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ART REVIEW

Oginz Exhibition Offers a Sculptor's View of L.A.

March 15, 1997|WILLIAM WILSON | TIMES ART CRITIC

About two dozen wonderfully gooney drawings at the Los Angeles County Museum constitute a solo turn titled "Richard Oginz: Drawings From a Sculptor's Point of View." They're arresting because they don't look quite like anybody else's work. They are modest and unfailingly amused by what they depict.

Oginz is not hugely well-known, despite a perfectly decent, albeit unpretentious, exhibition record, including a LACMA Young Talent Award from 1983. Born in Philadelphia in 1944, he worked in England for eight years before 1976, when he moved to L.A. because he loves the Watts Towers.

His admiration for Simon Rodia's masterpiece seems germane. Rodia was an unschooled immigrant entirely in the grip of his private fantasy. Oginz's background includes a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but his art is so likable precisely because of its Rodia-like way of seeing things in its own fashion. Like the towers, Oginz's work is very linear. Because he is principally a sculptor, visitors to his drawings will probably want to troop over to the Anderson Building to view his "Head" in the permanent collection. Basically it's a large cubed grid made of wooden struts. It's very linear. Inside this grid stands a larger-than-life, realistic sculpture depicting a young man from about the waist up. He appears to be not only caged by the grid but actually fused with it. He doesn't seem to mind.

Oginz's drawings are equally linear and meticulous. Executed simply in pencil and pen on white paper, they have virtually no shading. Part of their distinctive, disjunctive look comes from the artist's adaptation of the perspective system of Japanese prints. In this system, parallel lines stay parallel instead of converging on a vanishing point. The method offers a lot of latitude for quirky spatial jumps and reversals.

Oginz pays homage to his source 'in "Utamaro Wall." He uses it to puzzling advantage in "Pershing Square," in which a woman in the buff seems to be sunning herself in mid-square across from the Biltmore Hotel, although you can't tell where she is. Is that a corrugated roof, or what? According to a brochure essay by LACMA curator Bruce Davis, she's an impossibly tiny person on an unimaginably large bench.

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Scenes are usually captured from windows of studios Oginz has occupied, from downtown to Echo Park, Washington Boulevard to Topanga Canyon. In a way, the whole is like an anatomy of the architecture of funky bohemian L.A. and a lexicon of its eccentricities. The drawings span time from the year of his arrival to the present.

One of his most endearing is "Echo Park." In it we see the side facade of one of our myriad cozy, neat, dilapidated little Craftsman-influenced bungalows complete with a bird of paradise plant and rose bushes. Through the window, two young lovers are visible dozing on the couch under a quilt. Walls are festooned with home-grown art. It's a paean to the idea that nobody needs to be a millionaire when they can have this.

Such moments give way to antic chaos. "Los Angeles April 1992" shows the town in riot. Firefighters battle blazes while locals loot the shops. Oginz doesn't fail to notice the mordancy of a sign reading "Everything Must Go."

On a more personal note "When Clients Come to Call" reveals the way every artist feels when a potential collector shows up. Everything goes haywire. Fish tanks spill their inhabitants, a giant hand erupts from a sculpture stand.

Chaos gives way to daydreaming. Oginz imagines little men on a scaffold finishing his work for him. He fantasizes he's in possession of a collection of African or ancient Egyptian sculpture that comes to life. He clearly has a great time making these drawings. It's a really neat little show.

* Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd.; to May 18, closed Mondays, (213) 857-6000.

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