Los Angeles

“My Country ’Tis of Thee”

Dwan Gallery

The sweet liberties taken in this show have culminated in the American Dream: advertising at last has been accepted by art! Form and content are one! The better mousetrap has been built! In this best of all possible worlds the fig leaf of organic subject matter has been thrown away and modern man dotes on his nakedness.

Everybody knows that comic strips and hot dog stands are as American as apple pie, but have they understood that that wedge of apple pie is as rich in form as it is in calories?

The problem with social criticism is that within that intention, the skill of a Lichtenstein in his devastatingly accurate war funny, “Takka Takka,” or the compelling grotesqueries of Rosenquist’s “Hey, Let’s Go for a Ride” are equally valued with Wesselman’s inept “Great American Nude #X.” (The Grand Inquisitor didn’t need to be handsome.) Larry Rivers and Jasper Johns have more to commend in their works than mere social commentary; both are concerned with pictorial values technically and visually. Rivers excels in the scum-bled surface that shows the traces of human vacillation. Johns’ 12 x 19-inch bronze flag calls to mind all the war memorials and bronze plaques that dot this nation. Its irregular, seemingly weathered surface has a curious poignancy. Perhaps if the flag no longer held meaning for the viewer he would not respond this way, but since it does for this viewer, Johns’ attains a certain eloquence.

The exhibition reveals great unevenness in quality of form and concepts. The paroxysm of “Rayvredd,” John Chamberlain’s collision-produced metal sculpture, and the spankingly clever “Untitled American President” by Edward Kienholz, which successfully combines a bicycle seat and a flag-encircled milk-can, are visually impressive. But in the same room Charles Frazier’s “Albion” is so literary in its nose-thumbing that the viewer cannot help but be offended by the peurile level of its maker. The only thing wrong with gag art is just what the word says, you choke on your laughter.

Rosalind G. Wholden