Los Angeles

Chuck Prentiss, Earl Reiback and Fletcher Benton

Esther Robles Gallery

Chuck Prentiss, Earl Reiback and Fletcher Benton, all of whom have been around for a while, are the Three Artists shown in a group by Esther Robles, and the common denominator is a watchmaker’s way of dealing with electrically produced light. Prentiss uses a row of small filaments inside a mirrored box to give that “endless” effect served up with colored light and a contained format. That particular visual phenomenon always seems natively profound, little embellished or debilitated by what any artist does with it (one reason to avoid it), and Prentiss is no exception. The intent, moreover, is diminished by some installation defects—reflections on the glass, the noise and light of the boulevard seeping through the open door, etc. Reiback is the fellow who makes those black boxes with the translucent screens on which are projected the ever changing patterns (twelve-hour cycle) of what looks like spectral cigarette smoke in slow motion. I have no idea how the image is produced and wouldn’t want to, since the things suffer enough from overtones of Neiman-Marcus as it is. The boxes are attractive (given a dim room), clever (especially a slight hissing sound) and seem like the kind of thing which will be the Impressionism of 2001, but to me a little pointless for all that. Benton’s machines are less puzzling, but more interesting: transparent panels moving horizontally back and forth in a metal frame, providing a miniature, luminescent triangulation of Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman and Gene Davis. There are moments of genuine revelation when, say, the yellow crosses the red and leaves a margin at its edge; but, to one as prejudiced to the cause of painting in the late 20th century as I, it seems to cry out for the tactility and expanse of less glamorous materials. I guess there are those, working on the farther shores of materialism, who can’t understand how anybody can be satisfied with Edwardian stasis and vulnerability when there are such goodies to be toyed with, and those of us who can’t understand why anybody would give up the thrill of bumping up against Nothingness for the tingle of a little technology. Anyhow, Benton, in spite of another piece which looks like 1984 Thunderbird taillights, is easily the best artist in the show and the one who, nitpicking aside, provided this recalcitrant writer with an experience identified as having to do with art.

Peter Plagens