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Suspending the Limits on Imagination in Sculpture

May 30, 1996|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Daniel Wiener's five pint-size sculptures at ACME Gallery hang from the ceiling on nearly invisible lines of monofilament. Loaded with associations that are difficult to articulate, these delightfully indescribable blobs of hydrocal, Sculpey and wire initially have the presence of words that get stuck on the tip of your tongue.

Just beyond the reach of your mind or memory, Wiener's tantalizing works lurk in the shadow of intelligibility. To wander among the New York-based sculptor's lumpy, dysfunctional mobiles is to be struck dumb--in the best sense of the term.

These intentionally inarticulate configurations of color, texture, shape and weight strip viewers of our ordinary recourse to language. Amid Wiener's suspended sculptures, the only logical thing to do is to give free rein to your imagination, leaving each piece free to elicit unanticipated experiences. They quickly begin to trigger odd associations.

"Pang" looks like a cross between the Stealth bomber and a vampire bat, with the added attraction of nine hooked feet, from which dangle nine blood-red forms shaped like bent cocktail forks with prongs on both ends. "As the Crow Flies" resembles a pair of tiny summer squashes joined like Siamese twins, from which extend spiraling wires recalling model train tracks, strands of DNA, hairs with split ends and beaded jewelry.

The more time you spend with Wiener's libidinous sculptures, the more meanings proliferate. "Marionette" suggests that it's the offspring of Puff the Magic Dragon and a hammerhead shark, to which the artist has grafted a pair of distended mandibles. The most complex piece, "Rumple, Crackle, Fold, Crackle," appears to be the fusion of an inside-out brown paper bag and the vertebrae from a dinosaur's tail, around which orbits a group of mutant seals whose skin is the color of eggplants.

If Wiener's hand-crafted works begin by stopping language in its tracks, they do so only in the hope that the words you bring to them are of your own invention. This small yet generous exhibition celebrates idiosyncrasy as the basis of original thinking, which naturally enhances everyday experiences.

* ACME Gallery, 1800-B Berkeley St., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5818, through June 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Fine Lines: Carol Kaufman hasn't had a solo show in 12 years, so for those of us who didn't see the work then, seeing her quietly beautiful abstractions at Kiyo Higashi Gallery feels a little bit like discovering a new artist. Even better, the 45-year-old painter's exhibition includes consistently solid works from the last four years, tracing a line of development along which her confidence and ambition steadily build.

Kaufman takes an awfully long time to complete a painting, sometimes spending more than a year on a small work. This tendency is most evident in a canvas from 1994, a diptych composed of two fields of innumerable graphite lines arranged in tight, patchwork patterns. Each line is so fine that an eyelash, in comparison, looks gigantic and unwieldy. The artist has partially erased the right panel, giving it the appearance of liquid clouds that play off the left panel's wispy dryness.

Over the next three years, Kaufman juxtaposed panels of milky whiteness with graphite's metallic shine, incised razor-sharp grids that appear to be hyper-refined rubbings of the canvas's weave and arranged horizontal bands of various densities, setting up pulsing visual rhythms that are a pleasure to see. She also stopped working on gesso-coated canvas and started working on Masonite. Its smoothness and inflexibility provide a perfect ground for her graphite-based paintings, allowing their size to expand exponentially.

Two recent works measuring nearly 4-by-5 feet steal the show. Fusing the impenetrability of metal with the feathery delicacy of finely drawn lines, this pair of shiny black paintings invites viewers to get lost looking at their softly reflective surfaces.

Although Kaufman, who is an art director for The Times, probably lavished as much attention on these pieces as she did on her earlier works, the labor that went into them is less of an issue than before. You get so thoroughly absorbed in the moment that you don't really care about how they were made.

* Kiyo Higashi Gallery, 8332 Melrose Ave., (213) 655-2482, through July 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Pop Shelves: Charles Long's synthetic sculptures at Shoshana Wayne Gallery divide neatly into two groups: goofy pieces based on free-standing or wall-mounted shelves and lozenge-shaped pods resting on the floor like sci-fi cocoons for Space Age humans.

The first group of brightly colored, oddly formed and curiously textured works has the presence of 3-D cartoons. Lumpier and more curvaceous than the Flintstones' furniture, "Built-In Desire" stands nearly 6 feet tall and appears to be made of a mixture of Pop Rocks and blue lollipops. Despite its size, this piece is more suitable for licking than for storing things.

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