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Deacon's Playful Sculptures Are Monuments to Creativity

November 17, 2000|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To walk through Richard Deacon's exhibition at L.A. Louver Gallery is to feel as if you're meandering among monumental three-dimensional doodles. Imagine that the seven free-standing pieces in the London-based artist's second solo show in Los Angeles are supercharged versions of the tiny squiggles people draw on scraps of paper, and you'll have an idea of the lighthearted whimsy at the root of these gorgeously glazed ceramic sculptures.

Measuring more than 6 feet from top to bottom, the tallest one looks like a giant corkscrew whose spiraling strand of metal has swollen so dramatically that no space remains between any of its curves. Its bulbous shape calls to mind conical seashells whose rough edges have been worn smooth by the surf.

The lowest sculpture, which rises to mid-calf, resembles a bird's-eye view of a Formula One racetrack, its hairpin turns snaking around one another with precision that would be dizzying if they weren't so bloated. Looking more like an over-inflated balloon than a flat track, Deacon's olive-tinted object consists of curves that nestle in one another, leaving no room in between.

A mid-size work, made of 11 blobs glazed in a blue-and-white pattern, resembles a snugly stacked column of plaid cushions. No two components are identical, and each pillow-like form is so tightly snuggled into its neighbors that no space comes between them.

But there's more than fun and games to Deacon's masterfully crafted abstractions, which are as formally rigorous as they are playful. The hushed aura of an august, once-in-a-lifetime social occasion surrounds their sinuous forms, endowing the austere, concrete-floored gallery with a sense of dignified magnificence that is all the more potent for its source in seemingly silly forms.

Deacon's deliciously unpredictable sculptures have the presence of miniature monuments. Traditionally, monuments memorialize historic events, marking locations where visitors can pay their respects to the glories of the past so that their legacies might live on in the present.

Likewise, Deacon's 3-D spirals, squiggles and blobs pay homage to the death of the doodle.

Not so long ago, people doodled a lot more than they do today. When telephones had cords, multi-tasking didn't exist and land lines kept our bodies in one place for minutes at a time. We'd pass the time by making little scribbles in the margins of pages.

Today, when we talk on the phone we're more likely to be driving across town, surfing the Internet or doing a household duty than scribbling with a pen. In the face of such obsessive efficiency, Deacon's sculptures stand as a silent protest against a work ethic that is getting the best of us. A joy to behold, his terrifically indirect works counteract the imaginative impoverishment caused by incessant productivity.

* L.A. Louver Gallery, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Nov. 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

*

Out-of-Body Experiences: To find sitters for her provocative portraits, Katy Grannan places ads for "art models" in newspapers in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Madison, Wis., and Austin, Texas. She then travels to the homes of the people who respond and embarks on what must be extremely curious photo sessions. The large-format prints that result, in which many of the first-time models are nude, combine a healthy dose of I've-got-nothing-to-hide naturalism with a love of artifice that refuses to apologize for its sleazy intrusiveness.

Grannan's images at Kohn Turner Gallery give physical form to the adolescent feeling of not fitting in--in one's family, one's hometown and, in some cases, one's skin. The anonymous, far-from-remarkable people in these multilayered portraits do not appear to inhabit their houses as much as they seem to haunt them like spirits.

The youngest (and only fully-clothed) sitters look as if they're so preoccupied with what's going on in their heads that they're completely unaware of their bland suburban surroundings. Grannan accentuates this sense of being out of place by holding her camera near the floor and aiming upward.

While this gives her compositions the out-of-proportion awkwardness of gangly teenagers, it also allows her to kidnap her subjects, spiriting them out of their homes and into the world of contemporary art.

A barefoot boy, with ruffled hair and oversize glasses, resembles a youthful Charles Ray, whose own self-portraits embody an astonishingly similar sense of being dazed and aloof. Also barefoot, a pubescent girl poses on a kitchen's linoleum floor. Wearing an expression of precocious world-weariness, she could be auditioning for a role in a Cindy Sherman film still.

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