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An Arch of Boldness and Simplicity

A single, 2,500-pound piece dominates the Brand Library gallery. The work suggests a gateway and much more.


Visitors to the Brand Library gallery in Glendale these days can expect to be both dazzled and calmed. Placed squarely in the center of an empty gallery, with peculiarly matter-of-fact presence, Ani Kupelian's "Trespass" is big, bold and, in its way, minimalist. There it stands, starkly, dividing two halves of the gallery, with nothing on the walls to distract from its singularity.

A poetic interpretation of a gate or arch, Kupelian's massive piece addresses issues of passage and propriety, referring to art history, political realities and the nature of privacy. But the work also exists as an impressive, and complicated, object in its own right. It demands respect and scrutiny.

Numbers speak for something here: The work is 2,500 pounds of steel, wood, tiles and iron-cast wheels and is 15 feet high, 8 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet deep. It is also significant to note that the artist spent 2 1/2 years meticulously crafting the piece, a labor of love and obsession necessary to achieve the end effect.

The Brand Library gallery is a prized space in the region, noted for its generous sprawl of exhibition space and the blend of track lighting and ambient illumination from the crowning skylight. Some artists have made great use of this charming and meditative space, particularly Dean Andrews, whose paintings were shown here last spring.

Oddly enough, Kupelian did not tailor her heroic sculpture to the space, yet it seems a perfect matchup. The rectangular dimensions of the sculpture tuck neatly into the raised skylight area. The gallery itself is altered, depending on where you stand, and the room becomes part of the tacit drama sparked by the sculpture.

Gates and arches can be welcoming portals. They also can serve as barriers, enforcing political, racial or social differences, or to delineate space--public vs. private and, by extension, haves vs. have-nots. These varying, almost contradictory qualities are thematic putty for Kupelian.

She approached the subject from a tilted angle. Her gate is not fixed but rendered portable and somewhat collapsible, constructed as it is of steel modules. A bright red line on the inside gateway suggests a connecting zipper, while tiles placed on the bottom denote flooring, a walking space.

Its colors of olive green and utilitarian gray lend a military air. Accordingly, "Trespass" is both seductive and a bit off-putting, a kind of depersonalizing passageway--suggestive of anything from airport security clearance to alien-abduction kitsch.

Somewhere within all of these complex, paradoxical references--distilled into a statement of epic-scale simplicity--lies the core of the sculpture's identity. Through no small engineering feat, Kupelian has concocted a beguiling monolith that commands your attention even as it confounds easy reading.

* Ani Kupelian's "Trespass," through Sept. 14 at the Brand Library, 1601 W. Mountain St. in Glendale. Gallery hours: 1-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 1-6 p.m. Wednesday; 1-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (818) 548-2051.

Streetnik: A visual artist with a background in sound and music, VinZula has been active on the experimental art scene in Los Angeles since 1980. Armed with that knowledge, the viewer is tempted to see musical tendencies buzzing about his current exhibition of paintings, "Crepescular Activities," at Granados 2 Gallery in Atwater Village.

Rhythm and texture are important to his paintings as is imagery that is almost naive and graffiti-like, but tinged with darkness, violence and carnality. So are a splashy mode of improvisational abandon and recurring motifs. VinZula even approaches gangsta culture in a visual language that imitates hip-hop, mixing up bits of text (the rap) with found images (the samples).

With its cartoony figures and use of plywood and cardboard, the art seems playful, but danger lurks at every bend. "100% Negritude" is a riffing collage that portrays urban grit, as well as its glitzy allure, in loud fluorescent hues. "Echo Park Sporting Life" isn't so innocent, with gun-toting men against a backdrop of tilting buildings. But even here, the artist organizes the figures in a comical choreography of patterns.

The work, entitled "Crepescular Activities," is a bed headboard adorned with frolicking nude women in silhouette, as in a sexual dream. "Painted Muffler" is just that: a potentially menacing street scene painted on said object.

VinZula deals directly with street imagery but aspires toward greater heights, instead of exploiting violence for its own sake. At times, he uses the numbingly familiar shock effect of discharging pistols to humorous and mythical ends.

"Cupid Shoots Psyche" finds Psyche--as a comely woman--casually and without complaint taking a bullet to the brain. Chalk one up for love. "Transformation of Gangsta to Atma" depicts a victim of gunshots to the head as a soul happily transcending into an abstract spiritual state, freed from the vulnerability of life in a world full of whizzing bullets and unfocused rage.

VinZula expresses unpretentious, expressive moxie in these paintings by keeping a fast and loose hand and a flexible aesthetic. High and low culture are flung about with an aura of hipness and a musical sense of logic.

* VinZula's "Crepescular Activities," through Aug. 24 at Granados 2 Gallery, 3221 Glendale Blvd. in Atwater Village. Gallery hours: 6-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. (213) 662-9930.

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