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Exploring Metamorphosis and Ephemerality


Colombian artist Oscar Munoz was an unforgettable standout in "Amnesia," the 1998 show of new art from South America organized by Christopher Grimes Gallery. His work there had sensual immediacy and profound implications.

In one group of images Munoz transferred photographic portraits onto mirrored metal disks. The faces could hardly be seen until you literally breathed life into them, the resulting fog briefly intensifying the contrast between image and background surface. In another piece, Munoz floated photographic images of body parts in dark powder on the surface of shallow trays of water. Periodic drops from faucets above gently eroded the images, while evaporation gradually reduced them to a filmy residue.

Mortality, contingency and transiency converged exquisitely. What wasn't ephemeral was Munoz's own insight into time's power, and its command over physical form and psychological comfort.

His first solo show in L.A., now at Iturralde Gallery, more than affirms his technical and philosophical gifts. The show, called "Trans figuraciones," contains photographs, videos and sculptural installations. Metamorphosis of spiritual and mythical import is invoked here, though the work also speaks powerfully on a basic, physical level, echoing the body's passage from wholeness to decay.

In one series Munoz used a silk-screen-like process (as in the "Amnesia" work) to transfer a photographic self-portrait in coal dust onto the surface of water in a shallow clear plastic box. In time the water evaporated, and what Munoz exhibits here is the thin, gray crust that remained in the box, forming a ghostly, diffused image of the artist's face.

Through this stunning process Munoz triggers multiple, overlapping associations. The photograph's relationship to the body photographed feels palpable. And if the photograph is a physical trace of the body, is this dry dust the trace of a trace? The grainy images in these trays bring to mind the famous Shroud of Turin, said to bear the imprint of Christ's body. The debate over authenticity only serves to remind us how much belief--or at least the suspension of disbelief--strengthens the claims of presence and likeness.

In photographic sequences and two videos, Munoz tracks another type of transformation, as powdered portraits and self-portraits floating in a sink full of water are sucked down the drain. As the water level lowers, suction corrupts each face's features into a discontinuous mess, a Rorschach blot of indeterminate meaning. The coherence of the form succumbs to randomness. Personality devolves into base matter. The real and immediate shrink into memory.

Such is our common fate as animate beings. Vanity vexes the process, though, and, like Narcissus, for whom Munoz titles many of these works, we cling tragically to what affirms our own beauty, resisting the tug of the drain.

Iturralde Gallery, 116 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 937-4267, through Oct. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Potter's Assemblages:

A Film of Meaning

Carter Potter's new work at Angles sets in motion a scramble for definition. Are these paintings? Are they sculpture? Are they gimmicks or something more?

Potter attaches strips of 70-millimeter film to a frame the way a painter might stretch a canvas, creating a continuous, image-bearing surface. The film he uses is castoff leader, either clear, opaque brown or tinged with painterly spills of cyan, magenta and gold. Though earlier works by Potter (and one anomalous piece here) use film from the prime of a reel, imprinted with figures and scenes, the rest of the lengths used here are purely utilitarian, marked only with technical notations and countdown numbers.

Like many assemblage artists who recycle found materials, Potter stages a reincarnation of sorts, investing detritus with a new purpose and even a modest degree of beauty.

The clear passages of film allow us to see straight through to the stretcher bars and the wall, while the more opaque lengths reflect back our own image stuttering vertically down the banded surface.

Some of the works have the rough dimensions of a door; others are substantially larger. All are composed of paired panels that seem to bend at the waist, the lower section resting on the floor, leaning into the wall, and the upper portion flat against the wall. The leaning calls to mind the plank sculptures of John McCracken, but the form also conjures up the more pedestrian shape of a collapsible patio lounge chair, slats and all.

Potter seems to have something more serious in mind, courting references to stripe paintings and Finish Fetish slickness. But these "Test Results," as he calls them, are mixed. They can seem facile but, then again, crisply patterned and luminous. Ultimately they settle into that vast middle ground between the banal and the transcendent.

Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through Oct. 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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