From the moment you enter the gallery, you're in the shadow of Rubins' sculpture. Unable to get far enough away to take in a view of the whole, you find yourself backing into walls. The claustrophobia is intended, part of the punch packed by the aggressive piece and one of the strongest responses it generates.
After a while, however, you get used to your constricted quarters. When this happens, the scale of the installation shrinks. No longer daunting or intimidating, Rubins' sculpture begins to look tasteful and restrained, more like an awkwardly arranged bouquet of industrial-strength flowers than a whirling dervish made of recycled junk.
Essential to her art is the capacity to create a vortex of energy that sucks you in, swirls you around and spits you out somewhere else--at once shaken, stirred and stunned. Like a straitjacket, the gallery's architecture prevents this from happening. Rubins' monument to chaos, which was constructed on a gravel lot in Topanga Canyon and reassembled indoors, needs the wide open spaces of the outdoors for its rambunctiousness to be fully felt.
Gagosian Gallery, 456 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9400, through Oct. 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Flowing River: Tony Berlant's abstract landscapes take viewers on trips that ripple with visual energy. Yet there's nothing dizzying about his eight new mural-scale works at L.A. Louver Gallery. So fluid is their fusion of form and content that they make you feel as if terra firma had melted like an ice cream cone on a hot summer's day, forming a cosmic river whose pulsating current flows through the sky, across the desert, into the forest and deep underground.
Measuring 4-by-18-feet, "Painted Desert" opens the show with a bang. This dazzling panorama depicts dozens of crimson, golden and lavender canyons, all of which recede into deep space below a thin stripe of sky that is itself a rainbow of blues, grays and purples. About two-thirds of the way across Berlant's densely detailed painting appears the life-size silhouette of a figure, who, like each viewer, gazes into the image.
In terms of materials, the figure's head is a hole in the work's surface. It is the only part of the panel Berlant has not covered with his trademark material: found and fabricated sheets of metal, on which crisp and blurry images have been printed.
The lush colors and resplendent textures of the metal contrast dramatically with the barrenness of the head, an oval of raw wood upon which he has drawn simple shapes in pencil.
In terms of ideas, the head makes perfect sense. "Don't look in here," it says, "the space around me is infinitely more interesting." Teaching by example, it invites viewers to get out of their heads and into their surroundings. This is the world Berlant's images occupy, a sensuous realm in which nothing means much until it captures your imagination.
"Joshua Tree" ups the ante. Smaller yet more vibrant, its landscape does not ripple outward from a still center. Without a blank spot that allows your eye to rest, its sexy surface moves in every direction simultaneously, seething and heaving like a mind-blowing hallucination.
"Topanga" and "Rio" follow suit, creating verdant and carnival-esque environments in which nothing is explicit but everything is vivid. Accuracy of depiction gives way to intensity of sensation.
"Ornans" is an asymmetrical mandala that recalls Billy Al Bengston's "dentos," Edmund Teske's solarized photographs and Bruce Conner's collages. In a side gallery, nine intimately scaled works by Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) provide a touching contrast to Berlant's muscular works, all of which include so many nooks and crannies that it's easy to get off the beaten path and make your own discoveries.
L.A. Louver Gallery, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Oct. 13. Closed Sundays and Mondays.