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Art | Around the Galleries

Morrison tweaks the world of sculpture

May 16, 2003|Christopher Knight | Times Staff Writer

Can a cartoon be abstract? In the Project Room at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, three large new sculptures by Joel Morrison answer in the affirmative. Morrison's shape-shifting sculptures are like cats in a sack -- animated, barely controlled chaos.

Untitled, the sculptures are casts made from clumps of detritus -- cans, pieces of wood, pillow foam and other dumpster stuff -- held together with gaffer's tape. One, cast in inert gray aluminum, stands 8 feet tall atop a steel pedestal. The others are fiberglass, white and shiny as a new refrigerator or softly mottled with pastel color that has been sanded into a blur.

A nose, a protruding limb, the curve of a back and other exaggerated bodily forms seem to present themselves for perusal as you move around the lumpy object; just as easily, the body parts slip back into the amorphous whole. The sculptures are not figurative, but they suggest they might become figurative if you look at them long enough.

They also have fun with other art. Morrison's forms nod in many classic Modern directions at once: Brancusi's sleek abstractions, the internalized vitality in Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, the atmospheric veiling of Medardo Rosso. But Morrison ramps up the energy in a distinctly contemporary way, with intimations of the eccentric sculptures of Franz West. You sense the detritus hidden inside, so the tony art historical pedigree gets a sly twist.

All three works employ swelling, bulbous, top-heavy forms, while balancing on small feet. The precariousness is unnerving. Sculpture is traditionally concerned with hauling itself up off the floor to stand tall, and this work does too. But the instability, which is strictly visual, makes the feat seem a momentary triumph.

Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., (310) 586-6488, through May 31. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Visual theatrics of boxing rings

New paintings by Mario Correa at Acuna-Hansen Gallery show a subtle but distinct shift. The young artist's first body of work recalled Precisionist painting of the 1920s, with urban staircases and railings depicted as if reflected in a convex mirror, while smooth, sharply defined color bordered on hard-edge abstraction. The current work pushes a similar formal envelope, but the five paintings internalize the visual theatrics.

Correa's subject now is boxing rings. No fighters are seen, just the demanding, exciting, daunting arena. The painted theme -- a struggle fought on canvas -- is apt. A sly narrative of painting ensues.

Red, white and blue are the operative colors, with graphic hits of advertising injected here and there (Budweiser beer, Office Depot, Sprint). One painting shows a large hall with a practice ring done up in patriotic bunting. The rest move you up close to the scene of the action, ringside by the ropes.

The viewpoint changes from painting to painting: looking up, with the bleachers bathed in black; looking across, the ropes creating parallel bands of color to create a stripe painting; looking down onto the mat, where shadows and reflections establish an almost completely abstract field. Correa deftly shifts chromatic tones -- say, deep red foreground ropes and bright red background ones, since the ring would be illuminated inside. The surface pattern stays as flat as an Ellsworth Kelly, while an intimation of optical space is made.

The most playfully puzzling work is "Pound for Pound." Two tall panels, each hung in a corner with an empty wall between them, bear the vertical logo of Caesars Palace. White rays radiate from Caesars' name, like searchlights in an Ed Ruscha painting. It takes a moment to realize that those aren't lights, they're ropes seen from below. And the vertical logos are printed padding that covers the boxing ring's metal posts. You're seeing them from an unexpected vantage inside the ring, on the mat, down for the count, looking up -- knocked out by a painting.

Acuna-Hansen Gallery, 427 Bernard St., Chinatown, (323) 441-1624, through June 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Dissonance in acrylic on wood

Sweet deathliness and candy-colored horror permeate the paintings, drawings and video installation by San Francisco artist Jo Jackson in her L.A. solo debut at Roberts + Tilton. A gentle, strangely affecting dissonance permeates the show.

One wall is covered with 19 acrylic paintings on wood in various sizes, hung salon-style. Each side wall holds one large drawing, while the remaining wall sports a mural. Using flat or mottled paint, Jackson emphasizes a two-dimensional graphic sensibility. Throughout, the most common image is a skull, with empty eye sockets and permanent grin. Yet the most abundant color is baby blue, accented with bubble-gum pink, lavender and other pastel hues.

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