Los Angeles

“Sculpture, Los Angeles 1965”

Municipal Art Gallery

A medium-sized, lukewarm show, lacking in esthetic point as much as in quality, this putatively comprehensive survey of contemporary Los Angeles sculpture makes the current scene look unduly morose. Partially to blame are the cheerless interiors of the gallery and a poor installation, characterized by reckless disrespect for rear views. The primary shortcoming, however, and the one which immediately establishes the nugacity of the show, is that the most original sculpture now being done in Los Angeles is simply not represented (though, in all fairness, the invitation list may not necessarily have been at fault). Indeed, a good portion of the exhibit seems devoted to demonstrating the extent to which our second-rate art derives from outmoded fashions and battens on the sculptural platitudes of yesterday. Not paradoxically, there is a fairly high level of technical competence manifested; the inadequacies, by and large, are less those of craft than of conception and original form. From anthropology to sociology, the bathetic themes of art as pseudo-social science still spring up: the wooden primitive fertility monument, the mythic hero in tattered bronze, the welded humanoid on fragile tiptoes, the condition-of-man pockmarked monster, the alas-the-toll-of-time pitted geomorph, the psychic-refuse-of-an-industrial-society hollow stranger, and the birth-traumatized, semiemergent-from-inchoate-primordial-mass sensitive figurine. In this setting, the mere absence of maudlin texture seems thrilling; it is therefore not surprising that the few reasonably satisfying pieces of sculpture included (which, incidentally, suffer deflation by context rather than glory by contrast) tend to avoid the worn-out methods of shredded materials as psychological metaphor. The most extreme example (i.e., in this exhibit—it is not especially extreme when considered in any broader view) is John McCracken’s Northumberland, a large, frontal, rectangular, and highly finished object, which depends for its impact on a heavy simplicity of form inflected only by brilliant enamel color contrast and the slash of a single semicircular indentation across the surface of the wood. Max Finkelstein’s Round by Hex is more quietly purist, a round black plaque ornamented with varying hollow and closed aluminum hexagonals arranged in a crystalline cluster. The potential of mechanical forms to suggest brute strength is referred to, if not completely exploited, in Mel Edwards’ welded steel construction, The lifted X. Though he uses found metal objects, it is not for their flavor of nostalgia; instead, he coolly strips them of any antecedent functions by clean finish and skillful absorption into a new mechanic order in which diagonal tensions are played off against compacted mass. Oliver Andrews’ Sun Ax combines bronze, wood, and marble in a somewhat cluttered and overpampered construction which nevertheless manages a nicely swift sweep of metallic movement, and a flash of truculent power as well. And there are some pleasant frivolities too: George Herms’ Calder-like Dragon, a wire drawing suspended in space; Dennis Hopper’s foam rubber Facade.

The major fault of the democratic-spectrum approach to art is that it invariably celebrates mediocrity. Municipal statisticians may be interested in the quantity of “art” being produced in the community, but such prurient curiosity should find other ways of satisfying itself.

Nancy Marmer