Los Angeles

L.A. 6/Summer ’74, Part I

South in L.A., the County Museum swims upstream. Instead of letting private enterprise splatter more young artists than quality can embrace all over the Thomas Bros. street atlas, it selects L.A. 6/SUMMER ’74 and enshrines them in successive shows in a little house within the contemporary art gallery. Everybody knows LACMA gets but a trace of a pittance of the County’s three billion dollar budget, and that the modern art cadre within it receives, since “Art and Technology,” less than a fair share to spend. What Maurice Tuchman and Jane Livingston do show seems to tread a ticklish thin line between enough bombast to placate the art community, and enough stealth to slide by Franklin Murphy who might drop in on his way out. So the dry-wall temple may be a brig.

The contemporary art galleries are upstairs above the traveling shows instead of in the main building where they would detract from 19th-century costumes (but where they’d get terrific traffic if the elevator weren’t so small or the stairway a secret, and where there is breathing room—actual plate glass and a view of Prudential City). They have a nice feel. But more than half of this space should have been given to the L.A. 6—instead of sequestering them, like a nutty old aunt in the attic, in that crisp hovel of acoustical ceiling tile and light tracks.

Mary Corse is only twenty-seven, but she’s been around, having shown elegant crushed-glass-white-against-matte-white paintings twice previously at LACMA. Why she’s chosen again—in a slot that could have gone to any of 10,000 good-and-needier—is a mystery, especially since her work is such a drop-off from two or three years ago. (Corse makes portable objects, so there’s no reason, after two boosts from LACMA, that the commercial support system can’t accommodate her.) This is the Metallic Glitter Series, 1973–74, each painting done in one color (red—like hot cinnamon candies, yellow—edging to citron, emerald green, royal blue, and just-off-spectrum purple) on both sides, with a thin chrome edge, mounted on one or two sleeves about 6" off the wall. Each painting is an Aztec-like modular cruciform, all four sides step-pyramiding out from seven unit to one unit. Inferring, as is my wont, the extra wrinkle in the artist’s thought, I’d suspect she averred the Irwin-esque ethereality, especially laminated to object-making, was a dead end. If not that, she must have gambled that the glitter, even in soda-fountain color, disembodied the chroma from the surface and yielded an indefinitely deep surface space, because she couldn’t be so mundane (could she?) as to get caught up in that glitter-rock, this-is-what-my-momma-raised-me-on-as-an-oppressed-little-girl-who-just-loved-sparkle, epicene, late camp shit. I hope so, because glitter is bad news, like felt-tip pens, rapidographs, day-glo, black velvet, or macrame—you’ve got to be a genius or a wacko to keep it from pushing its esthetic up your nose. Sadly, the show also suffers from its hanging—tilted paintings, with warped surfaces, squeezed in like lobby decorations for the Hollywood Egyptian-Cocaine porno theater. She shouldn’ta done it.

Fashion dictates flyers and shows for one piece; the artist announces (as in “Miss Otis regrets . . .”) a single work, as if it were the product of weeding out a thousand drawings and a score of maquettes, or another Double Negative. Curtly put, Madsen’s portion of the show is thin: the untitled piece with the bricks atop the thin brass rods (William Wilson in the Times called it a centipede gone to sleep against the wall) was done before at the Mizuno Gallery in only slightly reduced form, perhaps without the center bulge. The other work—untitled, reconstructed, 1974—gets closer to what Madsen needs to bring his stuff off—a physical tour de force that takes your breath away. It’s a bunch of lavalike rocks pinioned against the wall by 20 foot 2” x 2"’s bent into an 18 foot space so powerfully that the dry-wall bulges (or maybe epoxy holds them up—but that’s the point). Without the menace of Serra, Madsen’s sculpture is like a non-poetic joke (like a Model-T reassembled in a dormitory room by Cal Tech students). His operation is by now familiar enough to codify—frozen centrifugal, interrupted dominoes, and isometrics. He’s either got to come up with more elaborate mechanical improbabilities, as the Chris Burden of 19th-century English physics, or he’s got to let us in on the tragedy behind his art. I may seem snappish, but, god damn it, Corse and Madsen are two of the better younger artists, and if they don’t transcend beach-front formalism, who will?

Peter Plagens