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ART REVIEWS : Woods' Drawings Build on Foundations of Fantasy

November 02, 1995|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An underground community beneath the center of divided Berlin; a house for one person, conceived as an instrument of measure; a network of aerial laboratories floating above Paris; a quartet of cities, each based on a primary state of matter and energy--Lebbeus Woods' imaginings are literally fantastic.

The latter two projects, "Aeon" and "Aerial Paris," are the focus of a spectacular show of drawings at Kohn Turner Gallery. Woods is not a well-known figure within the art world--yet. An architect and engineer who, after working with Eero Saarinen and in private practice, turned to experimental projects in 1976, he is a scientist with a passion for illogic and a theorist without a system. In short, he is a poet, and what's more, a remarkable draftsman.

That Woods is intrigued by, yet ultimately disdainful of, the dry calculations of an architecture scientized in the name of pragmatism is made evident by the delirious mock formulas accompanying his black-and-white--and sometimes colored--flights of fancy. Like hieroglyphics or the musings of a mad mathematician, these linguistic and numerical fictions are the perfect rejoinder to his gossamer vision of an "Aerial Paris."

On the occasion of this 1989 project, Woods declared himself against gravity--"the insidious enemy of the animate." His drawings of a mobile, anti-gravity community in the airspace above a dead 18th-Century city are less plans than mood pieces, perfectly evoking nothing more tangible than "the glint of sunlight on metal, the sudden drop felt in the pit of the stomach when falling, the irregular beat of one loose cable on another."

The images in "Aeon," a 1982 project in which Woods imagined a millennial cycle of cities that would mimic the cycles of plants and animals, suns and moons, are far more various. Liberally quoting from science fiction, 18th-Century engravings, Symbolist poetry, Buckminster Fuller and Antoni Gaudi, some are marked by a funereal splendor (frenetic, spiraling towers of spindly lines) and others by full-blown romanticism tempered only by a touch of irony (a jewel-like module floating in front of a Helen Frankenthaler sunset). These esoteric spectacles emblematize the lure of paper architecture for fin de siecle voyeurs; here, you can defy the laws of space and time without ever leaving the gallery.

* Kohn Turner Gallery, 9006 Melrose Ave., (310) 271-4453, through Nov . 25. Closed Sunday s and Monday s .

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Motionless Pictures: Like Cindy Sherman's film stills, which were designed to make the viewer remember places that never existed and moments that never occurred, John Divola's plundered movie-set stills at Patricia Faure Gallery stage a careful imposture of deja vu .

Printed from vintage 8-by-10-inch negatives that documented the sets of 1930s Warner Bros. films, these images are full of information, all of it misleading. Originally, their purpose was the opposite: to ensure that continuity was maintained should scenes need to be re-shot or lengthened. Collected by Divola and arranged in large grids, however, these images do not reveal particulars so much as the irreducibly generic quality of classic Hollywood cinema.

One of the grids features backdrops of fight scenes, the illusion of violence shattered not only by the routine contrivances visible in the absence of actors, artistic framing and dramatic lighting, but also by the carefully positioned chalkboards that list the name of the film, the director and the scene. These become captions after the fact, and as such, are particularly coy, telling us everything and nothing.

The other grid features long hallways leading to single doors from films ranging from "The Maltese Falcon" to "Three on a Match." Some of the settings seem familiar, though these standardized, head-on views of entrances to Art Deco penthouses, hospitals and office buildings were never included in the films. The array is haunting nonetheless, a benign nightmare of one-point perspective. And Divola merrily plays up the irony, for the serial repetition of long corridors with only one way out mimics the structure of the Hollywood cinema, which telegraphs its inevitable conclusion from the opening credits.

The ways in which information is archived, the gap between the thing pictured and the thing seen, and the myriad presences concealed within any absence--these are Divola's interests. This body of work relates to those interests intelligently, albeit obliquely, while revealing--one more time--that the legacy of conceptualism (particularly its dual obsession with systems and repetition) has only begun to be exploited.

* Patricia Faure Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., B-7, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through Dec . 2. Closed Sunday s and Monday s .

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