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Art Reviews

Show of Warhol's 'Camouflage' Misses Power of Mass Display

February 12, 1999|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As works of art, these images turn cliches about representational painting inside out. While this art form is often derided for being an escapist fantasy that invites viewers to deny the realities of their lives, Ebner fully embraces a fantasized escape to create works that say more about the humans who view them than the animals they depict. In his hands, painterly escapism takes you back to yourself in ways you hadn't anticipated. After all, people don't need to see themselves in a picture to be moved by it.

* Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through March 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Cyber-Maze: Entering Stephen Hendee's softly lighted installation feels like falling through your personal computer's screen into a virtual world devoid of people, noise and face-to-face activity. So complete is the young artist's transformation of Mark Moore Gallery that it's easy to imagine that you have stepped, like Alice, through an updated version of the looking glass to inhabit the squeaky-clean bowels of some run-of-the-mill microprocessor.

A couple of corridors, whose faceted architecture recalls crystals and 3-D contour drawings, snake around one another, creating the impression that they belong to a vast electronic network. Underground crypts, subway tunnels and the endless halls of unfathomable bureaucracies are also evoked by Hendee's strangely engaging installation, as are the sets of futuristic movies and the backdrops of action-packed video games.

Titled "Shadow Proxy," the installation has a form that mimics that of the Minotaur's labyrinth. Its content, however, is worlds (and centuries) apart from the mythological beast's lair.

No visions of gory death at the hands of a flesh-devouring monster take shape in the artist's cybernetic stage set. Yet a silent menace pervades its bloodless world, in which any type of direct confrontation has the presence of a long-lost fantasy.

Made of nothing more high-tech than foam-core, tape, vinyl and wood, Hendee's walk-in sculpture has "temporary" written all over it. Yet it never feels flimsy or slapdash. Although its cheap, disposable materials share little with traditional sculpture's mass, solidity and permanence, they're perfectly suited to our Information Age. To cling to the outdated idea that sculpture must be chiseled from weighty substances isn't that different from believing that your bills will disappear if you cut up your credit card.

In the back gallery, six black-and-white ink drawings bring the quivering touch of the artist's hand back into Hendee's otherwise coolly detached art. Strange as it may seem, they are not as captivating as his installation--which, true to its virtual nature, looks even better in photographic reproductions than it does in the flesh.

* Mark Moore Gallery, 2032-A Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 453-3031, through March 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Visual Overload: At Flowers West Contemporary Art, 10 abstract paintings made over the past eight years by Bernard Cohen deliver an overdose of riotous visual stimulation. Big, bold and almost out of control, these wildly overwrought acrylics on linen are graphic extravaganzas in which layer upon layer of dizzying linear circuitry are piled atop one another to form dense, interpenetrating webs and fragmented patterns.

Unfortunately, the London-based artist's overloaded images also demonstrate that a painting has to do more than grab your eyeballs and bounce them around the picture-plane like a pair of ricocheting pingpong balls.

Getting the viewer's attention is only half the battle: Art must do more than move your optic nerves if it's to sustain your interest long enough to become more than a passing diversion.

Cohen's shamelessly sensationalistic pieces have no top, bottom or side edges. Meant to be hung any which way, they describe the disembodied space of maps or diagrams. Some, like "In the Distance," "Nine Stops" and "Passing Through" resemble elaborate subway maps that have been covered with a summer's worth of graffiti.

Silhouettes of airplanes and rocket ships appear in "Spinning Weaving" and "Of Clocks and Clouds," relating the lines in these works to skywriting and jet exhaust.

Filled with spiraling squiggles, grids that angle into deep space and thousands of dab-like dots of paint, Cohen's four black-and-white abstractions have the presence of lacy ornamentation and supercharged screen savers.

All that keeps you from dismissing these works as innocuous eye-candy is the fact that if you look at them long enough they'll give you a headache.

* Flowers West Contemporary Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 586-9200, through Feb. 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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