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Prieto's New Works: Colorful and Animated


Adults often dismiss abstract art by saying, "My kid could do that," but at ACME Gallery, Monique Prieto's new work turns this standard dismissal inside out. The show suggests that the issue is not whether a kid could make her paintings, but whether a kid likes them.

The difference is significant. To say that a kid could have done it is to assert that what we admire in art is its degree of difficulty--how well an artist has demonstrated his or her mastery of a medium. To ask if a kid likes it is to put a priority on pleasure. Where the former inquires about how something was done (in the past), the latter emphasizes what art does to you (in the present).

Prieto's snazzy abstractions have an instantaneous appeal that doesn't wear thin on second, third or fourth viewings. At once joyous and intelligent, her radiant paintings of indescribable shapes squiggling and shimmying across pristine expanses of raw canvas are the adult version of children's storybooks. In the same way that a child will want to hear a favorite story over and over again, Prieto's crisp images remain fresh and vivacious no matter how many times you see them.

More narrative than her earlier work, the seven big canvases and four small etchings highlight Prieto's skills as a colorist, with an impressive array of strange tertiary colors and hot and cold tones setting edgy, off-balanced moods. The razor-sharp contours of the single-color shapes are also more irregular than before, with myriad nooks and crannies meandering every which way.

Although Prieto designs her images on a computer, her jittery, idiosyncratic contours have less to do with pixilated imagery than with the desire to infuse her art with a sense of nervous animation. This quivering visual energy plays off the architectural solidity of her compositions, suggesting that their stacked shapes could topple in an instant.

Plus, these precariously balanced shapes are not plump and bulbous (like inflated balloons), but wrinkled and withered (like ancient stalagmites or weathered mountain ranges). Embodying time's passage with effortless ease, Prieto's paintings demonstrate that art does not need to look difficult to be serious.

* ACME Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 857-5942, through May 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Engaging: So cool they're hot, Philip Argent's new paintings at Post Gallery make advanced computer graphics look old-fashioned, outdated and cumbersome. Beyond slick and coated with enough diamond dust to make a jeweler salivate, the five variously sized images in the young artist's first L.A. solo show sparkle with the hands-off aura of a microchip production facility's dust-free inner sanctum.

Yet the pristine surfaces, meticulously blended pigments and laser-sharp contours of these acrylics on canvas do not depict a hermetically sealed realm of purity and perfection. On the contrary, they are littered with explicit references to pop culture, art history and contemporary painting.

All of Argent's abstract pictures consist of paintings within paintings. Across each one's template-like surface, slim-framed "windows" open otherwise impenetrable grounds onto other grounds. Sometimes these spaces open onto still other spaces, suggesting that behind every image is another image.

Elsewhere, cartoon clouds float in a smoky atmosphere in the background, suggesting that painting is a high-wire act with no safety net.

These illusory openings recall the software that allows you to run many programs at once, as well as the streamlined windows on 1950s passenger trains and the idea, initiated by one-point perspective, that Renaissance paintings were metaphorical windows onto other worlds. Imagine running a half-dozen programs simultaneously on a gigantic monitor, and you'll have an idea of the spatial complexity of Argent's paintings.

One of the most curious aspects of his sleekly designed images is that words do not stick to them. Indebted to the poker-faced silence of Edward Ruscha's enigmatic pictures and the graphic flamboyance of Lari Pittman's narrative emblems, Argent's seemingly Teflon-coated paintings do not stun a viewer into speechlessness as much as they leave one tongue-tied--agitated, engaged and anything but numb.

* Post Gallery, 6130 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 932-1822, through May 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Flowers on a Fuse: L.C. Armstrong's dazzling canvases at Angles Gallery marry the quiet beauty of freshly cut flowers to the spectacular drama of eye-popping, ear-splitting fireworks displays. Each of the New York-based artist's approximately 4-by-3-foot panels has the density and impact of three separate paintings that appear to have been stacked atop one another and mysteriously fused into a single, head-spinning image.

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