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ART REVIEW : Hit-and-Miss Affair in 'Sexy' Show

February 16, 1996|DAVID PAGEL

"Sexy: Sensual Abstraction in California, 1950s-1990s" is a loosely conceived 12-artist show intended to emphasize art's seductive power. Organized by artists Hilary Baker and Julia Couzens for the Armory Center for the Arts, this hit-and-miss exhibition includes too many works that take their tasks too literally, mistaking sex for sexiness.

The best paintings, sculptures and baubles approach sex indirectly, sometimes dressing it up with layers of intrigue, and at other times merely hinting that this bodily function might be the secret subtext of otherwise highly formalized exercises. It's a treat to see Terrence O'Shea's multilayered resin trinkets, Harold Paris' tabletop reliefs, Craig Kauffman's translucent paintings and John Altoon's airbrushed abstractions.

All made in the 1960s and early 1970s, these pieces court the slippery logic of metaphor, inviting viewers to make up their own open-ended stories. These works also provide a rich background for more recent pieces meant to stimulate fantasies, like Phyllis Green's opulent confections, Jo Ann Callis' photographs of folded fabrics and Mary Warner's black velvet paintings of billowing drapes.

Unfortunately, metaphor is in frighteningly short supply among the rest of the works, whose references to sex are so explicit that little room is left for one's imagination. These artists seem to forget that being sexy demands a little discretion and that seduction is a matter of allure, not brute force.

* Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (818) 792-5101, through March 31. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

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