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Vision tutored by the camera

November 15, 2002|Christopher Knight | Times Staff Writer

Recent photographs by Donald Blumberg, whose retrospective is currently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, focus on quiet anomalies in the landscape. Subtle peculiarities in the world make a viewer increasingly conscious of similar oddities produced by camera vision.

Blumberg almost always works in black and white, and every piece in his handsome show at Jan Kesner Gallery (his first in six years) is a luxurious gelatin silver print. The use of black and white, given the difference from the colorful avalanche of pictures that inundate the modern commercial landscape, has been a traditional signal of artistic seriousness for artists of Blumberg's generation (he's 67).

The rural locations in England, Ireland, Scotland, Greece and New Zealand pictured in all but three of the 27 works further isolate the photographs from common concerns of pop culture. Blumberg moves us away from the familiar, but his aim seems to be to make us more conversant with the camera imagery we confront every day.

A pair of photographs shot in Wales show a rocky outcropping that juts into the sea -- one image taken from a distance, the other close up -- turning your eye into a zoom lens. The close view looks oddly monumental and imposing, the far view pastoral and bucolic.

Boulders on a hillside in Greece mingle almost imperceptibly with the stone foundations of a long-gone building. The ruined foundation becomes a subtle historical memory for the clusters of houses and other buildings glimpsed in the distance. Time telescopes.

A magnificent waterfall cascading down a mountain slope in New Zealand finds visual echoes in the patterns of striation on small stones in the foreground. Solid mimics liquid. Macrocosm reverberates against microcosm.

Blumberg, like other conceptually oriented photographers such as Eve Sonneman, often juxtaposes two photographs, which has the contradictory effect of emphasizing the selectivity of the camera's lens. The existence of things outside the frame is italicized, gently underscoring the vastness of what has been excluded from the picture. Cameras invent context, and Blumberg's work shows how knowing things have been left out is often as important as seeing what's there.

Jan Kesner Gallery, 164 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 938-6834, through Dec. 28. Closed Sunday and Monday.


Revuelta scenes mistake truisms for content

Last year's debut exhibition at Iturralde Gallery of Spanish figurative artist Alfredo Garcia Revuelta was marked by a refreshing willingness to be aesthetically plain-spoken and direct -- that is, by a lack of ironic posing. However, his second outing demonstrates a pitfall of that approach: Leaving something out of a work of art doesn't answer the question of what to put in.

Revuelta's new works are familiar homilies, which he's given the bold, punchy, graphic look of cartoons. A cheerful blend of pop and folk art, each of the 14 pictorial scenes is a canvas cutout whose forms are filled in with threaded lines of brightly colored glass beads. The artist gave his designs to craftsmen to execute (he encountered bead workers first in Bali, later in rural Mexico), and they performed with skill. Figures are typically outlined in black, while the colored shapes are flat.

The subjects are platitudes. In "Trapped by Time," five cookie-cutter bureaucrats are held in bondage by the confining "ropes" of enormous wristwatches. "The Friends" shows three dully attired businessmen, their faces literally green with envy, surreptitiously sticking knives into the back of their flamboyantly dressed colleague, who clutches a trophy.

In "Tree of Love" -- at more than 6 feet tall, the largest work -- young sweethearts carve a symbol of their devotion into the trunk of a tree, whose leafy limbs coil into a tangle of knots. "Without Comment" replays the old European Baroque theme of the eager and uncultured rube being fleeced by a sophisticated and unscrupulous beauty -- here, two businessmen ogle a painting of a recumbent nude, who takes advantage of their distraction to reach out of the picture frame and pick one man's pocket.

The simplicity and familiarity of Revuelta's stories are undone by his appropriation of the folk-craft technique. Not only has it been used to more poignant effect by other artists (most notably Alighiero Boetti); it's also hard not to be distracted by the knowledge that the unidentified artisans doubtless create works of equal caliber on their own. Why do they need him?

Iturralde Gallery, 116 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 937-4267, through Nov. 27. Closed Sunday and Monday.


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