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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Artworks a Fusion of Technology, Satire

Mariona Barkus and Sheila Pinkel make bold statements with simple materials at the University of Judaism.

July 18, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Armed with a pinch of art worldly idealism, one can notice a sort of perceptual backlash taking place in the calm quarters of art galleries.

Increasingly, they are becoming sanctuaries from the bombardments of information-age stimuli. As the pace of electronic media and digital technology accelerates, creating a whirlwind of transient data, the power of simple, static imagery--and well-placed texts--seems to be gaining force. Or is this wishful thinking?

There's no lack of energy or intrigue in the work of artists Mariona Barkus and Sheila Pinkel at the University of Judaism. They make bold statements and create an electric atmosphere in the gallery using very simple materials. Subtlety is not the goal here, but a desire to deliver messages upon impact. Agitprop is in the air.

For both artists, technology is an important tool, and the aid of computers and xerography is not denied. But the basic building blocks are, well, basic. Sometimes words alone, presented in a stark frankness, pulsate with meaning.

In a ploy reminiscent of the artist Ed Ruscha, but with an easily readable message, Pinkel offers a piece in which the content consists of the words, "CONSUMER, CONSUMING, CONSUMED."

The sequence of power words tells its own tale, especially in the context of an exhibition that takes aim at life in a tense time, when corporate and government institutions and prevailing social attitudes pack a potent culture-shaping wallop.

If there are thematic indictments common to the artists, they have to do with modern-day victimization, particularly along racial, gender, political and environmental lines.

Of the two, Barkus' work draws its juice more from the muse of satire. Her art can, simultaneously, elicit muted sniggers and winces of recognition. Generally, Barkus' scheme is to concoct wry mock-advertisements, tapping into graphic design norms of the 1950s.

Naturally, there is a built-in irony in her form and function, addressing such '90s issues as the nuclear threat and gender inequality with kitschy postwar ad campaign tactics.

Writing in an artist statement, Barkus says she is "interested in revealing the dissonance that results when I present elements of our culture in imagery reminiscent of an earlier era when modernism held the promise of an enlightened future." In this post-postmodern transition period in art, Barkus takes her place alongside the new social satirists.

Nuclear-related news clippings are gathered into a toilet paper roll, while, in a chilling bit of collage high-jinks, she shows a Time magazine cover emblazoned with a detached penis coming out of a pistol, under the headline "Women Fight Back."

Artists' secret lust for immortality is addressed in "Famous Artists Cemetery," with a promise of "your name here" on a headstone, next to the likes of Picasso.

"Illustrated History" is a large tapestry-like piece involving the artist's illustrated news bulletins detailing real-life social and environmental decay. These surround a coy illustration reading, "Have you Had Enough? Virtual Reality Puts You in Charge."

A sterner polemicist than Barkus, Pinkel specializes in textual/visual puns with dark underpinnings. The weathered face and downcast eyes of a Native American elder is the image under the wordplay, "Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies." A nuclear mushroom cloud is mated to the phrase "Killing Time."

In "Remember Cambodia," taken from a larger installation work, Pinkel juxtaposes two sets of images: photocopied impressions of relief sculptures from the legendary temple Angkor Wat in Cambodia with modern-day snapshots of displaced Indonesian refugees working in Southern California doughnut shops to make ends meet. Somewhere in the middle of these conflicting visual elements is the tragic story of a venerable culture undermined by the despotic Khmer Rouge.

Whereas most of her other work addresses a larger social and global fabric, the focus turns inward with the simple, but affecting "He/She Pot." An image of a teapot is decorated with a road map, which seems innocent enough, until we read the text: "He took her savings without asking her permission. At night she fantasized about the sex life of the female pediatrician across the street." Sensations of betrayal, fragile domesticity, escape and sexual curiosity bubble up from a calm surface.

Pinkel and Barkus belong to a genre of history-loving, forward-thinking artists, who cleverly renew the spirit of political art while subverting the language of advertising. The message is clearly part of the medium.

* "Speaking Out," Mariona Barkus and Sheila Pinkel, through Aug. 11 at the Platt Gallery, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles; (310) 476-9777. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday.

Neon Sci-Fi: Richard Ankrom's neon-enriched sculptures, now lurking in the Creative Arts Center Gallery in Burbank, might also qualify as gizmos for art's sake. A strong whiff of pseudo-sci-fi culture comes through in these pieces, which often resemble antique futurist weapons--the stuff of Flash Gordon-brand hardware or else a mad scientist's domain where wiring and transformers are visible to the naked eye.

In short, Ankrom concocts an ingenious, slightly bizarre real-time B-movie atmosphere. As you walk through the gallery, the works light up and emit buzzing, zapping sounds, suggesting not so much high-tech razzle-dazzle as a half-hatched laboratory where things may explode at any moment. Therein lies its charm.

* "Bright and Shiny," neon-argon sculptures by Richard Ankrom at Creative Arts Center Gallery, 1100 W. Clark Ave., Burbank; (818) 238-5397. Gallery hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday.

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