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Art review: 'Into the Mystic' at Michael Kohn Gallery

January 17, 2013|By Christopher Knight, Times art critic
  • Fred Tomaselli, "Untitled (Entrance)," 2012
Fred Tomaselli, "Untitled (Entrance)," 2012 (Michael Kohn Gallery )

Mysticism isn’t new to art, having prompted (among other things) the emergence of pure abstraction into the Modernist lexicon more than a century ago. At Michael Kohn Gallery, a group exhibition of about 30 paintings, sculptures, video, prints and mixed media works from the past 50 years by 14 artists shows that it’s alive and well today — albeit with a suitably altered consciousness.

“Into the Mystic” takes its subject loosely, proposing that ultimate insight consists of contemplative, intuitive knowledge, not merely facts. Here it comes in the form of a pale, 1960s Wallace Berman image of the moon’s remote surface overlaid with cryptic writing; a black-and-white Vija Celmins screen-print of the vast, horizonless ocean that appears to carry a faint “X,” as if the printing plate had been canceled; a ragged piece of fiberglass painted with a Tiepelo-like sky by Joe Goode, who seems to have ripped it from either the actual heavens above or a movie-studio set; and a photographic close-up of shifting desert sand, over which actual sand and colored pigment has been applied by David Benjamin Sherry, as if reality were a veil obscuring camera-created truth in our mediated universe.

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Works also ricochet off one another. A Celmins lithograph of stars in a jet-black sky, a Milky Way-like ink drawing by Bruce Conner, a funnel of dramatic clouds by the team of Simmons & Burke, Berman’s moon, Goode’s sky, Sherry’s grains of sand — all converse indirectly among themselves.

There is humor, too. Fred Tomaselli’s “Untitled (Entrance)” lays daubs of bright acrylic color over a continuous, lozenge-shaped linear spiral of marijuana leaves embedded in resin. Like a doorway into deep space, the pattern merges a god’s eye — or perhaps a hell’s mouth — with a schematic vaginal canal, creating a psychedelically inspired vision of the birth of spiritual truth.

Michael Kohn Gallery, 8071 Beverly Blvd., (323) 658-8088, through Jan 26. Closed Sunday. and Monday.

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