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ART REVIEWS

Exploring Enigmatic World Under Glass

September 12, 1996|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Fandra Chang continues to reinvent her art, layering color and form so that the one camouflages, maps, assimilates or betrays the other. Her work entails a complex process. She sprays paint onto a coarse screen or rolls it onto a canvas and photographs the result, producing positive and negative images. These elements are then layered in different combinations under a thick sheet of plexiglass, on which a positive or negative image may also be printed.

Words like "apparitional" or "hypnotic" apply to these small works. From a distance, grouped in collectible pairs or series, they seem as tasteful as any standard minimalist fare; at close range, they are all intemperate shimmer and gossamer flash. The plexiglass has a subduing effect: It seems to smother the drama, as in a display at a natural history museum or to distance it as a TV screen would, with its shiny, hard, reflective surface.

When you watch TV, however, you willingly surrender to illusion. The fact that almost every viewer of Chang's art immediately examines the sides of each piece suggests that in painting, at least since the advent of modernism, we are suspicious of effects, anxious about how things work. One of the many pleasures of Chang's art, however, is that it frustrates the desire to know, for even when you've been made privy to its secrets, it still mystifies.

* Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through Oct. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Ebullient: At Tobey C. Moss Gallery, a small-scale survey of the work of renowned L.A. Modernist Peter Krasnow shows up the wild divergence that characterized this artist's 60 years of artistic production. He is probably best known for the flamboyant natural wooden sculptures he created in the 1940s, which have been described as Brancusi meets the totem pole (one of the largest of these occupies the entire center of the gallery). His abstract paintings are equally strange and wonderful, if somewhat more formulaic.

These include a few very early pieces, among them, "Market Place" of 1916, a dark-toned and sober look at immigrant life, and the 1933 "Scenes From a Rooftop," which Krasnow painted during a sojourn in Paris. Both are fairly standard academic works, suggesting influences ranging from Cezanne to Chagall.

By the early '40s, however, Krasnow went in for purist geometries--flat shapes anchored to one another in grid-like formations--which related to his slotted and detachable wooden sculptures, and which Mondrian-besotted artists everywhere were emulating. But he defied their implicit order by infusing the cool, hard-edged fields with manic hedonistic colors: candy pinks, sherbet yellows, phosphorescent pale greens.

These paintings are remarkable--especially those from the next decade, when calligraphic flourishes and biomorphic forms routinely infiltrated them. They share some of the obsessiveness of fellow L.A. Modernist Inez Johnston's work, but their comic ebullience is all their own. No small part of that ebullience derives from the fact that their electrified palette--once so idiosyncratic--became a leitmotif of Postmodernist design, 30 or 40 years later.

* Tobey C. Moss, 7321 Beverly Blvd., (213) 933-5523, through Oct. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Expectations: In Meg Cranston's new show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, a narrow strip of white carpet stretches across the gallery floor. It's called "Wall-to-Wall Carpet." Get it?

I do, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to take the joke. Like the rest of the sight gags and one-liners in this show (a plaster fan facing a melting plastic ice cube; a wooden plaque documenting the worst years of the artist's life; one week's minimum wage, tossed into a corner; a life-size photographic image of the average American woman, morphed from three original subjects on the computer), it's flat-footed.

Cranston's work tends to flirt with inanity, and she gets away with it only some of the time. When she's successful--as, for example, in a series of doomed-to-melt snow sculptures of Greek gods and goddesses she made for a 1994 show in Athens--she makes her point about the ridiculous expectations (for permanence, resolution or revelation) that art objects generate.

Here, however, her anti-conceptual conceptualism rankles. There is something beguiling about this combination of the awkward, the self-evident and the self-contained; it doesn't demand much and it inspires a certain envy, the kind grown-ups feel for teenagers. But this time around, playing naivete to the hilt reads less as well-placed irony than as an excuse for laziness.

* Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Bergamot Station, B4, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through Oct. 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Love and Loss: Judie Bamber's new work at Richard Telles Gallery is unexpected and moving, in spite of its relentless sense of control.

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