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Art Review

Down to Earth and Eye-Catching

October 16, 2001|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fanfare and hoopla usually accompany the openings of new art galleries, and their inaugural exhibitions often get caught up in the pomp and ceremony. "Cross-Cuts: Seven Los Angeles Artists" bucks this trend. Handsomely installed at Otis College of Art and Design's Ben Maltz Gallery by director Anne Ayres, the workmanlike show accentuates the utilitarian aspects of the adaptable new space designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm Frederick Fisher & Partners.

At one level, Ayres' title refers to the moments in movies when the camera cuts from one part of a scene to another. Visitors are invited to let their eyes do something similar.

This rapid, frame-by-frame motion is built into Elizabeth Saveri's endearing series of 74 oil paintings that mimics the format of a storyboard. Interspersed among the still-lifes and landscapes Saveri has painted on small wood panels are equally detailed images she has painted on plastic water bottles, Styrofoam cups and a couple of Advil tablets. Although her 70-foot-long sequence chronicles an ordinary day in the life of the artist, the fact that Saveri makes paintings faster than most people take snapshots gives her pictures a wonderfully out-of-step edge.

Less effective is Jessica M. Rath's "Killing Poses," eight doll-size trench coats made of translucent plastic and set on a long table. The graceful, freeze-frame motion they trace is swamped by heavy-handed references, which include action movies, the Columbine High School killings and Eadweard Muybridge's legendary motion studies.

Because no artist's work resembles that of any other, or even belongs to the same genre, your eyes flit back and forth between and among the paintings and sculptures, discovering relationships that are not immediately apparent. No internal walls break up the large rectangular space, leaving viewers free to splice together their own idiosyncratic views.

Huge abstractions by Dianna Cohen and Monique van Genderen make a virtue of patchwork. Cohen's "Bridge" consists of hundreds of plastic shopping bags she has cut open and sewn together to form a misshapen rainbow that is pinned to the wall. Its bright colors and formal layout pale in comparison to Jessica Stockholder's influential installations, which use three dimensions more effectively than Cohen uses two.

Van Genderen's ad-hoc compositions go further. Made of irregularly shaped sections of commercial vinyl that have been stuck to large white panels or directly on the gallery wall, these buoyant collages have one foot firmly planted in the world of post-painterly abstraction and the other in that of postindustrial signage. More often than not, it's a felicitous combination.

Do-it-yourself Contructivism also animates Steve Roden's 10 organic pattern paintings and his five modestly scaled sculptures. Built of components that resemble homemade Lego bricks or handcrafted Lincoln Logs, each two-tone configuration hangs from the ceiling like a model airplane in a boy's bedroom.

Jaime Scholnick's single sculpture uses disposable items to generate refined experiences. From across the gallery, his seemingly monochrome piece appears to be an 8-by-25-foot tumbleweed. As you walk closer, its swirling lines draw your eye into a vortex of visual energy, where green-tinted gold, shimmering silver, metallic black and flat white mix together, much like the brushstrokes in Impressionist paintings. A close-up reveals that "Coat Hanger Wall" consists of nothing but thousands of ordinary hangers Scholnick has tangled together.

Ayres' multipurpose title for the exhibition also pays homage to a carpenter's tool, a common saw that cuts across wood grain. The teeth of crosscut saws are finer than those of ripsaws, which tear the lumber as they follow its grain. The hands-on physicality of such blue-collar labor matches the down-to-earth feel of the exhibition, whose scrappy, unglamorous works embody an ethos of humble pragmatism.

The atmosphere of the woodshop takes vivid form in Michael Coughlan's "The Problem With You Is Me," a raw wood table on top of which two stretcher bars have been bolted face to face. Two tiny flowerpots and two plastic slugs create the appearance of mirror images, endowing Coughlan's bare-bones sculpture with the poignancy of unfinished business and out-of-sync relationships. Likewise, his 12-foot-tall cardboard sculpture shaped like a crystal looks more like a punching bag than a precious stone.

Neither slick nor trendy, "Cross-Cuts" claims this new gallery for artists and viewers and students who like to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty when examining and contemplating works of art. Less a showroom for masterpieces than a workshop where ideas are hammered out, the gallery should play an integral role in the daily life of the educational institution.

*

"Cross-Cuts: Seven Los Angeles Artists," Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, 9045 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester, (310) 665-6905, through Nov. 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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