand out as the creepiest of the biomorphic mutations. The frilly decorators are well-represented by Kymber Holt's lavish painting and Jim Hodges' synthetic flowers.

More interesting than the exhibition is how Hart produced and administered it. Each artist she invited was asked to make a small piece, in an edition of 60. These miniature versions of the show were boxed as sets and sold to cover costs and to pay for the handsome catalogue. Hart's talents as an original administrator exceed her skills as a curator.

* Domestic Setting, 3221 Sawtelle Blvd. #1 and 3774 Stewart Ave., (310) 397-7761, through Sept. 16. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays.

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For Your Viewing Pleasure: A series of eight little paintings on bright, patterned fabrics anchor Sigmar Polke's eye-grabbing exhibition at Burnett Miller Gallery. Inch-for-inch, these nonchalant fusions of gestural abstraction and pop reproduction exude more virtuosity than is usually seen on any contemporary canvas.

The 54-year-old artist from the former East Germany may not be up to anything new in these dazzling images from 1993. But he executes them with such facility, verve and elan that they're a pleasure to see.

The fabrics on which Polke sprays, pours, splashes and drips various paints are garishly colored checkerboards, dots, hexagons and faux wood designs. Atop these hyperactive fields he dribbles puddles of white acrylic, manipulating their shapes as if he were a kid playing with spilled milk on a plastic tablecloth.

In turn, the odd blobs of whiteness become the ground on which Polke applies innumerable black-and-white dots, as if hand-painting a newspaper's reproduced photo. Without any captions, images of acrobats, an auctioneer, a bookshelf and a bathroom's tile wall take on a sense of mystery.

Sharing the random contours of the spills of white paint, these nondescript pictures appear to have materialized from thin air, as if they just happened to be in the paint Polke quickly poured from the can. This is the same sort of effortless immediacy his best works embody.

* Burnett Miller Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 315-9961, through September. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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