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A New View of Life on the Home Front

April 23, 1999|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Until very recently, family values and contemporary art have had precious little to do with one another. But as family structures diversify and art keeps pace with these changes, it's becoming increasingly clear that cutting-edge works are no threat to the social principles and standards that spring from and foster domestic tranquillity.

While avant-garde radicals may despise this development, modern-day romantics embrace it with growing boldness. At Regen Projects, Catherine Opie's new photographs celebrate middle-class domesticity with more verve and passion than have been brought to this subject in several generations.

To make the series of impeccably printed images from which the nine on display are taken, the L.A.-based photographer loaded her equipment (and dog) into an RV and headed out on a 10-week road trip that took her through Tulsa, Okla.; Durham, N.C.; New York; Minneapolis; and San Francisco. In these and other cities, Opie photographed lesbian couples and families, relaxing in backyards, hanging out in kitchens, lounging on sofas, staring out windows and playing with children.

Happy moments predominate. A pregnant woman and her partner float lazily in a swimming pool in the Hollywood Hills. Another couple watches their 2-year-old daughter with great contentment. The sweetest picture portrays a middle-aged pair holding hands as they sit in bright yellow chairs, between a big satellite dish and propane-tank trailer.

But all is not bliss in Opie's photographs, which refuse to idealize home life. In a low-ceilinged New York apartment, tidiness barely glosses over a sense of claustrophobia. In Durham, a sunny afternoon of yardwork gives way to deep tensions. And in a San Francisco flat, four young women cannot hide their expression of life-long defiance, even when sitting around their cozy kitchen.

Opie's series is a love poem to relationships that flourish in the privacy of home. Her sumptuous color prints do not portray a group of individuals as much as they give physical form to the emotionally charged relationships between and among women who know each other extremely well. It's heartening to see a gay artist practicing "straight" photography as if the genre were tailor-made for her quietly beautiful works.

* Regen Projects, 629 N. Almont Drive, (310) 276-5424, through May 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Spills and Chills: Ingrid Calame's first L.A. solo show of paintings and drawings delivers on the promise the young artist has exhibited in various group shows over the past three years. At the recently opened Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, Calame's graphic abstractions could be the offspring of Helen Frankenthaler's worst nightmares and Stanley Kubrick's coolest fantasies.

Composed of the silhouettes of spills she has traced from city streets and sidewalks, these supersaturated abstractions are stain paintings gone wrong. Neither spontaneous nor gestural, they are executed in enamel on aluminum, in a synthetic palette that shares more with postindustrial mishaps and high-tech manipulation than organic forms and natural processes.

The gallery's main space--whose floor, walls, ceiling and chimney-like skylight are painted bright white--is vintage Kubrick, a cube of palpable light both sexy and ominous. It also looks as if it were made for Calame's precisely articulated paintings, whose razor-sharp contours begin to resemble 3-D cartographies, and whose modest size is belied by their impressive scale and density.

In the rear gallery, four colored pencil drawings on Mylar insist on their two-dimensionality. Unlike the paintings, in which solid shapes overlap one another to form tense spatial illusions, the drawings consist entirely of outlines, suggesting X-ray dissections of another image's otherwise invisible layers of under-painting.

Whereas Calame's works on paper seem to embody a single split second of time (in which everything is mysteriously visible), her panels give shape to longer temporal expanses, over which impossibly complex layers appear to have piled atop one another. In both cases, her bold abstractions warp time and space by drawing viewers into a mesmerizing world where materials and illusions fuse.

* Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., #8, (323) 525-1755, through May 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Bold Abstractions: Over the years, Richard Allen Morris has remained one of San Diego's best-kept secrets, a 66-year-old painter's painter admired by other artists but unknown to a wider audience. At Chac-Mool Gallery, his first solo show in Los Angeles is beginning to bring his abstract works the attention they merit.

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