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ART | SIGHTS

Conceptual Contrasts

In Brand Library exhibits, one photographer toys with shapes and space, while another explores details of dancers.

April 02, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Photography is the medium of the month at the Brand Library, but the artists involved in the dual exhibition are of two minds about their chosen craft. One uses the medium as a part of a larger process, as a conceptual ploy, while the other heads down the middle of photojournalistic tradition.

In the expansive Skylight Gallery, Robert Koss shows art that gently hoodwinks us, without literally qualifying as mixed-media: Call it mixed-up media. In fact, Koss' works are photographs, but they strongly allude to other states of artistic being--from shaped canvases to abstract and minimalist paintings to relief sculpture. We lose sight of what we're really seeing, and that's the point of his sensory manipulations.

These works begin artistic life as oddball sculptural constructions that Koss creates out of carpet scraps, lengths of rope, black velvet and other unusual materials. He then photographs these pieces in the naturally abstract format of black and white, and blows them up to large-scale, strangely shaped images. Often the geometrical pattern of the perimeters are in tense relationships with the images themselves, caught in a formal tug-of-war.

Language occasionally enters the picture, extending the notion of playing with artistic language into the domain of actual language.

"Dead Space," for instance, combines a soiled carpet and a sign reading "FUNERAL," such as you'd find placed in a car in a funeral procession. But it is not for its narrative potential, or as a morbid joke, that we read the word, any more than we should be thinking about the meaning or essential nature of carpeting. The word, like the carpet, is a mere texture in an exhibition, borrowed from the real world and taken out of context.

To further obscure--or enliven--things, Koss toys with our spatial bearings while taking advantage of this gallery's long, airy space. In half the gallery, Koss shows five large pieces on one wall, facing their identical twin images on the opposing wall. It creates a visual doppelganger effect that reminds us of one of the distinguishing marks of photography--its ease of replication.

There is a conceptual loopiness in Koss' show, having to do with ontology as well as gamesmanship. For art with an intellectual subtext, it has a nice, droll spin to it.

Reality Checking: On the other hand, photographer Angelique Antoniou is quite content to let the medium be itself. Her photography adheres to the time-honored convention of using the camera as a means of capturing what Henri Cartier-Bresson called "decisive moments."

In the case of her show in the Atrium Gallery, the moments worth capturing are all about the world of dance, often behind-the-scenes, or to the side of center stage.

Coincidentally, Antoniou is also showing work as part of the "Human Presence" group exhibit at Century Gallery--a rare time when an artist shows different work concurrently in the Valley. There the subject is more human, in the expected, everyday sense, focusing especially on children and the elderly.

At the Brand, her images reveal an artist piqued by the things that captivated Degas with his enigmatic paintings of dancers--a half-lit, kinetic, athletic, graceful domain. Shot at various spots around the globe, Antoniou's imagery works best when the subject is not onstage, but to the side.

There are telling details and precious glimpses of dancers. In "Degas Remembrance," leggy ballerinas lounge in the wings, in nervous anticipation. And in "Legs in a Row," dancers form an echoing cascade of diagonal limbs across the composition, contrasting the gauzy rustle of their costumes.

This is the best image of her bunch. It says a lot about the almost paradoxical elements of muscularity and flight in dance, as well as the sentient eye of the photographer, artfully lurking, waiting for the right decisive moment.

BE THERE

Robert Koss and Angelique Antoniou, through Saturday at Brand Library, 1601 Mountain St., Glendale. Hours: 1-9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, 1-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday; (818) 548-2051.

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