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ART | SIGHTS

Icons of Past and Present

Artist blends Greek vase forms with freeway imagery in recalling role of ancient aqueducts.

August 28, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mixed-media, by its very nature, is a wide-open field of expression. Still, its artists, like those in any field, can fall prey to convention and cliche. A refreshing lack of overlap or derivativeness marks the exhibition suitably called "Intimate Glimpses--Altered Realities," at the Platt Gallery of the University of Judaism.

Here, three artists--Dwora Fried, Mildred Kouzel and Belle Osipow--don't always proceed with great subtlety, but they compensate with determination and individuality.

The most striking and coherent body of work in the show comes from Mildred Kouzel.

As explained in her artist's statement, she blends Greek vase facsimiles and freeway imagery to reflect her view of "freeways as the architectural icon of our time, comparable to the ancient aqueducts."

Most of us tend to view freeways as more of a necessary evil than as a technological marvel, but the analogy does, well, hold water.

Kouzel mashes together these seeming opposites--elements of Greek classicism and the daily pell-mell that is life on the freeways.

The latter, of course, is a present-tense reality for many of us in Southern California, while Greek antiquity is something remote, idealized, a cultural abstraction that bespeaks a loftier age. Or so we believe.

Somehow, Kouzel creates a whimsical resonance between the two aspects, as in "Smogscape," melding a vessel in fragments with depictions of polluted skies. "Greek Vase Freeway" finds an image--a bolt of clogged traffic--inserted like a wedge into the side of the vase, also linked to SoCal culture by a pattern of palm trees on its surface.

On shakier ground, "Quake III" is a wood-relief version of a vase, cracked and splintered, with a color photo of freeway life pasted on.

Archeology and terra firma seem equally at risk, seismically speaking. And "Mixormatch" contrasts different notions of culture, between dancing Grecians of yore and modern photos of roller skaters, a jazz flutist and high-tension wires.

Juxtaposing antiquity with modernity is certainly nothing new. In fact, it may be a dominant tic of 20th century art. Kouzel's offering, half-silly, half-soaked in truth, reminds us that the trend shows no sign of letting up.

Dwora Fried's collage-based pieces are based on her photographs, around which patches of watercolor and other visual effects swirl.

She is more interested in conjuring up impressions of a place or a scene than telling stories, per se, or summoning the muse of abstraction.

Some of her pieces are interesting, but harmless; her de Chirico-like sense of space in "U-Bahn," for instance, proves less memorable than harsher conveyances. In "Medicated," a trail of pills across a room evokes a nagging air of self-abuse and claustrophobia.

"Auschwitz" focuses on the legendary railway tracks of doom, leavened by a tiny photo of a little girl's innocent face. The artist's own watercolor painting extends the subject of a newspaper photograph of the track's end point, as if the artist is grappling with a tormenting history.

The same photo of the girl takes on a different, happy character in the context of "Childhood in Austria." What a difference a setting makes, in the world and in art.

Belle Osipow is the most openly art referential of the gallery mates, from her pint-sized tableaux of museum galleries to laser-print works paying tribute to Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell. An undercurrent of voyeurism hums beneath her "Through the Window Shade" series, as we peer through window panes at scenes of Jewish lessons, social violence, and, once again, the calm inner sanctum of an art museum.

* "Intimate Glimpses-Altered Realities," mixed-media work by Dwora Fried, Mildred Kouzel and Belle Osipow, through Sept. 21 at Platt Gallery, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel-Air. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (310) 476-9777.

WATER-BASED: Elena Wilck's show of watercolor paintings at the Creative Arts Center in Burbank covers a gamut of interests, from slices of a nun's life to the rhythmic revelry of drummers during "Mardi Gras in Martinique." "Mother Superior" is a close-up portrait of a bespectacled elder nun, wise and stern, while a more overtly visual scheme governs "Sombreros," with hats lined up all in a row.

Wilck's mild-mannered, nicely crafted works depict life in far and near corners of the world, including such universal scenes as "Mission Bells." It could be in Spain or Encino. And that's the point.

* Watercolors by Elena Wilck, through today at Creative Arts Center, 1100 W. Clark Ave., Burbank. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; (818) 238-5397.

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