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ART | SIGHTS

Rummage Revised : Art show's assemblages confer new meaning on the mundane.

June 19, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A funny thing happens on the way through a large assemblage art show, like the one at the Brand Library Galleries in Glendale. Because assemblage is often based on the collection and reinterpretation of common objects, as much of the art is here, the objects tend to take on new meaning.

Suddenly, the benches, potted plants and a covered grand piano in the Skylight Gallery have an almost sculptural presence, by association. And that's a good sign.

Assemblage, dating back to the middle part of this century with Marcel Duchamp's toilet and Joseph Cornell's boxed art, is essentially about using everyday objects to explore attitudes toward art. If we come away from this art with a greater appreciation for the mundane, everyday things in our view, all the better.

Assemblage is also often about the fine, sometimes vaporous line between art and reality. When the reviewer visited the Brand gallery last week, a mother perused the work with her young daughter, who looked at the art quizzically. "Look, Mommy," she wondered, "is this real?" Well, yes and no.

In some sense, the five women artists in this provocative exhibition--Pat Cox, Eleanor Diehl, Betty McDonald, June Schnitzer and Suzanne Siegel--are seeking better, more expressive art-making through trash. The truism holds: One person's castoffs and rummage becomes another's art putty.

As with most art media, there are virtually endless variations possible under the assemblage umbrella--which can also be a liability. With so many materials and manners to choose from, the importance of finding a path and a coherent style to call one's own becomes all the more intense. The artists here manage, largely, to till their own private aesthetic fields.

In her dryly witty work, Betty McDonald gathers numerous objects, such as the suitcase full of votive candles in "Devotion" or the bullets flanking a toy pistol in the self-explanatory vignette, "It Was Not a Good Day for the Pigeons." "Objet d'Art," depicting an ambiguous rusty object, is part of a series of works in which McDonald shows three views in the life of an object--the object itself placed between a photo and a drawing thereof.

Beneath the humor of the art, McDonald's is an investigative approach, questioning the differences between actual things and their representations in art.

Culling her materials from assorted scraps and castoffs, Eleanor Diehl shows elaborate pieces, mostly dolls and shrines. Vaguely antiquated-looking, Diehl's works make reference to Catholic saints, mixed-cultural ideas ("Hopi Dreams of Nepal") and, with "Nature: Seated Figure, Life Size," a mute life-size figure who seems to stand sentry in the far corner of the gallery.

Of the artists in the show, June Schnitzer gets closest to a traditional collage aesthetic. She creates engaging patchwork pieces, which push the limits of two-dimensional art.

Suzanne Siegel's sparse, subtly loony constructions meld parts of chairs and windows with tiny figures fashioned from twigs and whatnot. They suggest mis-wired sculptures that have spilled out of a dream. Conflicting forces are easily defined in the title of one piece: "Paddling (My Small Boat of Reason on the Enormous Sea of Emotion)."

Objects placed, matter-of-factly, on shelves give Pat Cox's "Shelf-Life" series a particularly rustic charm. She brings together deceptively basic items, more ambiguous than we expect at first glance. "Dumbbell" features a lone dumbbell among other bric-a-brac. And with "Morandi," she nods to the famed Italian still-life painter, Giorgio Morandi, but with actual objects of artistic affection placed on a shelf for all to see. We have to resist the temptation to touch.

* "Assemblage Transformations," through June 28 at Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale. Gallery hours: 1-9 p.m. Tue. and Thur.; 1-6 p.m. Wed., 1-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; (818) 548-2051.

*

Art Space Au Revoir: The Artspace Gallery, a small oasis of culture tucked in the Warner Center complex in Woodland Hills, has had a good run over the last few years, but its time is up--for the moment, anyway. Its future is uncertain, but, with luck, the gallery will resurface soon.

The final exhibition there is hardly the strongest one seen there, mainly for reasons of showing too much and saying too little. Encino-based artist Irene Nowicki is certainly prolific, given the evidence of the abundance and variety of work filling the gallery's series of rooms.

Nowicki's art draws, variously, on an assortment of modernist models, from Cubism to Orphism, surrealism to New Age quasi-spiritualism. Sometimes, she tucks three-dimensional objects into indentations in a canvas, as in "Tiny Dancer."

Just when the viewer feels a bit overloaded, the quirky charm of "Laundromates," in the back room, saves the day. Stick figures reminiscent of the automatons from late-period De Chirico circulate in a Laundromat which seems to be dematerializing. It's just a weird and goofy enough scene to spark the imagination.

* Irene Nowicki, "Being & Vibration," through June 28 at Artspace Gallery, 21800 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills. Gallery hours: noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; noon-4 p.m. Sat.; (818) 716-2786.

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