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Art Review

Setting a Table Filled With Versatility

August 22, 1997|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Roger Herman's paintings at Ace Contemporary Exhibitions are deceptive. However simple, even bland, they first appear, they open onto a variety of complex questions.

Each work consists of a group of paintings of different sizes (some intimate in scale, others approaching the monumental), arranged on the wall in an irregular grid. Each painting depicts precisely the same thing: a dining room table and chairs, seen from only slightly different angles--a little closer, a little farther away, a touch to the left, 10 degrees to the right, and so on.

Painted in a range of reds and browns against monochrome backgrounds of avocado, lime, chartreuse, butterscotch or ice blue, these domestic settings are anything but cozy, evoking everything from the scene of the crime (is the ashtray on the table a clue?) to catalog illustrations, so purged of detail they allow for any number of fantasy projections.

Indeed, designer colors have never looked quite as neurasthenic as they do here. Herman might well be staging Freud's repetition compulsion as a household peep show, glimpsed through a variety of filters. But if the psychological resonances creep up on you, so do the conceptual ones.

Here is an investigation of all kinds of borders: between repetition and difference; abstraction and representation; painting and photography; photography and digital imagery. All this sounds a bit dry, though it is in fact played out in the subtlest details--the contrast between lush paint and terse, barely descriptive imagery, for example, or the sense that forms are infinitely (if minutely) variable, as if fine-tuned by a computer-controlled system. This sophisticated body of work, aptly titled "Nature Morte," represents a provocative departure for Herman, and another testament to painting's endless versatility.

* Ace Contemporary Exhibitions, 5514 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 935-4411, through Aug. 30. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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