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Art Review

Images that Resonate in the Mind's Eye

November 01, 2000|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine the visual equivalent of an echo. That's one way to think about Peter Lodato's mid-career survey at Pepperdine University's Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art. Composed of 24 paintings, sculptures and drawings, and a marvelous installation that incorporates each of these media--this modest yet satisfying show resonates in your mind's eye long after you've left.

Lodato's art requires visitors to pay close attention to subtle fluctuations in their surroundings. In the same way that echoes remind us that seemingly empty spaces are actually full of phenomena, his works sharpen our perceptions. And, like echoes, they do not broadcast their messages loudly or aggressively: The ones with the strongest impact are those that hum just above the threshold of silence.

Time is not as important to the L.A.-based artist's non-narrative pieces as space. Accordingly, "Peter Lodato: From Installation to Painting, Selected Works 1980-2000" is not arranged chronologically. Instead, gallery director Michael Zakian has interspersed early works with recent ones, weaving a loose web of interconnections that doesn't tie things down with definitive, this-is-it finality as much as it invites a viewer's eye to rebound around the room--again, like an echo.

The first gallery (with a 10-foot-ceiling and no skylights) includes examples of Lodato's representational images, tabletop sculptures and abstract paintings. From 1980 to 1987, he made lovely watercolors of stylized, often ceiling-less rooms in which warm light and cool shadows play off one another.

"Study for Installation With Waxed Floor" (1980) depicts a deep-blue rectangle that is painted on a wall in the corner of a room and reflected in its polished concrete floor. In "Rouge" (1981), Lodato moves to oil-on-canvas, downplaying the illustrative quality of his imagery and amplifying its dreaminess.

This 3-foot-square painting shows a red and white diptych that has been installed in the corner of another gallery-like space, which appears to be half-full of pale blue water. To look at this picture is to feel the floor disappearing from beneath your feet, momentarily setting you adrift in a weightless world.

From 1989 to 1991, Lodato turned his attention to three-dimensional works. In the center of the first gallery, two plywood tables display five bronze, iron and stainless-steel sculptures. Each model-like piece represents a square or hexagonal room with two doors, no windows and no ceiling. The walls of the four-sided rooms slant outward, so that their open tops cover more area than their floors.

*

These box-like sculptures are light traps. In them, Lodato has composed precise lighting effects, using dull and reflective metals to contrast fully illuminated areas against partial and full shadows. To peer in through the doors and down through the ceilings of these artificially lighted pieces is to see, in miniature, what his earlier representational works depict on flat surfaces.

From 1992 to the present, Lodato has moved away from two-dimensional illusionism, making abstract paintings that fully occupy three-dimensional space. Some, like "Black Doors on Red Ground" (1999) and "My Russian Family" (1997-98), resemble floor plans of buildings whose walls have been folded out so that they occupy the same plane as the floor. Others, like "Tibetan Door #2" (1999), dispense with such direct architectural references. Rather than referring to other spaces, this 8-by-7-foot painting of interlocked fields of glowing color charges the space around it with palpable energy.

In the main gallery, seven paintings (made between 1984 and 2000) and an installation commissioned for the exhibition emphasize the sensuality of Lodato's art. A 25-foot ceiling and three large windows provide a perfect setting for these ambitious works, which do not trap light as much as they inflect its passage, causing it to bounce around the room with more subtlety than usual.

Echoing what takes place in the smaller gallery, these generally larger works also move from pictures of rooms to schematic floor plans to fully evolved abstractions. The installation "Jott (The High Window)" steals the show.

Reaching from the floor to the ceiling, covering one entire wall and continuing onto two adjoining walls, this 53-foot-long three-dimensional painting plays four rectangles of supersaturated color against four alternating expanses of soft gray and white. A black rectangle and a blue rectangle, painted directly on the wall, appear to open onto infinity. In contrast, a yellow rectangle and a white one, built of Sheetrock that is fastened to the wall, have the presence of solid chunks of color.

Despite its size, Lodato's installation is remarkably supple. Recalling the palette and off-balanced compositions of John McLaughlin's similarly proportioned canvases, this environmental abstraction conveys the impression that you have walked into a painting whose wide-open spaces are filled with infinite possibility. Although much is still made of the so-called de-materialization of art, Lodato's works provide a compelling instance of its re-materialization, in which things are just what they seem and a whole lot more.

* "Peter Lodato: From Installation to Painting, Selected Works 1980-2000," Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, (310) 456-4851, through Dec. 3. Closed Mondays.

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