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Skewering the Cult of Self

In 'Psychophysical Wardrobe' exhibit, the artist plays archeologist as he takes a droll and yet gleeful look at the everyday artifacts that adorn modern life.

March 27, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Walk into the large gallery at the Brand Library these days and you may get a vaguely creepy sensation, the kind brought on by sudden, up-close encounters with the private lives of strangers.

Here we find peculiar juxtapositions of furniture and accessories--including bedding with sheets imprinted with snapshots.

All manner of personal bric-a-brac is also on view, mostly tidily stored in drawers that beg to be opened, feeding our voyeuristic cravings.

Of course, it's at least partly a ruse, a way to engage the viewer in a seemingly intimate dialogue with the artist's work.

Then again, exposing one's innermost feelings and thoughts is considered appropriate behavior these days--whether on Oprah or via installation art in a gallery setting.

So what is it that gives such a gleeful edge to Michael Lewis Miller's elaborate installation, under the leading title, "The Psychophysical Wardrobe and Other Projects"?

It could have something to do with his droll touch.

The objects are often more surreal than first impressions suggest. "Mary's Prosthesis" appears like a giant antique camera, except that an old keyboard on one end and gargantuan bellows hint at some sort of elephantine accordion--which the artist sometimes plays when he appears in the gallery.

With much of his work, Miller plays the role of a deadpanning 20th century archeologist, aiming at a statement about modern-day reality, but coming up short.

"(M) Nuseum" is an extensive collection of cataloged artifacts, including a cheeky button that reads: "I'D LIKE TO PROCRASTINATE BUT I KEEP PUTTING IT OFF." The piece humbly titled "The Incomplete History of the 20th Century" is comprised of sundry photo-album archives.

Miller draws us into a carefully wrought ploy and a semi-serious paradox.

He wants to have it both ways: to reveal himself in an honest and allegedly soul-baring way while skewering the cult of self that is often an inherent side effect of art making.

Somewhere in the middle of those intentions is a show that perplexes and delights.

Conceptual art is having a field day at the Brand, between Miller's constructs and the installation work of Michael Sheehan in the outer gallery, under the title, "Ephemera." Sheehan shows various works, which most often blend elements of nature with self-conscious art practices, including eggs obscured by wax paper. His Polaroid color transfer pieces deliberately blur the line between painting and photography.

At the core of this exhibition, though, is the dramatic wall-of-art piece called "One Hundred One (101)," a collection of small stones placed in velvet on tiny shelves. Meanwhile, a video loop that shows a continuous shot of a running creek allows nature to further invade and alter our perception of the art space.

*

DISPARATE CHARACTERS: Artspace in Woodland Hills is hosting a group show called "Disparate Visions," which might well be a code phrase for a show without a thematic net.

That's exactly what you get in this exhibition of artists, who are connected by having studied with Chris Mooradian, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just a disparate thing.

Mooradian himself, who showed not long ago at the Orlando Gallery, leans toward mystical visions and dreamy ambiguities, but the other artists have other things on their minds.

Between Paula Aaron Hurwitz's French village travelogue, Mary Denning's hazy faces, Hadia Finley's languid, melting landscapes and figures, and Jack Birdsall's Matisse-ish studies (as well as his peculiar nude "Topanga Hoer" series), the artists go their different ways.

Brian Spellman, a painter and relief sculptor, shows work that is oddly appealing. Painted wood surfaces have also been gouged and carved to create three-dimensional indentations and gorges.

It's hard to know what to make of these 2-D-cum-3-D pieces, except to say that they inspire a cocked head and a tilted eyebrow. In this blase age of been there-done that, sometimes that's enough.

BE THERE

Michael Lewis Miller and Michael Sheehan, through April 12 at Brand Library, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale. Gallery hours: Tue. and Thur., 1-9 p.m.; Wed., 1-6 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 1-5 p.m.; (818) 548-2051.

"Disparate Visions," through Monday at Artspace Gallery, 21800 Oxnard St., Suite 250, Woodland Hills. Gallery hours: Tue.-Fri., 12-5 p.m.; Sat., 12-4 p.m. (818) 716-2786.

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