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Something Real Among All the Fakes

September 04, 1998|LEAH OLLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jacqueline Dreager's new works in cast resin at Ellen Kim Murphy Gallery read as diaristic fossils, artifacts of personal experience, memory and imagination. They are provocative reminders of how flies in amber, fossilized shells and other objects that endure serve, in a way, as diaries of the earth--what they reveal is selective, fragmentary, fascinating and elusive.

Nearly all of the 27 sculptures on view are wall-mounted, shallow disks of colored resin embedded with objects and images. Many evoke a sense of place--either the shore, through fake seaweed and shells, or the woods, ripe with fantastic mushrooms. One piece is titled "Site" and numbered, as if a specimen unearthed by archeologists. Dreager sets some marvelous scenes, even if she gives scant notion of the narratives to be played out within them. Like fossils, they hold their secrets tight.

"Your Dream My Nightmare" is among the more involving of the works. A phantasmagorial scene fills the large, translucent disk. In the center, a woman in kimono sits atop a storybook mushroom. Lizards, ladybugs, scorpions and bees drift about in the primordial soup floating around her, while a single giant spider hovers above her head. However ominous or threatening the woman's predicament, the tone of the work is fundamentally playful. Its kitschy ingredients would hardly allow it to be otherwise. (Dreager, it turns out, grew up in a family of Hollywood special-effects wizards.)

In terrific contrast to the slick resin and fiberglass sculptures familiar from the late 1960s that helped define the cool L.A. Look, Dreager's work revels in its rough edges--the cracks and bubbles that lend it an aura of raw authenticity. As sculpture, the work is full of rich effects of opacity and wispy translucence, and it is often beautiful in its intense reds and sunset pinks. As story, it makes an intriguing first page.

* Ellen Kim Murphy Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., (310) 453-7976, through Sept. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Emblematic: "Murmur," the summer group offering at FIG, is generally as quiet and introspective as its title suggests. The show aims to introduce work that is "contemplative, elusive, playful, with an undertone of personal investigation," and in Connie Mississippi's work alone, it delivers generously.

On a broad black shelf sit more than 30 enigmatic objects from Mississippi's "Timeline of the Twentieth Century" (1997-98). For each year of the century, Mississippi has carved or turned a wooden sculpture, which emblematizes the events or discoveries of that year. In a binder available at the gallery's counter, Mississippi devotes a page to each year, writing in longhand of the year's achievements, births and deaths, and assigning each its own emblematic image, though the relationship between year and image usually remains oblique.

The objects, painted in cool white lacquer, evoke a marvelous array of associations. Some seem futuristic, some nostalgic, some organic, others technological. Most of the shapes are quite simple--tapered cylinder, egg, missile, acorn--and as reductive as a Brancusi, though others are notched and variegated or bear a twisting arrow on top.

While succinct and conspicuously quiet, the sculptures take on a synergistic power when displayed as they are here, in substantial numbers. They suggest both universal typologies and a personal grammar, privately coded milestones of our century of mixed blessings.

Also included in the show are an installation by Ronn Davis, a group of Polaroid transfers by Otella Wruck, diaristic paintings on cardboard by Jeffrey O'Connell, sprightly assemblages by Susan Wolff and cool, crisp paintings by William Lane.

* FIG, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 829-0345, through Saturday.

Fresh Air: An air freshener--one of those odoriferous paper trees that dangle from a car's rearview mirror--hangs in one of the paintings in the group show "TWEAK(ed) . . . " at Ruth Bachofner Gallery. Its presence there might have something to do with a cow that also appears in the painting and the fact that both are located in the living room of a home. Jacqueline Cooper's "Home on the Range" is packed with things unlikely, unseemly and out-of-date, and it fits snugly into the show's mini-mandate to highlight the unexpected, to tweak convention, to freshen stale air.

Stas Orlovski's drawings are good for several uneasy chuckles. In two large charcoal images, both titled "Study for a Nose Job," Orlovski draws massive, bulbous noses protruding from barely articulated heads in a twist on the idealizing, minimizing intent of cosmetic surgery. Things get more perverse in his series "Hands." Starting with the same lithograph of a single hand, Orlovski adds, alters and distorts the image, exploring an encyclopedia of freakish options. In one image, thick tresses of hair sprout from the palm of the hand, and in others, the hand is pocked with brown burns or large, grotesque moles.

Aaron Butler's quirky still lifes start with the familiar, too, and mutate it into unrecognizability. His three modest paintings feature objects of mixed origin, hybrids of the domestic, organic and fantastic. Rush White's drawings on paper turn wood-grain patterns into a scaffold for high-energy hallucinations, cousins to the Surrealist automatic drawing. And Cooper's painting, air freshener and all, is a spirited scrapbook of '70s style, from the molded plastic chair to the sprawling blond nude, with her thick blue eye shadow.

A facile sequence of slick Cibachromes by Eduardo Navas dilutes the show's energy, while two text-based images by Linda Nishio and a cartoonish painting by Kavin Buck (who curated the show) are more mean than interesting. Would that an air freshener could clear away their hollow cynicism.

* Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 829-3300, through Saturday.

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