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Exhibition Explores the Space of a Split Second

April 26, 2002|HOLLY MYERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There is something tantalizingly elusive about the objects--sculptures, photographs and videos--in Roman Signer's current exhibition of recent work. Though presented on their own terms (not merely as documentation), each seems to reflect the essence of a piece rather than embodying it entirely.

This essence--and Signer's true medium--is the event: the ephemeral instant of interaction between two or more carefully chosen items: a bullet and a tabletop, a kayak and a gravel road, a heater and a block of ice. The Swiss artist's approach to the dynamics of the event, refined over several decades, is characterized by a Zen-like lucidity. Composed with simple, elemental items, a clean aesthetic and a dry sense of humor, each work resonates with the spare potency of haiku.

Many of the works hinge upon a moment of impact or explosion. In one video, for example, 100 grapefruit-sized iron balls, hanging from the ceiling of a gallery in a symmetrical grid, fall simultaneously into an equal number of soft clay bricks--a spectacularly noiseless sight. (Several of the clay-embedded balls are installed individually nearby.) Another quiet gesture of violence is contained in a sculpture called "Shot (Schuss)" (2002), which consists of a simple wood table with a jagged hole at the center, made, on some previous occasion, by a bullet shot through a curved metal tube that is affixed to the underside of the table.

Other works explore duration and the anticipation of collapse: a hot iron in a video slowly burns through the top of a wooden crate as it floats in a body of water; an oil barrel balances precariously on an inflated balloon that's been stuffed between the rungs of a tilted ladder. Installed directly in the gallery, this last piece makes the possibility of collapse an ever-present threat.

Among the most memorable works in this thorough and wonderfully satisfying exhibition--one of the few exhibitions of his work yet to be mounted in the United States--is "Two Wheels (Zwei Ra der)" (2002), which consists of a tall industrial fan positioned so that its wind circulates a bicycle tire affixed to a wall. Though almost laughably simple, the perfect alignment of the piece exemplifies the peculiar but rather beautiful logic of Signer's style--a style that moves beyond self-congratulatory cleverness in search of perfect alignment, however transient.

Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A., (310) 273-0603, through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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Yamamoto Leaves Space for Imagination to Enter

The title of Japanese artist Masao Yamamoto's current exhibition of photographs, his first in Southern California, is "Nakazora," a Buddhist term that means "empty air" or "the space between sky and earth." The title, at least in translation, aptly characterizes the refined sense of spaciousness that pervades both Yamamoto's images and his method of installation.

The images are fragmentary, poetic and occasionally abstract. Most depict landscapes and natural subjects; when human beings appear, their presence is minimal. It is a quiet, muted and very delicate world, stewing in a sense of meditation and personal reverie. Color is employed sparingly but wisely; soft sepia and gray tones predominate.

There are hundreds of images in all--most snapshot-sized or smaller (some are only an inch or two wide)--and the majority are fixed directly to the walls in scattered arrangements that resemble frozen swarms of sepia-toned butterflies. The personal scale and elegant arrangements bring out the best in the images, lending each the quality of a tiny treasure.

Framed groupings of three or four pictures in another room are considerably less striking; while the juxtapositions are intelligent, the works feel prefabricated--as though for easy sale--and the images are stifled by the artificial confines of the frame.

For its overall effect, the work relies unabashedly on the romanticism of the aging photograph: Each image is conscientiously manipulated to look handled, with creases and tattered edges to match the dusty tones.

While the same tendency might have led a lesser artist down the road of greeting card sentimentality, Yamamoto's eye for clear, intelligent beauty ultimately prevails. There are simply no dull images, and many that are nearly perfect: a very faint wisp of cloud that resembles a ballerina; a gaggle of geese silhouetted against a yellowing sky; a single orange flower and a corner of blue curtain against a wall of glowing white.

It's a shame that the real world isn't always this lovely.

Craig Krull Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. B3, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through May 18. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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Mallmann Moves Toward Light at End of the Tunnel

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