Los Angeles

“Arts of Southern California XII: Sculpture”

Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach

This is a frustrating and embar­rassing exhibition. To note that it will also travel nationally as a reflection of our sculptural climate is enough to send any red-blooded sculptor back to the ice and snow of the East. (Speaking of climate, our “outdoor way of life” would seem ideally suited to making, storing and placing sculpture, especially now with several foundries in the plan­ning. Why isn’t it?) Temperate in more ways than one, only eleven sculptors are represented and more than a few show inferior work. Missing are such men as Edward Kienholz, Kenneth Price, Charles Frazier, Peter Voulkos (although located in Berkeley, he was seen in last year’s L.A. and Vicinity Museum Annual), Jerry Rothman, John Bernhardt, Jack Horton, Oliver Andrews and Bernard Zimmerman among others. It is as if the organizers calculated the exhibition so as not to ruffle the inferiority complex of a single townsman anywhere; the whole thing seems carefully screened to filter out all that might even mildly challenge paro­chial convictions.

Exceptions are three: Robert Bassler, John Mason and Emil Lazarevich. Bass­ler’s Synthor is a bold, inventive steel and wood totem, beautifully crafted in the sense that high technical accom­plishment serves to fulfill rather than inhibit (as is so often the case nowa­days) a strong expressive intent. 

John Mason’s untitled fired clay col­umn is almost “painterly.” Long slabs articulate a kind of tender wit, exploring, probing space-form tensions in an essentially gentle and personal way. The column-idea serves in place of the paint­er’s rectangle. Mason begins with this very simple frame of reference, this sym­bol, and subsequent development deter­mines the specific character of the whole. The result is an alive presence. (Mason is often unfairly and inaccu­rately compared with Voulkos. Both are poets who happen to work with huge hunks of fired clay, but where Voulkos is heroic, Mason evokes, where Voulkos’ kiln burns with a physical passion, Mason’s kiln glows with a contemplative flame. Another, smaller untitled work by Mason is, however, spatially disturbing and strangely unrepresentative. “Out-of­-the-tube” cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow, dark and zinc yellow are sprayed on the recessed surfaces. This sculpture is far more abrupt than is usual for Mason, with advancing areas leaping bluntly outward from the core. It is as if the sculptor tried to make hot, raw color pull the recessed surfaces out­ward also––perhaps in order to push, by contrast, the advancing areas back where they belong. It didn’t work. No doubt it was an abortive afterthought. The paint application succeeds here only in putting the sculpture in unresolved conflict with itself. In art, as in life, strife is created whenever two equal and op­posite powers struggle for dominance. But at least it was a decisive, even des­perate, forthright mistake. Emil Laza­revich’s Light Catcher is a playful, conglomerate glyph of cast concrete signs and symbols––a private pueblo of moon-doodles, an altarpiece for im­aginative, child-like innocents of all ages. Lazarevich’s fantasies are real. In contrast, Svetozar Radakovich’s Four­-Legged Sculpture is merely delightful. By now we’ve toyed with the mechanical monster-insect-with-pushbuttons long enough, and it’s time to let such out­worn novelties wind down. Radakovich borrows someone else’s fantasy (pres­ently the local decorator’s at that), and his obvious skill serves only to elaborate the designer-craftsman’s standard con­temporary rhetoric. 

And speaking of rhetoric, witness Rob­ert Cremean. These mortised wood and plastic mache figures reveal a sharp cookie, all theatricality and cleverness. He seems more concerned with the showmanship of presentation than with the content of what he presents. Human figures are encased in tired Cubist cliches, with surreal footnotes. Cre­mean’s Reclining Odalisque is, para­doxically, a revelation. Arranged on a table, it is not the odalisque but the table that one can care about. At least the table has genuine purpose, if only to support the reclining figure. Only the table is without pretense; only the table is sturdy, convincing, made with unself­conscious intent. This table remains Cremean’s most authentic work to date, and, although a prop is a prop, it is more worthwhile than the cast or the perform­ance. Jack Zajac’s poor Easter Goat is still hung up on a stake and is still undergoing everything but what it most desperately needs: a quick death. Twisted, wrenched and otherwise tor­tured in order to exploit an abstract and dynamic visual organization of forces, Zajac merely uses the goat. Little old ladies of both sexes will continue to proclaim Zajac’s “humanistic” compas­sion for the goat as such. But don’t be­lieve it. His work is not literary. It is en­tirely visual and entirely abstract. The variety and unity of dynamic form in dynamic space, the criss-cross of diago­nals and the cluster around the impact, the contrast and play of round and straight, the bloated ovoids shading off toward delicate extremities––these are what Zajac’s work is all about. True, goats are beautiful, but Zajac is capable of greater powers of invention than can be contained within strict imita­tion, no matter how grotesquely nature is twisted, wrenched and otherwise tortured. 

Other sculptors represented are: Rob­ert Thomas, whose Hand is saved as sculpture by the title which reveals it as a competent study; John D. Clark, whose wood structures are clumsily forced yet glib and partly slick; J. B. Thompson, whose brass Golden Fleet is blatantly, even ambitiously, trite; Walter Askin, whose sculpture is more authentic than his painting and Anne Mahler, whose work is warm, thoughtless, efficient, sen­timental, inclined toward “eternal veri­ties” and probably quick tears, and typically feminine––the kind one brings home to mother.

Vic Smith