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Seeing Double in Beyt's Monochrome Paintings

May 29, 1997|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In her first solo show at L.A. Louver Gallery in 1992, Mary Beyt showed a series of lush but cool monochrome paintings that didn't exactly adhere to the rules of their genre. By that, I refer to Color-field painting's legendary "purity," which Beyt tampered with by creating something distinctly other: all-over floral patterns, derived from bolts of manufactured lace.

While much was made at the time of Beyt and feminism, Beyt and handicraft, Beyt and decoration, the new monochromatic paintings at L.A. Louver suggest that the artist is less interested in what is by now a well-rehearsed brand of historical revisionism than in a certain kind of mind game.

Beyt doesn't want to trick the viewer into thinking she sees something she doesn't--or, worse yet, to enforce a game of peek-a-boo. Rather, she is interested in obsession, the compulsion to repeat and the uncanniness of the double.

One painting shows a double image of swans embedded in successive fields of tiny flowers. Another features a pastoral landscape where pairs of birds sweep by a trio of trees. A third includes horses frolicking in front of an idealized countryside, whose sky is pierced by not one but three church steeples.

What's strange about all of these images (the first a deep blue, the second an acrid yellow, the third pale green) is that they feel like defective Rorschachs, broken records or jammed strips of film, the same frame repeated until things come to a dead stop.

The repetition of patterns is of course a structural element of lace, the template for all of these works. But Beyt brings out the perversity of decoration by varying the patterns just enough to thwart the sense of deja vu.

It is certainly a coincidence that the word "lace" derives from the Latin for "ensnare." Then again, in the realm of memory and desire--Beyt's realm--nothing is ever entirely accidental.

* L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4966, through July 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Like Young: The very least you can say about Tony Tasset is that he understands the principle of economy. There's no waste at Christopher Grimes Gallery, just a nicely carved jack-o'-lantern sitting nonchalantly on the floor and, leaning against the wall, a larger-than-life-size Cibachrome of the artist, decked out as rock 'n' roll Hall of Famer Neil Young.

Tasset has done this sort of thing before. In his last show at Grimes, he accoutered himself as another iconic figure, Robert Smithson, and managed to say quite a bit about masquerade, desire and the endless recycling of myth.

This time he wears a hyperbolic early 1970s get-up: long, unkempt hair tucked into a patriotic red, white and blue leather hat with beaded trim; a turquoise and silver choker; a Harley-Davidson T-shirt under a red-and-blue flannel lumberjack shirt; a fringed jacket; frayed Levi's and well-worn cowboy boots. Strumming a Suzuki guitar with a peace sign and dove-embossed strap under artfully hot orange stage lights, Tasset-as-Young makes for a poignant, unendingly amusing picture of the pop star as vehicle for projection--something artists know quite a bit about.

As for the pumpkin, it may refer to Young's album, "Harvest," and the notion of Halloween dress-up and free goodies (the rocker's famed perks). Or maybe not. That it is in fact not a mushy pumpkin but one cast in bronze goes to art's promise of eternity. Perhaps more precisely, it alludes to the way in which stardom of all kinds hinges upon the transformation of ecstatic moments into marketable phenomena.

* Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through June 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Tripping: In 1975, an unnamed Los Angeles artist assumed the persona of Madam X--explorer, soothsayer, philosopher, prophet, messenger, medium, "half being of the Eternal Culture, half human being" and--at least in retrospect, I think--dry wit.

At the Living Room, an installation entitled "The Reading Room of Madam X" gathers together some of the magazines, books, objects, paintings and newspapers created by Madam X over the past 20 years, covering what she refers to as her prehistory, early period, middle period, late period, post-late period and later period.

The best are the illustrated, black-and-white "GAZETs" Madam X sent out once a month to her heroes. These documents ruminate on her journeys to the timeless dimension ("the new era is timeless!"), her views on history ("nothing happened!!!") and her take on American politics ("Congress Declares: 1/2 of World Unconstitutional").

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