Los Angeles

Anthony Caro, John Hoyland, Bryan Kneale, John Carter, Tim Scott, Derrick Woodham, Nigel Hall, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Allen Jones, Kitaj, Laing, Paolozzi, Peter Phillips and more

UCLA Galleries and Nicholas Wilder Gallery

The only optimistic view that an interested local observer can take of the Whitechapel Gallery’s New British Painting and Sculpture exhibition at UCLA is that it administers a potent shot in the arm to Los Angeles; after a first unedifying run through the show, one comes out at the other end with fresh confidence in the seriousness, originality and refinement of our own vanguard artists.

Of the seventeen artists represented here, only two—Anthony Caro and Bryan Kneale—suggest a respectable enterprise. Kneale’s Cumae, composed fundamentally of three aluminum discs, two perspex bubbles and a supporting brass frame, makes logical, continuous use of its materials in finely conceived sculptural format, and ends by lifting its author to a perhaps disproportionate level of attainment. As for the rest, Hoyland’s rampant plagiarism seems a mere scratch on the adscititious surface beside the exhaustive array of borrowed tricks surrounding him.

There remains a hierarchy, at the top of which is John Carter, with his relief paintings (based obscurely on the Fibonacci Sequence, whatever that might be); Carter’s Orientale Finale II, behind its Victorian-Far Eastern facade, insists upon its potential status as a good picture. Then there is Tim Scott’s Quinquereme (7’ 6” x 20’ x 6’), an ambitious structure of fiberglass, plexiglass and wood laid together in a kind of wild Pythagorean fantasy of quadrisected circles, plus other assorted divagations of a neo Constructivist mind. Derrick Woodham puts a few minimized fiberglass cylinders and elongated boxes around (Gerowitz, Ham-rol and McCracken are hardly more restrained); Nigel Hall could easily have arrived a year or two ago from San Francisco, bringing with him his unwieldy parcels of wrinkled polyester resin. Hall has taken care to credit the Surrealists, if not the Funk artists, for his esthetic: in Lookout he suspends Magritte’s rock vision in open tribute to his superior. One doesn’t know to whom—Bryan Robertson or Sir Herbert Read—the credit is due for pointing out to us in the catalog that painter Douglas Binder owes less to Pop art than, in his “preoccupation with dreams and vulgarity,” to Surrealism. With Binder we reach the bottom rung of our ladder.

For the sake, one supposes, of historical equity, a lesser painting by Bridget Riley and four even lesser ones by Prunella Clough are added to the array.

If the selection made by Mr. Robertson and Sir Herbert Read made sense on any grounds whatever—if it did not simply total up to a thoroughly embarrassing glimpse into a lot of confused issues—one might partially overlook the show’s collective lack of quality. Why the organizers of this show chose to dwell almost exclusively upon second stringers when Britain does claim an advanced group, particularly of first-rank sculptors, is beyond comprehension. Nothing written by either Robertson or Sir Herbert about youth, or variety, or “regretful omissions” excuses the exhibition’s poverty.

It is even less fortunate for them (and lucky for England) that William Wilson’s choice of graphic works for The English Image, displayed on the Gallery’s second floor, is as lively, inventive and bracingly irreverent as it is. The familiarity of most of the artists—Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Allen Jones, Kitaj, Laing, Paolozzi and Peter Phillips—does nothing to lessen their appeal. Moreover, though one expects the kind of usages which one encounters (graphic Pop disorderliness and blatant parody of eclecticism as such), these are found in their proper domain and we admire precisely their endemic spirit.

Jane Livingston