Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Various Locations

Walter Gabrielson is a nonmainstream artist (that is, the avant-garde main stream nominally avoiding the Mainstream); he goes against the grain of most gallery products in that he editorializes on subject matter, he proliferates media within a single show, he lets draftsmanship hang out and he doesn’t care to hide eclecticism (Klee, de Kooning, Grosz and a couple of others). Through it, he occupies a broadly traditional position––the artist applying his sensibilities to the world-at-large and returning with an insight about it. The present exhibition, “Airplanes,” is comprised of three sets of work: large, cut-out paintings, stainless steel sculpture, and ink drawings; I think the relative order of quality reverses the list.

Gabrielson’s success resides in personal recoil, and the most direct, unfettered statements, i.e. those in mechanically complicated media, yield proportionately more. The drawings are a kind of refined, impassioned caricature of the lovely and deadly animism of the ubiquitous plane. In them, Gabrielson concentrates on the airplane’s incredible integrity and economy of design (Buckminster Fuller once asked an interviewer if he’d fly to New York on an airplane built by Frank Lloyd Wright), and its blatant, vulgar fantasies of sexual aggression (winged penises). Gabrielson has what literary supplement terminology might call an “acid pen,” with a repertoire of slivery lines, definitive blots and tearing splatters. The sculptures are almost as good––juxtaposed sheet profiles of wing and fuselage elements (more telling than any volume) which are harder, but more succinct, than the drawings. The paintings––big masonite silhouettes of a B-17, P-40, Phantom and an old Boeing P-26 rendered in a kind of Felix-the-Cat Abstract Expressionism––bring up problems of surface-object which are never quite resolved. Nevertheless, they hold the same exuberance, they possess the same bite as the rest of the show. Gabrielson pulls off one of the things most difficult for an artist: through a pack of deeply felt visual devices, he makes a form, a subject “his own” . . . and, transformed, he gives it back to us.

Billy Al Bengston’s entrepreneurial schtick at the Artist Studio has resulted in a fine exhibition having to do, as a singular statement, with the real, or ultimate, relation of a work of art to the viewer; interestingly enough, it re-accepts some ideas recently questioned: for example, that it is perhaps an esthetic virtue for a work to be ownable, that objets d’art are what is Art, and everything else is everything else, that the best access to a work is afforded by a “normal” (say, apartment) environment, and that the philosophical concerns of the artist (i.e. his intellectual scaffolding) are of interest only to the artist. The Artist Studio is Bengston’s place and he has asked a few of his friends—Ed Moses, Don Bachardy, Larry Beli, Joe Goode, Tony Berlant, Ron Davis, Ed Ruscha, Ken Price, Peter Alexander and “surprise guest artist” (Ah, Hollywood!) John McCracken, to put up the exhibition (each artist installed his own piece). A communal effort by Los Angeles’s esthetic junta (where’s Craig Kauffman?), it works out rather nicely; each piece seems to sit well in its place, and the whole thing, in a living loft setting, is casual but precise.

The three most interesting pieces are by McCracken, Moses and Alexander. McCracken’s big yellow plank prompts the notion that ’60s Smoothies merely peeled their veneers to debut as the ’70s Heavies; it is a plank made from planks, the carpentry is bare, the coloring an offhand patina. What is slightly amazing is that it fits the context; this fat hunk of stuff is intimate, as likeable, as warm, as anything in the show. Moses shows a canvas, horizontally striated with colored lines, coated rather indifferently with resin and tacked to the wall with a short board and a couple of nails. Besides being handsome, the thing is significant, as was Moses’ last one-man show and his piece in Mizuno’s group show, in that it reduces painting to a physically questionable status while retaining its “essence.” The board mounting, however, is cute by now; the first instance said, slyly, “O.K., let’s tack it up here with something . . . hey, grab that board over there and hand it up here . . . .” This time, obviously, Moses brought a board with him. (If there’s any convention left not worth crumbling, it’s Clean Hanging.) Alexander’s sculpture––four vertical bars, shallow arcs in cross section, interplay their pearlescent quasi-color with the white wall plane; the sensation after a few seconds, is of cylinders hanging before the wall, maybe six inches away. His achievement through several recent series is that he has maintained the honesty of his vulnerable medium, and he has wrung a sculptural esthetic––the manipulation of space––from purely visual (i.e. two-dimensional, non-positional) means; this latest piece, however, departs in that it is a combination, and thus opens the whole problem area of relationships, composition, systems, and even environmental, concerns.

By contrast, a group of works at the Irving Blum Gallery pleasingly enforces the thesis that there is still something left to connoisseurship; from a mixed bag of Oldenburg, Warhol, Stella, Morris, Reinhardt, Caro, etc., there are two pieces which are delights and one more an agreeable curiosity. Robert Morris is represented by five drawings, 20'' x 30'' each, with one exception all slab configurations (Cor-Ten Series) isometrically rendered in ink with chalk fill-in. The odd thing about these drawings is Morris’s academicism: the romantic chalk work, the elegant signature, the pseudo-working-drawing Beauxartsism apparently lurking beneath those Canadian hoofprints. Anthony Caro’s 1965 sculpture, a solid steel cylinder dormant on the rug and its 12-foot “L”-beam angled offshoot, is a simple, deft act of frozen acrobatics. From it one might deduce that Caro is the seminal figure he is because his talent both pulls off whambam juxtapositions and keeps the relationships between components “right”––the blue paint (adds weight to the cylinder, fixes the beam), the size of the parts, the angle of the beam, etc. Lastly, there is a small double painting by Ad Reinhardt, albeit regrettably mounted. Each square canvas contains the familiar (but, God, different) nine-unit grid in almost imperceptible variances of black. Even at its disadvantage (up against the Brillo Boxes, motherpicture), it is profound, timeless, scolding. Shuck that creamy plastic jive. Keep your nerve. Keep your head straight. Think, hard. Don’t move. Seventy-five Artists Under Seventy-five, beware.

“The Carbo-Cyanine Process: Light and Thermal Sensitive Dyes,” says William Haney’s flyer. The work involves rather staid things like models and color not far removed from watery Liquitex. The more sizeable work on view consists of two large canvases, mostly au naturel, tacked to the wall, spotted with six and ten (respectively) figures in blurry, multicolored silhouettes. The figures are near enough to life-size to indicate some actual body involvement à la Yves Klein, in the making. Additionally, there are some pointless sexual couplings. In the end, it comes down to figure painting, which, in the end, comes down to, if it can’t be done relatively straight, it’s best not done at all.

Peter Plagens