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Works' energy is just so L.A.

December 08, 2006|Holly Myers | Special to The Times

"Into the Silver See-Through," Chris Natrop's first exhibition at Bank Gallery, is as enchanting an experience as its title would suggest. A wonderland of white paper cut into intricate foliage-like designs gives the effect of fantastical landscapes suspended around the gallery.

The show's title piece is a dazzling 30-foot wave that begins in the top corner of one wall, where it appears to tuck under the head of an embedded column, and cascades in a long, undulating stream across the length of the gallery. The piece hovers about an inch from the surface of the wall, mounted on long nails, and a soft orange glow emanates from beneath it in places -- the wall's reflection of the paper's neon orange underside. Slender strips of Mylar trace through the wave like train tracks, emphasizing the swift, roller coaster momentum.

A second installation, "Landing Nowhere Else," features lacy curtains of cut paper hanging maze-like from a net suspended overhead. The paper is stained here and there with faint traces of color (watercolor paint and green tea, according to the checklist). Spotlights positioned in different parts of the otherwise darkened room create dramatic shadow patterns across the walls and the other veils of tangled paper. The result is a delirious chaos, like a magical blizzard of paper snowflakes.

The forms that appear in these sheaths of paper are ambiguous. In some places, they suggest flowers, vines or tree branches; in others, power lines, explosions or stretches of skyline. The organic and the synthetic are so intertwined as to be virtually indistinguishable, creating a rich perceptual confusion. It all looks familiar, but the familiarity is impossible to pinpoint.

The show's press release describes the work as a "meditation on the Los Angeles landscape." (Natrop moved here recently from Northern California.) His experience of the city, as conveyed in a handful of impressionistic text fragments included alongside the work on his website (, is deeply perceptive but also poetic, even fanciful.

"Months after the last rain," one passage reads, "the hot Earth bakes, its 'first green' having long since given way to pale, dusty tinder-straw.... Melty asphalt crumbles underfoot, glowing red-hot orange. Strange, waterless plants push themselves out of the cracks, reaching for air."

"Traveling parallel to the interstate, a hanging-garden spills from an overpass, brushing the speeding cars below. Long sweeping vines kiss the drone of persistent traffic, momentarily disrupting the incessant monotony."

"A glint of speeding chrome pulses through arteries breaking through the sea of shabby plainness, buzzing facades streak by, and flashbulbs explode against a fleeting glitterati."

This last passage is as apt a description of "Into the Silver See-Through," the exhilarating wave-like piece, as anything a critic could add. A complex portrait of a city that can be elusive to outsiders and newcomers, the work captures not the look of the place, exactly, but its often dizzying atmospherics.

Bank Gallery, 125 W. 4th St., L.A., (213) 621-4055, through Dec. 16. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Generational differences

"Decoys and Deconstructions," a thought-provoking group show at Overtones, assembles four female artists from two generations whose work explores "the relationships between power, abstraction, media and military violence." Although the artists seem more or less aligned in their politics, their approach differs significantly along generational lines.

The works of Nancy Buchanan and Martha Rosler, both of whom came of age as artists in the 1970s, are direct, unambiguous and intentionally hard-hitting. The works of the two younger artists, Hillary Mushkin and Mara De Luca, though physically larger, are far more subtle, in part as a result of the artists' deeper investment in the terms and strategies of abstraction.

Buchanan's " ... AND BABIES?," made in 2003, is a video installation that ties disturbing footage of deformed fetuses preserved in a Vietnam hospital (victims of Agent Orange contamination) to the exposure of Gulf and Iraq war veterans to unhealthful levels of uranium. Rosler's "House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home," a 2004 series of digital photo montages, incorporates images from the Iraq war into domestic scenes drawn from advertisements and lifestyle magazines.

Mushkin's "The Sleep of Reason," a six-minute video projection combining footage of American fireworks, the bombing of Baghdad and various other light effects, is as quiet a meditation on the phenomenon of the explosion as you're likely to see. And De Luca's trio of 8-foot Color-field paintings -- one all black and two characterized by a stylized, explosion-like motif -- makes the perfect companion: an elegant study in color, scale and visual impact.

These younger artists are clearly embracing political content, but using abstraction to create space around that content, allowing viewers to absorb it differently.

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