Los Angeles

Ron Cooper

Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA)

Ron Cooper, who has an exhibition at the Pasadena Museum, is a class “younger artist” whose name carries, in art circles, allusions of slickness and daring, austerity and glamour. I have seen a couple of Coopers—those clear, barely figurated plastic shallow boxes—and when he is “on” with the light and the bubbles, it’s as good as any more traditional art that I know of. The general run of his things, however, is a little hard to figure, except for the fascination with technical “problems” (but then, why does he choose not to solve his rough edges?). There are two groups in the current show; the first is a group of three paintings, about 6 by 16 feet, in changing, pearlescent green, yellow and blue (one color each). These pictures depend almost entirely on a funny lighting—dark enough to allow them to glow under the spots, and light enough so their objecthood is manifest; two lighting consultants and a lot of fiddling around since opening night haven’t yet erased all the problems. The second is a room, about 25 feet square and 12 feet high under some nylon scrim, in which a one by twelve foot piece of transparent colored plastic (clockwise: purple, yellow, green, red) has been placed vertically and diagonally (in floor plan) across each corner; one spotlight illuminates each and the corners take on deep, intense and mysterious coloration. The room is a contradiction in that “Tore” (perceptual effect) is done with “less” (sheets of plastic), but it’s belied by all that necessary overhead hardware.

This sort of art, it seems, has to be exactly right, because there are no romantic fringe benefits (like drips and welding seams) in “off” execution; Irwin, who makes it philosophy, pulls it off magnificently, and Doug Wheeler, from what I’ve seen, can almost do it. Larry Bell, for all his experience and macho, still runs occasionally into his own chic and Jim Turrell hasn’t exhibited in years; in short, refined environmental perceptualism isn’t very rewarding (for those of us who merely look at it) while it’s in the young-artist-en-route stage, the way Richard Serra’s work is interesting just for that reason. Perhaps this is a rebirth of medieval illumination, a life’s work demanding celibate seclusion in a monastery until a debut at age sixty.

Peter Plagens