Los Angeles

John McCracken, Craig Kauffman, Ed Ruscha and Llyn Foulkes

Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA)

In its ten years of existence, the Paris Biennale (Manifestation Biennale et Internationale des jeunes artistes) has incurred a reputation in the United States for ignominy, extending even beyond the prevalent critical tendency here to either ignore or imprecate the international “competitions,” including those at Venice, Sao Paulo and Pittsburgh. In the face of what Max Kozloff has called the “piggish provinces” of the Biennales in general, it is perhaps rhetorical to demand of our U.S. commissioners to the Paris competition that they rise above the aura of provincialism that so often characterizes these events.

If Pasadena Art Museum Director James Demetrion’s choice this year of five works each by John McCracken, Craig Kauffman, Ed Ruscha and Llyn Foulkes is geographically prejudiced, besides seeming a little sortitious, still the qualitative advantages over past selections are considerable. The works are currently on view at Pasadena, and they comprise a moderately impressive exhibition. Yet there is the suspicion that Ruscha and Foulkes were included mainly with an eye to the European, and particularly French, esthetic leaning. Foulkes’s paintings, especially Grade A Cow and Post Card, reek of the modern Gallic idolatry of l’art gros tempered by Pop witticisms. Whether or not Demetrion was primarily mindful of judicial appeasement at the cost of consistently first-rate indigenous representation, Foulkes received the first prize for painting, and one is far from begrudging the award. Ruscha’s paintings are all straight Pop creations with words—Damage, Space, Electric, Liquids, Surgical—composed on bright grounds. The finally redeeming choices are McCracken and Kauffman, both of whose rigorous, deceptively undemanding work was destined to be received on the Continent with varying degrees of puzzlement.

Jane Livingston