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Empty lot, blank canvas

At Armory Northwest, 15 sculptors try to find life in the banal: a parking area. Some do.

August 14, 2003|Holly Myers | Special to The Times

The Armory Center for the Arts' second annual "Sculptural Installational" -- a juried exhibition of site-specific work by 15 Southern California artists -- has drifted out of the annexed warehouse space it occupied last year, Armory Northwest, and taken over the broad, shadeless parking lot behind that building.

It's not the most hospitable location for art or anything else. There's a high wall lined with razor wire on one end, dumpsters and an empty boat trailer on the other and a few minimally landscaped islands dotting the field of hot concrete between. The lot remains open to vehicles, which roll in occasionally, maneuvering around the art like locals in a bar full of tourists.

That an artist (or curator) should find inspiration amid the banality epitomized here, however, isn't especially surprising: It's a pertinent banality, symptomatic of our time and integral to the nature of our everyday experience. Indeed, it's just the sort of condition we look to art, in part, to explain.

Unfortunately, few of the show's artists stand up to it. Though buttressed in many cases by elaborate statements of purpose (collected in a binder for the viewer's perusal), most of the works are idly conceived and hastily assembled, offering up undeveloped fragments of ideas with little tangible sense of conviction. Because most of the works are made from cheap found materials -- more for the sake of convenience than artistic principle, it seems -- they succumb to the gritty atmosphere of the space without making productive use of it. As a result, they feel less like components of a coherent exhibition than just objects left out to bake under the sun, no more or less consequential than the dumpsters or the boat trailer.

The more abstract of these works tend to be inoffensive but unmemorable. These include Joyce Kohl's vaguely industrial sculptures made with found pieces of heavy, rusted metal and Jay Willis' spherical forms made from twisted strips of brightly painted steel, both of which have a practiced quality that many of the other works lack -- they appear to have evolved over time but feel adrift in their present environment.

Carrie Whitney's "Bound" (2002), an eye-catching trio of large steering-wheel-like forms affixed to one wall of the Armory building, and Ashley Thorner's "Rapid Air Color Pods" (2003), a dozen or so trash bag-sized sheaths of fluorescent netting filled with self-inflatable Rapid Air Fill bags (whatever those are), piled along the top of the building's front facade, are both more active in their relation to the space but are obscure in purpose and fail to hold your attention.

Similarly disappointing is Gretchen Gates' "Guardhouse" (2003), for which the artist coated the interior of a small building at the edge of the parking lot with white paint and thousands of overlapping lines drawn in blue marker. Although the piece exerts a sort of hypnotic pull going in, the feeling dissipates after a moment, when it becomes clear that the lines are largely random and don't change the experience of the space in any substantial way.

The more conceptually oriented works are, on the whole, fairly lazy, offering suggestions rather than arguments and gestures in place of ideas.

John Geary's installation of animal crates, empty but for a scattering of presumably fake droppings, and Emmanuel Crespo's "Weee-Sport" (2003), a child-size slide on a carpet of Astroturf, are so apparently negligible in content, at least in this context, that they hardly rise to the level of one-liner.

Mary Ann Ripper's "Dead Men's Shoes" (2003) -- a long line of mismatched footwear, each with a tag bearing a date and location -- and Stan Hunter's "Snagged" (2003) -- an assortment of objects and articles of clothing wound into the razor wire -- begin with evocative premises but lose them to crude installations.

Olga Koumoundouros' "_error" -- the most physically dominating work in the show -- is a large, boxy, plywood structure that that once spelled "terror" but apparently lost its T in transition. It's an example of "process" that the artist seems to endow with considerable significance but, in reality, seems only to have made a bland and derivative work scrappier looking.

All this said, there are several works in the show that respond to the space in particular ways and do achieve a certain charm. Alison Goldberg's "Nest" (2003) -- a human-sized version of a bird's nest, made with meticulous accuracy from strips of metal and plastic-coated wire -- and Noah Thomas' "Projectile Sound" (2003) -- a two-channel emission of beeps and buzzes that, while not especially new or innovative, becomes endearing as the sound follows you around the lot -- are two such works.

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