If you're among the many viewers who believe that abstract painting has to be serious, even somber, if it's to be sophisticated, then head over to Monique Prieto's exhibition at ACME Gallery to see nine snappy paintings that just might change your mind. So gleeful that their cheerfulness rubs off on you, these buoyant abstractions demonstrate that contemporary art can be frivolous and compelling, as silly as a cartoon and as uplifting as pure joy.
Above all else, Prieto's paintings are a pleasure to see. If you have even the slightest sense of humor, they'll cause the corners of your mouth to curve upward, in the beginning of a grin. If your imagination hasn't been completely overrun by the rational parts of your brain, a smile might even break out on your face. After so much art designed to invite only scowls and smirks (as signs of its seriousness), it's refreshing to see art that takes delight seriously.
Such bodily responses have been at the heart of Prieto's crisp pictures for the past four years. In that short time, the young L.A.-based painter has established herself as one of the most accomplished and promising artists of her generation.
In the past, a typical painting by Prieto consisted of numerous blobs of single, eye-popping colors, often animated by long, antennae-like drips reaching out in gravity-defying directions. Each shape seemed to be an incredibly flexible, two-dimensional balloon that had jostled, jiggled and snuggled up to its neighbors, until every part of the picture had settled into the most comfortable position.
In the new works, which are still painted on tautly stretched expanses of raw canvas, the blobs have gotten thinner and the drips have gotten thicker. It's often impossible to know whether you're looking at a fat line or a plump shape that's been stretched out to its limits.
What is clear is that all of these eccentric configurations seem to be cooperating with one another to achieve a shared goal. Nearly all of the amoeba-like blobs are oriented vertically, extending upward as if fueled by the desire to get closer to the sun. Most of the chubby drips have circled around on themselves to form squiggly circles, or coiled up, as if mimicking a spring's spirals. In every case, these loopy shapes appear to lift off the ground with optimistic verve.
With a remarkable economy of means, Prieto has fused the giddiness of Color-field painting with the razor-sharp graphics of Pop Art, while making a mess of the distinctions between abstraction and representation. Likewise, fun and sophistication are never at cross-purposes in her acrobatic works, on whose playful surfaces rigor and promiscuity dovetail with the greatest of ease.
* ACME Gallery, 1800-B Berkeley St., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5818, through Dec. 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.