Los Angeles

John Schroeder and Connie Zehr

Brand Art Center

“Sand Works” by John Schroeder and Connie Zehr, at the Brand Art Center makes a big deal of the material as if, with audience philistinism anticipated, choice of tools were in itself a virtue. Moreover, the attitude evidenced toward sand (ergo, earth) is more narrative than concrete, more fawningly romantic than adventurous; it’s a kind of fifties’ earthwork show. John Schroeder’s statement (there are personal explanations on a wall near each work—I haven’t seen that in a while) is a cosmological number telling us the earth is a mere speck, human life is short, nature knows best, etc., and, at times, it rings of a B-movie Indian chief, e.g., “. . . it brings sadness to my heart. . . .” Schroeder says he doesn’t care to know what art is, belying the very purposeful elegance his piece assumes. The work is made of picturesquely dispersed mounds of earth materials, from sand to rocks, into which are stuck Cornell/Artschwager boxes, each containing a parable (feathers, image of a noble red man, small jars of powdered, earthen pigment, and, indicating either the beginning or the end of everything, a NASA-ish solar system illustration). We are supposed to realize something, I gather, about the beauty and preciousness (in both senses) of our native habitat, and that’s all right except that I don’t think vanguard art is a large social mover.

Connie Zehr’s pure, soft, quartered layout of fine white sand is more low-key. A “crosswalk” (“go alone in bare feet”) divides the sections, each harboring a different mound configuration with assorted minor embellishments. But again, the artist has undertaken to overproselytize the piece; Miss Zehr’s broadside is embarrassingly pat in its universalist metaphors (the single mound is unity, the warm colors, hope, etc.), like a Wednesday night Church of Religious Science lecture. And that’s the point: the show is nice visual stuff and, left to ourselves, we might get the message. But all that flak (even to tiny envelopes with grains of sand, in the mail) bends your head the wrong way before you’re halfway through the front door.

Peter Plagens