The long-gone tradition of the portrait bust gets revived in a satisfying post-Jeff Koons group show at Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, organized by artist Ricky Swallow. Swallow's own contribution -- a hip-hop memento mori composed of a grinning skull wearing an Adidas knit cap, all sensuously carved from pale hardwood--is among the standouts.
So is the pair of sleek fiberglass heads by Steven Gontarski. The cold Neoclassicism of Houdon meets the pop chill of Darth Vader in these polished, pedestal-bound busts, where the heads are hidden beneath Magritte-like shrouds. Since they're hidden, it's hard to say just why one reads as female and the other male. Both are like blank screens that await a viewer's psychosocial projections.
Eric Swenson, whose impressive sculpture of a deer grazing on a Persian rug is currently at the UCLA Hammer Museum, contributes "Ebie," a carefully crafted, primate-like head with staring glass eyes. It sits on a shelf like some safari prize from outer space. "Ebie" looks at once totally human and utterly alien -- an icy form of estrangement that seems very up to the minute.
Rachel Feinstein diverges from the bust-length format with a small figurine, but she's in tune with the high level of skill set by the show. Her bearded, mustachioed "Walking Dandy" struts along an imagined catwalk with one hand on a hip, the other at his collar and his legs abstracted into a swooping strut. Wittily made from modeling paste, it's a veritable logo for our look-at-me age.
The weak link in the show is Francis Upritchard's small, tabletop still life of bottles, their stoppers made of assorted figurines, but mostly for reasons of tone.
Handsome but conventional, it seems out of sync with the cool intensity that characterizes the other sculptures.
Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 525-1755, through Saturday.
Birds, spiritual and savory
Birds perform two starkly different but related functions in the Rose Gallery selection of 22 black-and-white photographs from the 1970s to the 1990s by Mexican artist Graciela Iturbide. Related to her book "Pajaros" (Birds), published last year by Twin Palms, the exhibition pairs spiritual metaphor with mortal icon.
Seven pictures show chickens -- on the way to market, slung over a cement wall where blood trickles down, hung by the feet in clusters from a bicycle. In one of the most powerful, five women, cropped at the shoulders, stand in a semicircle plucking dinner as feathers drift to the ground.
The anonymity and matter-of-factness in Iturbide's com- position releases a sense of timeless wonder at rituals of sustenance.
The remaining photographs frame birds as emblems of free spirit. Pigeons play with monkeys or joust with bulls. A tree seems to explode into a cloud of starlings. A silhouetted telephone pole alludes to a Christian cross, while the immense flock of birds dislodged from its arms moments before the shutter snapped suggests an ethereal departing soul.
Iturbide is a photographer for whom the camera is a beneficent trap. Her pajaros regard the world, but they are acts of poetic imagination.
Rose Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-8440, through May 3. Closed Sunday and Monday.