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'Rogue Wave's' Young Talents Blurring the Line Between Fantasy and Banality

July 13, 2001|HOLLY MYERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

L.A. Louver is not a gallery that many associate with young talent, but with its current exhibition, "Rogue Wave: Eleven Artists From L.A.," it proves more than capable of navigating with ease and insight the ever-surging tides of art school grads and other up-and-comers.

Curated by the gallery's Peter Goulds and Kimberly Davis, "Rogue Wave" is a graceful response to the Hammer Museum's "Snapshot: New Art From Los Angeles" and other recent shows celebrating the current face of L.A. art. With a sound roster of mostly young artists working in a variety of media (painting, sculpture, installation and photography, though notably no video), "Rogue Wave" expands the discourse initiated by these other shows and gives viewers good reason to be optimistic about the state of things.

Although it would be neither fair nor wise to make any sweeping judgments about the new face of art based on this and similar exhibitions, a number of intriguing thematic consistencies do bear mentioning. One of the most interesting is a fusion of fantasy and banality that closely resembles--and probably finds its roots in--the cosmology of the teen horror flick.

Charlie White's large blood-and-gore tableaux, in which fake severed bodies spill real-looking entrails into ordinary urban environments, allude to this genre almost directly. Cinematically staged but unemotionally photographed in cool, dry colors, they elicit an uncomfortable mixture of fascination and repulsion.

An outdoor installation by Tamara Fites that reconstructs the living space of a presumably fictional individual with an array of unsettling interests flirts with a slightly different genre of horror but also perpetuates its effects through the use of everyday objects. Steven Criqui's digital prints of sun-bleached L.A. street scenes enhanced with obvious, low-tech effects are far less ominous, but they maintain a similar fluidity between literal reality and fiction. His "Untitled (Consumer's Liquor)" (2001), in which cartoonish flames pour out of a Sunset Boulevard liquor store, is one of the funniest and most visually delightful of the works in the show.

Another element that runs through much of the work, including that of the three artists mentioned above, is a calm sense of detachment. Kristin Calabrese's beautifully contemplative paintings depict the decaying interior of an abandoned whorehouse, compounding issues of intimacy and absence, life and decay. The abstract paintings of Yuhnee Min and Sharon Ryan reflect a similarly meditative sensibility, the former in canvases covered with broad, soothing stripes of blue, purple and brown, the latter in translucent layers of fluorescent color applied monochromatically to large sheets of wood. As different as they are from one another, the sculptural works of Carlos Mollura (a floor-to-ceiling tube of clear plastic) and Steve DeGroodt (found-object assemblages) also raise questions of presence and absence.

Fortunately, "Rogue Wave" is relatively unencumbered by the adolescent slacker aesthetic that seems to dominate the Hammer show. In its place are sharp, energetic, eye-catching works like those of Christopher Pate, Gajin Fujita and Pae White, which assimilate pop culture influences through a refined and witty aesthetic vocabulary, rather than through the rejection of aesthetics altogether.

Whether the sensibilities embodied by these 11 artists represent real shifts in the art world or merely reflect the tastes of the curators and the whimsy of the market--if that is an important distinction--remains to be seen.

* L.A. Louver Gallery, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Sept. 1. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Soothing Deaths: The photo-based work of Japanese artist Yuki Kimura, enjoying its American debut at Low in West Hollywood, is cool and visually spare, with a conceptual framework as refined as a grid of polished steel, while also being funny and surprisingly unsettling.

Kimura uses simple, familiar objects in subtly unfamiliar ways to twist our notions of popular culture and the nature of the everyday world. Her exhibition includes six photographic triptychs and a video from a 1999 series called "Handkerchiefs." Each triptych pairs a particular handkerchief--most of which are printed with the sort of kitschy images one might see in garage-sale prints and paintings--with a particular part of two models' bodies. Although the size of the handkerchief appears to remain the same, the models, who are nearly identical despite their different genders, appear in greater and greater proportion as the series progresses: first an arm, then two legs, then one half of the body and finally the whole body, laying across the image of a gaudy seascape like a corpse, face covered with another, correctly sized, white handkerchief.

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