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ART | * ART REVIEW

Strangely Sweet Mix of Nature, Fantasy

January 15, 1998|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dozens of lovely Asian women cavort in gorgeous American landscapes in Marnie Weber's L.A. solo debut. At Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 35 modestly scaled collages turn an age-old cliche on its ear by delivering just what it promises.

Except for pencil-thin supermodels, the bodies of women have long been associated with untrammeled natural landscapes. Ever since men began to think of nature as culture's opposite, the beauty, fertility and mystery of the female nude have been used to describe the splendor and fecundity of the romanticized landscape: It's no accident that explorers spoke of the wilderness as "virgin" and pursued its treasures with gusto and vigor.

Weber's strangely sweet pictures, clipped from Japanese pornography magazines and Western travel publications, don't criticize this outlandish fantasy as much as they lay out its attractions with flat-footed humor. In piece after piece, lithe nudes frolic in ponds, bask in the glow of dazzling sunsets and luxuriate before spectacular canyons, breathtaking vistas and pounding waterfalls.

Picture-perfect, the world depicted in these images is too good to be true. When the fact that Weber has fabricated a fantasy begins to echo in your head, the more fanciful components of her art begin to look perfectly natural.

The tiny women blossoming from cactuses seem to be as much a part of the desert as the crisply silhouetted mountains and cinematic sunset that make up its background. In other collages, sinuous limbs take the place of tree branches, beautiful nudes dangle upside-down as fully formed cocoons and others float in the ocean like enchanted islands.

Still more women prance in pumpkin patches, in joyous revelry that shares more with "Sesame Street" than a witches' Sabbath. Despite having the heads of lop-eared rabbits, guinea pigs and jack-o'-lanterns, Weber's nudes comport themselves with dignity and ease. It's as if the world they live in were utterly ordinary, free of trouble and men. On the gallery floor, a larger-than-life-size hamster, bunny and rat sculpted from plaster read books in which the artist has printed a poem that's part nursery rhyme and part feminist fantasy. Like the collages, this sculpture and poem are charming without being cutesy, poignant without being preachy.

BE THERE

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through Feb. 14. Closed Sundays, Mondays.

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