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Ghosts dwell in 'Trailer'

December 12, 2003|Leah Ollman | Special to The Times

This diaristic flow encompasses everyday moments (people sitting around smoking), and moments of greater extremity (sex atop a television set, a damaging skateboard fall). We've seen this before in Nan Goldin's proto-reality show, an autobiographical and somewhat tiresome photo-chronicle from the 1970s and 1980s, in which lives are turned inside out to expose the muck and despair that drive them. There's also more than a trace of Larry Clark.

Throw in the influence of cartoons, graffiti, outsider art and Raymond Pettibon, and you get Templeton's extravaganza of earnestness. What he exposes behind the so-called "Orange Curtain" is rarely pretty. But in its vulnerability, contempt, love, pain and humor, it's real and undeniably powerful.

Roberts & Tilton Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 549-0223, through Dec. 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Commentary's hip guise falls short

Irony abounds in Su-en Wong's new works at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, but it doesn't give the art much depth. Instead, the irony boomerangs -- and ends up coming at the art's own expense.

Wong works on panels, combining large, opaque fields of solid color with handsomely drawn images in colored pencil. Into her scenes of earthly paradise, she's sprinkled multiple nudes, all in her own image. The young women twine their legs around hanging vines and soak in a luscious lagoon. The overripe splendor of the environments is matched by a fairy-tale scale; the women are small, no bigger than a frog or a flower.

Sweet, alluring and available, the figures conform to a sexual stereotype of Asian women -- or, do they mock it? Like so much work that purports to critique the commodity status of art -- while playing right into it -- Wong ostensibly confronts stereotypes. But really she just repeats them, exploiting them under the guise of hip, ironic commentary.

Born in Singapore and living in New York, she makes herself the vehicle of this investigation into preassigned roles, but she ends up illustrating those roles rather than interpreting them. All the self-portraits combined don't add up to a genuine, authentic self.

Throughout, she plays with the theme of innocence in biblical terms, setting one of her selves among serpents and titling one of the panels "Eve Green." The sin these works succumb to most -- witness the figure lounging on a rock wall, reading Artforum -- is affectation.

Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through Jan. 31. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Significant work on insignificance

Marina Moevs' paintings remind us of what we already know but prefer not to dwell on: that our safety on this Earth is precarious, that nature's force can mean everything to us, but that we register as nothing to it.

The paintings at Koplin Del Rio Gallery are undeniably beautiful, but it's a complex beauty, threaded through with violence and destruction. Storms build with ominous force on the horizon. Homes are reduced to splinters. After the recent Southern California fires, Moevs' "Fire III" touches an especially raw nerve.

A large, lushly rendered oil, it depicts a street that curves uphill toward houses and trees in flames. The fire burns white in places and shades the sky that all-too-familiar reddish-gray and dense, acid black.

Like most of the paintings here, this one positions us as immediate witnesses, as if encountering this scene upon returning home. Like the best of the group, it's large enough (78-by-48 inches) to feel encompassing.

In "Across the Street" the storm danger has passed, leaving one picture-perfect suburban home compromised and its neighbor devastated. Again, Moevs situates us as observers on the safe side of disaster, but close enough to feel its reverberations personally.

Wreckage crisscrosses the street like a scattering of toothpicks, extending to our own feet. Here, in this exhausted, shocked silence, vulnerability makes room for awe.

Koplin Del Rio Gallery, 464 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 657-9843, through Dec. 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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