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Pointed warnings to the self-satisfied

January 14, 2005|David Pagel | Special to The Times

The exhibition's centerpiece is a 22-by-38-foot painting on paper that covers the largest wall. Titled "Dream Object (I dreamt up an image of a yellow walled city with a yellow kid sticking his finger in the outer wall)," it resembles a backdrop for a movie made by a scene painter, except for the bright yellow form hovering, like an alien spaceship, in its center.

Thirty-five recognizable characters fill the concentric trenches in this symbolic city, including the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Borden's Elsie the Cow (as a set of sextuplets), a seven-headed giraffe, Barbara Bush, Britney Spears, Lynndie R. England, the whore of Babylon, Alan Greenspan, two latte-sipping Volvos and the leaders of the most powerful countries in the world, not to mention Hans Brinker, the boy with his finger in the dike.

Turning Surrealism inside out and standing satire on its head, Shaw captures the madness of the moment by leaving viewers free to make up their own minds.

Patrick Painter Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-5988, through Feb. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Where no detail is overlooked

To visit Jeffrey Rugh's solo debut at Solway Jones Gallery is to step through the looking glass into an artificial world of supercharged design. Every square inch of the spare-no-expense interiors in the young artist's 10 watercolors has been honed to perfection by an uncompromising eye. Imagine an interior decorator who has died and gone to heaven. With angels as clients and no earthly limits, he might concoct rooms that resemble the ones Rugh paints with prowess and devotion.

"Pagan Void" takes its title from an early work by Barnett Newman. In Rugh's picture, the Abstract Expressionist's easel-scale painting is enlarged into a multi-wall mural that anchors a stylish staircase painted in tasteful shades of beige. Two shelves on the landing's wall support a formal arrangement of objets d'art from around the world. Above them, a Newman-style canvas hangs, its trademark zip having petered out before reaching the bottom edge.

Rugh's "Bushes in the Twilight" features a wall-to-wall, tub-to-ceiling window in a 1970s-style bathroom that appears to look out at the Coliseum in Rome. Although closer inspection suggests that the window is actually super-realistic wallpaper, you can't be certain. Plush carpeting, modeled on Frank Stella's groundbreaking black paintings, adds to the giddiness, as does lavish tile work based on paintings by Vija Celmins, Albert Contreras and Hokusai. A gorgeous painting of a full moon could be by Laura Owens or Billy Al Bengston. And a modest tan hand towel resembles a Newman painting hung sideways.

In other images, pillowcases mimic the compositions of paintings by Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland; architecture by Verner Panton frames a matching orange plank by John McCracken, and a private jet's cabin is decorated as if it were a robber baron's private car, on his private train, on tracks in which he owns at least a controlling partnership.

Such quasi-totalitarian control is intimated by Rugh's operatically onanistic art, in which all of history is nothing but design potential.

His work's saving grace resides in its imaginative restlessness, its hyper-refined oddness and its true love of the unexpected, none of which ever happen in heaven, and all of which are evidence of sensual, down-to-earth pleasures.

Solway Jones Gallery, 5377 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 937-7354, through Feb. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


A painter still in development

Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke invented German Pop Art in the early 1960s. Since then, very few of their countrymen have built on their precedent, preferring instead to embrace the bad-boy gestures of free-wheeling Expressionism or to mock them by merely going through the motions.

Eberhard Havekost, born in Dresden in 1967, belongs to a generation of artists for whom Expressionism holds no fascination. At Roberts & Tilton Gallery, his first solo show outside of Europe and New York reveals a promising painter so deeply indebted to Richter's version of abbreviated Photorealism that it appears he has not yet come into his own.

Havekost handles paint with the best of them, nailing the right details precisely and leaving others just indistinct enough to be suggestive. His subjects, however, are too run-of-the-mill and noncommittal to generate more than passing interest.

A multi-part work made up of nine slightly larger than life-size portraits of strangers wearing sunglasses makes explicit Havekost's lack of interest in the interior lives of the people whose pictures he paints. But that's old news. And what happens between his canvases and a viewer isn't sufficiently engaging to maintain one's attention.

Two large paintings that present different close-up views of a building's facade and awning show Havekost at his best: infusing banal glimpses of unremarkable architecture with so much icy light that the dumbest things mesmerize. Compositionally, there's a lot more Ruscha than Richter in these crisp pictures. Plus, they hark back to American Photorealism, which is among the only styles from the 1970s that contemporary artists have not yet recycled (and probably won't, because of its time-consuming difficulty). This untrammeled terrain may yet prove to be a rich vein for Havekost to mine, making it into something all his own.

Roberts & Tilton Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 549-0223, through Feb. 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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