Los Angeles

“Plastics: L.A.”

Los Angeles State College

“Plastics: L.A.,” an exhibition organized by Fidel Danieli for California State College at Los Angeles, runs from the superlative to the negligible, with a great deal in between. It is almost uniformly characterized by the most highly refined workmanship. The conspicuous exception is a peculiar work by Robert Fay Marks which incorporates a large, slightly dog eared piece of cardboard. Marks seems to be taking his departure from Ron Davis’s difficult illusionistic paintings, an example of which stands here as a keystone in relation to many of the works surrounding it.

Yet there is a profound diversity among the works, most strikingly in respect to scale. Those artists making very small objects in plastic, such as the tiny, gem like capsules of Terence O’Shea or the egg-shaped pieces of Helen Pashgian, represent a young but already multifarious development in Los Angeles, and one which appears to have early reached an impasse. In the medium-sized, elementary forms of Victor L. Henderson or Greg Card, on the other hand, one senses a potential for more lasting fecundity. Henderson shows a flat, donut-shaped piece of Plexiglas, about 18 inches in diameter, colored a delicate pearlgrey. The primary esthetic aim is posited not in shape or color as such but in light, which suffuses itself softly within the shallow form, causing a pale, circumscribing reflection on the base. A similar principle holds for Card’s two lacquered acrylic tubes, suspended vertically from the ceiling. All Airline Everything, .000327, is sprayed in a clean, lucent grey; AAE .000471 has a greenish pearlescent cast. The heft of the forms, though they are as much as six or seven feet long, seems vastly less than that of an ordinary neon tube; the two cylinders dangle stilly in space, and in their totally passive dependence upon light—gathered, reflected and suffused—the forms become dematerialized almost to the point of imagined dissolution. These works convey some affinity to the sculpture of Ron Cooper, who has advanced even further than Card in his treatment of similar forms and materials, and whose absence from this exhibition is very much felt.

Other artists here who explore their materials in reduced geometric forms are Craig Kauffman (his piece, with Davis’s, creates an authoritative point of reference against which one tends to measure the others), John McCracken, Judy Gerowitz and Peter Alexander. Alexander’s contribution, Untitled Pyramid, is easily the most happily surprising “second generation” piece in the show. It is a low, translucent pyramid, about 4 by 18 inches, made of pinkish cast polyester resin, and it captures light prismatically in a fascinating sequence of configurations. Its coexisting visual properties—blond radiance, fluctuating, splintered lineation, warmth and coolness—manage in some way not to ravish each other to death. If Alexander’s present attainment proves after all not to be transitory, we may expect a great deal from him in future seasons.

In basic opposition to these geometrically inclined artists are those, for the most part lesser ones, making anthropomorphic plastic forms. The clear division of quality between the two approaches is only partly explainable here by what seems more and more to be an inherently greater possibility for failure in handling complex, biomorphic sculptural shapes. It reflects an unfortunate tendency in L.A. for artists working in a latter day Surrealist and/or Pop vein to imitate earlier styles, particularly in San Francisco and, perhaps, Chicago. Doing this, they then impose an artificial “stamp“ of originality, and, in the end, what should look like spontaneity comes out looking instead like foolishness. The chief promoters of this development are David Elder and Pat O’Neill. Elder’s piece, Transplant #1, consists of a striped Plexiglas box on top of which, and drooping over its foremost side, sits an amorphous blob of pink epoxy. O’Neill introduces garish color in his Safer than Springtime, comprised of three discrete shapes a lumpy green one, shaped like a pickle, below it a shiny orangish drum and, spreading over the floor like a pool of blood, a red component. His other entry, Scene #1, though less obviously derived from someone like funk artist Jeremy Anderson, is nevertheless full of unprepossessing associative overtones; this work incorporates glazed ceramic appendages as well as lacquered fiberglass. O’Neill is a highly competent craftsman whose results would improve immeasurably with restraint.

Working in a more delicate and somewhat more original vein are artists Carl Cheng and Jackie Greber. Cheng’s two pieces, L.A.A.S.A. and B.S., are made of light vacuum molded acrylic and Plexiglas. The former is a clear box, about 18 inches high, containing five horizontal shelves of fluorescent orange Plexiglas. Each interior panel supports a bubble like, amorphous projection of acrylic, with these shapes becoming gradually smaller and less complex toward the top. B.S. is a similar box surrounding puffy, photo inflected acrylic shapes, resembling beef carcasses, suspended in procession from the top. Cheng’s decision to exploit the glassy opulence of fluorescent and pearlescent acrylics by concentrating his forms in dense format serves, finally, to corroborate one’s suspicion that this approach to the material is at best difficult to bring off. Indeed his example is only one of several causes for speculation here that, in most hands, the limitations of plastic as a viable esthetic material far exceed its practicabilities.

Jackie Greber, like Cheng, builds layered boxes of Plexiglas, but Greber’s intention is to focus upon spatial configurations per se rather than to fully exploit the material’s chromatic/luminal properties. The work at hand is built in two rectangular sections, standing about 6 feet high, with a base of plain dark grey Plexiglas and, sitting atop it, a smaller box holding five front-facing plastic panels. Each panel is sprayed with semi-opaque grey paint, leaving four variously shaped holes, as if torn out of paper, repeated in decreasing sizes toward the back. Thus as one looks into the front “window,” his eye enters into an ambiguous and confusing space. The overriding consciousness one has of the object’s insistent contrivance discomfits his spontaneous awareness of the atmospheric situation which is seen, but not felt, to be presented. Here is a prominent instance of the artist’s visible struggle to press the material into a theoretically integral service, only to find himself confounded by the often distasteful integrity itself of that material. The antitheses to this phenomenon, in the work of Davis, Kauffman and Alexander, are characterized by a seemingly effortless transcendence of this “interference” by the assertiveness of the material, even while drawing attention to it.

There remain DeWain Valentine’s very large top-shaped work, made of fiberglass coated with pink and red polyester resin, and Doug Edge’s small, curved piece of clear polyester resin. Valentine’s aggressively tactile shapes remain difficult to come to terms with; Edge’s work is at least refreshingly unpretentious, and enters, along with the small objects of O’Shea and Pashgian, the domain of objets d’art.

Jane Livingston