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Art Review

June 26, 1998|CLAUDINE ISE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mysterious Anachronisms: Mexican sculptor Jorge Marin's ceramic works at Couturier Gallery are strangely discomfiting, mostly because it's hard to know just how seriously we should take them. Balanced precariously just this side of kitsch, these David-inspired nudes, solemn religious reliquaries, topless maids in turbans and strangely wizened cherubs garbed in comically puffed-up Renaissance pantaloons look out of place and decidedly out of time.

There are obvious cross-cultural differences at play here; but, even so, Marin's mostly straight-faced resurrection of Baroque stylistic tropes (an effort to investigate Europe's centuries-long influence on Mexico's cultural and aesthetic traditions), although technically quite skillful, seems pretty far afield of other Latin American artists' more adventurous explorations of polyglot cultural identities. Marin's newer, more restrained figurative sculptures lack his earlier works' exaggerated sense of fancy and sheer bawdy fun. They could actually benefit from ratcheting up the vulgarity a notch or two.

The true stars of this show, however, are Marin's remarkable religious reliquaries and busts (works that he fittingly terms "ceramic portraits"). In these somber and mysterious works, Marin treats the human visage as a palimpsest, on which eternal questions of aging, death and the transitional nature of life are manifested.

A haunting sculptural trilogy, each bust depicting a different stage of the aging process, lingers longest in the memory. The younger man's strong, unlined face gradually gives way to the elder's surrender to gravity, his shoulders sinking into his neck as his nose and ears grow more prominent, his eyes filled with trepidation.

Here, a man's flesh is his biographer, inscribing in skin and bone a history that words cannot convey.

*

* Couturier Gallery, 166 N. La Brea Ave., (213) 933-5557, through July 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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