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ART REVIEW

A `Failure' to connect

Brazilian artist Renata Lucas' transplanted installation misses a chance to explore L.A.'s architectural landscape.

July 11, 2007|Holly Myers | Special to The Times

The work of Brazilian artist Renata Lucas explores issues that are as relevant to Los Angeles as to her home base of Sao Paulo, among them the politics of urban geography, the social function of architecture and the ideological nature of spatial organization. It seems appropriate, therefore, that her U.S. debut should take place at REDCAT, an internationally minded venue located in a neighborhood whose spatial organization -- a subject of controversy for decades -- is on the verge of another massive overhaul with the Grand Avenue project.

The occasion might have been a welcome opportunity to bridge the distance between two important Western cities and, even without addressing the subject of downtown directly, examine some of the questions at play in the area's development and in urban development generally.

Unfortunately, Lucas opts to play it safe by reprising a piece she created in 2003 for a gallery in Sao Paulo -- a piece that fits rather too comfortably within the REDCAT walls -- thus trading civic engagement for a lusterless reiteration of basic Minimalist tenets. Then she relies on a citation-studded essay by curator Clara Kim to provide much of the work's substance.

Titled "Falha" (Failure), the work consists of 182 roughly 3-by-5-foot plywood panels hinged together in rows of three or four and spread across the floor. When they lie edge to edge, they fit the surface's dimensions exactly, but they appear in shifting configurations -- folded over, stacked, pulled up at a hinge to form an A shape -- that viewers are invited to manipulate at will (though they're heavy, so it's not easy).

The idea, presumably, is to challenge the perceptions of fixity and stability that a floor is likely to inspire, to call attention to the gallery as a space and to attune viewers to the dynamics of that space, encouraging them to see it differently.

The physical effect, however, is pretty dull. Though deeply (perhaps too deeply) indebted to Minimalist sculpture, the installation lacks Minimalism's elegant materiality: the resonance of a Carl Andre, say; the precision of a Donald Judd; or the clarity of a Sol Lewitt. Romantic as one might like to be about the democratic virtues of raw, industrial materials, it's difficult in this case to get around the feeling that what you're looking at is really just a lot of plywood lying on the floor.

Part of the problem is that the space itself is already quite adjustable. This isn't the Met, with its heavy marble floors. It's not a cathedral or a courthouse, with a highly ritualized floor plan whose dimensions embody the dictates of power. It's a space that's designed for shifting -- the dimensions change with every show -- and the extension of an institution (CalArts) that prides itself on fostering experimentation and innovation. There's no real point to challenging these dimensions. Besides the matter of preaching to the choir, there's simply no tension here, either formally or conceptually.

Given the intriguing outdoor projects detailed in the exhibition's brochure -- a street intersection that Lucas fitted with a layer of plywood, a sidewalk that she overlaid with a second sidewalk in a depressed neighborhood that (like Bunker Hill in the 1950s) was soon to be demolished and redeveloped -- it would have been far more interesting if the artist had come to Los Angeles, spent some time and engaged with the space of the city.

If a public project was out of the question, Lucas might still have come up with something that at least acknowledged its surroundings. For an artist purportedly concerned with the urban landscape, with institutional space and issues of power, to simply recycle a previous work that could be installed to more or less the same effect in any gallery anywhere seems a bit of a cop-out.

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Renata Lucas

Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles

When: Noon to 6 p.m. or curtain time daily except Mondays

Ends: Aug. 26

Price: Free

Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org

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