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Glenn Brown's Sculptures, Paintings Display Edgy Restlessness

July 06, 1999|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As if possessed by the spirits of other art forms, Glenn Brown's works at Patrick Painter Inc. possess characteristics that ordinarily define the heart and soul of other media: His sculptures behave like paintings and his paintings look like photographs that often appear to have been manipulated by computers.

Rather than diminishing the strength of the young London-based artist's objects and images, this ambivalence endows them with an edgy restlessness as exquisite as it is cold-blooded, at once hyper-refined and ruthless. A vampire-like shadow falls across all of his art, the best of which makes your skin crawl.

A pair of tabletop sculptures, "We No Longer Wish to Cling to the Life of the Body" and "The Sound of Music," could not be more insistent in their assertion of weight, volume and modeling--sculptural qualities if ever there were any. But each of these richly textured pieces is made almost entirely of paint, slathered layer upon layer.

More significantly, Brown has painted his sculptures as if they were objects in traditional figurative paintings, dramatically lit by a single light source. Each abstract piece doesn't have a proper front and back so much as a colorful side bathed in bright light and a dark side shrouded in deep shadows. No matter how they are actually lit, one side remains mossy and mysterious.

Brown's paintings bear parasitic relationships to their sources, subjects and techniques. Dali's 1931 "Autumn Cannibalism" is freely cannibalized by the young artist's "Oscillate Wildly"; his "Zombies of the Stratosphere" transforms a painting by Arnold Bocklin into a prop-like cutout as tacky as it is creepy.

Based on Frank Auerbach's thickly built-up oils, Brown's portraits make Gerhard Richter's blurry images look sappy. The glossy veneer of a Cibachrome infects Brown's images, whose razor-thin skins of paint look so much like photographs of paintings that it's hard to believe your eyes. Fusing photography and painting, his work also melds Dorian Gray and his portrait, forming mutations that may not be vital but are undeniably powerful.

* Patrick Painter Inc., Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through July 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Chipped Paint: You don't have to be an artist to see the beauty of the wide variety of house paints available in any home-improvement center's display of color chips. If you are an artist, though, your paintings had better be as engaging as these samples. Otherwise, viewers will bypass your work in favor of the real thing.

At Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, Peter Wegner's painted panels are neither as compelling nor as useful as such ordinary color chips. Resembling enlarged versions of paint samples, the Portland-based painter's abstract pictures add only scale to the format, proportions and tints of these mass-produced spectra.

The vertical works consist of four, five or six rectangles of generally muted colors; beneath each is printed the paint's name and number. The multi-panel paintings include three or seven individual sections that have been similarly labeled and arrayed horizontally.

Some color groups, such as "Sunlight/Spotlight/Skylight/Highlight/Nightlight/Limelight/Moonlit," appear to have been selected for their names. Others, like "Pale Vista/Shallow Water/Skinned Bark/Burnt Toast/Briar Patch," look as if they were chosen for the ways in which their colors complement and clash with one another.

In both cases, however, Wegner merely treats color chips as ready-made paintings. Visually wan and conceptually insipid, these overblown art-school exercises refer to a slew of historical references--Duchamp, Pop Art, Minimalist abstraction and image-and-text Conceptualism--but fail to rise above their sources to do anything more than congratulate viewers for reading them correctly.

* Griffin Contemporary Exhibitions, 915 Electric Ave., Venice, (310) 452-1014, through July 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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