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AROUND THE GALLERIES

A pioneer, and a fan, of the male physique

August 27, 2004|David Pagel | Special to The Times

If Hugh Hefner's Playboy contributed to the sexual revolution by serving up girl-next-door fantasies to American men, Mizer's photographs delivered a similarly wholesome yet far more diverse set of fantasies to men who liked looking at men. Mizer's influence can be seen in the work of artists as diverse as Bruce Weber and Robert Mapplethorpe, not to mention Andy Warhol and recent advertisements for Abercrombie & Fitch.

Mizer's pictures are historically important because they capture a time, place and attitude so vividly that it still seems to be with us. His photographs are inspiring because they were not made to fill a market niche that already existed. Instead, they created the niche and then filled it with aplomb. Their legacy shows that desire is too slippery, complex and uncategorizable to be simply gay or straight.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 31, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Bob Mizer film -- The Around the Galleries column in Friday's Calendar section indicated that no film had been made about the life of physique photographer Bob Mizer. Director Thom Fitzgerald's 1999 film "Beefcake" is an exploration of Mizer's life and times.

Western Project, 3830 Main St., Culver City, (310) 838-0609, through Sept. 11. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Landscapes, after the apocalypse

Odd Nerdrum's ballroom-scale paintings dream of Rembrandt, Van Eyck and Hals. But the Norwegian painter's pictures of half-naked folks wandering around post-apocalyptic landscapes -- almost always at dusk -- live in a world of sci-fi fantasy. These generically handsome, easy-to-read images of distressed damsels, lost tribes, loyal steeds and levitating boats are the high-end version of illustrations that grace the covers of fantasy paperbacks.

At Forum Gallery, Nerdrum's 12 shadow-shrouded canvases follow a tried-and-true formula: Slender northern Europeans, alone or in small groups, inhabit the foregrounds of misty landscapes so vast you can see the Earth's curved horizon, behind which the sun has just set. Most wear fanciful headgear, like medieval crowns or battle helmets, and little else. Aside from a milk maiden's frilly white frock, capes and blankets provide the only protection against the climate, which must be less inhospitable than the barren landscapes suggest. Bare feet abound.

Layer upon layer of rich golden glazes endow every square inch of each surface with the atmosphere of tasteful stateliness. Imagine an earnest version of "The Lord of the Rings" staged by an organic farming commune. That captures the curious conservatism of Nerdrum's art, in which shameless theatricality and back-to-the-basics sentimentality fuse.

A sly sense of humor winks from some of the paintings. This suggests that Nerdrum appreciates the absurd undercurrent running through his works. But he doesn't go as far as John Currin, who turns a similar sort of ambivalence into a campy extravaganza that is far more infatuated with being hip and trendy.

In a sense, Nerdrum's paintings are the European equivalent of Currin's New York pictures. Both are mannered marriages of old myths, Renaissance techniques and contemporary lowbrow sources. True to their locales, Nerdrum's paintings are more subdued and well-mannered.

Forum Gallery, 8069 Beverly Blvd., (323) 655-1550, through Sept. 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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A sublime look at high society

Etiquette may be making a comeback among ill-mannered Americans. But it never went out of fashion in Thomas Trosch's deliciously silly pictures of the upper crust, which, in his view, is a lot spongier than it's made out to be. At Black Dragon Society, three big oils on canvas Trosch painted between 1993 and 1995 insist that leisure is not the birthright of the privileged few but an attitude that comes in all shapes and sizes and is available to anyone willing to risk making a fool of himself in public.

Trosch's paintings resemble super-size "New Yorker" cartoons drawn by Miss Piggy. Across their surfaces, townhouse sophistication meets country bumpkin rambunctiousness in a blend that's felicitous and fun-loving.

Carefully printed words, casually drawn interiors, luxuriously painted details and crudely printed patterns provide the backdrop for a cast of characters whose cliched behavior ricochets from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again. At once dopey, disarming and delightful, Trosch's paintings transform the art world's tempest-in-a-teacup mentality into a freewheeling tea party with pitfalls and pratfalls all its own.

Each of the New York painter's bold works is more multilayered than a master chef's baklava. While reading oddly poetic dialogue written in comic book style, viewers are invited into stories that seem to be the offspring of essays by Amy Vanderbilt and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

But the best parts of Trosch's paintings are the ways they let you get lost in their abstract compositions, where paint piles up promiscuously. Some seem to cast hallucinogenic glances back to Florine Stettheimer's sweet escapades from the 1930s and '40s. Others are as contemporary, unpretentious and seemingly ham-fisted as the Muppets.

Trosch paints with license, not abandon. A consummate host, he leaves the best for his guests: a generous dish of kooky civility.

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