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Graphic Quandary

Exhibit raises question about essence of computer-generated art.


In the world according to computer-think, the usual rules of order and perception don't necessarily apply. Computer graphics can be used to closely imitate the general principles of the physical world, where we have a certain understanding of how shapes and objects interact in space.

But ultimately, it's an elaborate ruse, since computers often convey scenes and spaces that are wholly unreal.

Computer art can be empty and flat, as nonexistent as cyberspace, or it can have a compelling verisimilitude, depicting a parallel virtual place that seems cleaner and more real than yesterday's news. It's all in how one manipulates the ones and zeros.

That paradox is at the center of Saul Bernstein's work, now at the Woodbury University Art Gallery.

An artist familiar with conventional tools of the expressive trade, Bernstein has drawn on computers to help him investigate the potential for reinvention of reality, with results that can be both intriguing and cold.

The sense of what is real becomes a game when looking at Bernstein's work. "Homage to Michael" deals with light and shadow, but in ways that extend reality, suggesting actual objects flung into space.

In "Moonshade," we see a platform, or plank, on which visual data are coyly placed.

Often, it appears that Bernstein is probing inner space and imaginary realms with this work, as in "Shadowshade," in which Venetian blind-like strips cleverly invite us to peer, voyeuristically, into a space that bears a resemblance to an interior, but with alien motifs.

Outerspace kitsch comes to visit, as well, in "Spaceorb," with its spheres and other 3-D-like shapes adrift in a reddened space, like debris over Mercury.

At times in this show, Bernstein's works seem haphazard and unfinished, like sketches or compu-doodles on the way to more complete pieces.

On one wall of the gallery hang four of those more successful works, in which striking visual effects and complex blends of materials achieve a happy marriage.

Here, we find fuzzy melting blobs and forms set against sharper imagery, sometimes evoking the very concrete texture of stucco, as in "Opal."

"Arcade" is more patently unreal, a digital concoction in which seeping, semitransparent colors are layered on oversaturated, serrated shapes. The strips and layers that compose the look of "Echo" suggest fabric from another plane, a digital plane.

An implicit message in this show is the idea that computer-generated imagery is a logical extension of artistic media we consider more direct and hands-on, such as drawing and painting. Those time-honored, pre-digital artistic means, too, involve the calculating efforts of artists who rely on tools in supporting, twisting or defying reality.

There is no there here, despite what we're skillfully led to believe.


Saul Bernstein, "Form in Time," through Oct. 17 at Woodbury University Art Gallery, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd. in Burbank. Hours: Monday-Thursday, 12:30-4 p.m.; (818) 767-0888.

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