San Francisco/Berkeley

“Both Kinds: Contemporary Art From Los Angeles”

University Art Museum Berkeley

“Both Kinds: Contemporary Art from Los Angeles.” I am will ing to say that anyonedoing art appears old-fashioned and I guess the answer to that would be, who cares? Culture is conservative. Nothing really new can be done and it’s art history’s job to prove it. This show, arranged by Peter Plagens, is old-fashioned, in the handmade down-home way, with no industrial design present. The watchwords: heterogeneous, pluralistic and catholic. No preconceived ideas, except those of individual quality. It’s a long way from the uniformity that dictated the type of art, art history and criticism we were allowed a while ago. (Wait, should we believe Kozloff on the MoMA show, Artforum, December, 1974?) The disparate elements of L.A. itself probably contribute most to the universal diversity, with Plagens’s own personality coming in next. What’s the inventory? Rough-tough color field Guy Williams, Richard Jackson’s device canvases, Ron Linden’s brooding expressionism, Ann McCoy’s strange realism, the Hollywood conceptualism of Alexis Smith, and Natalie Bieser’s spare, tenuous wire and bead wall things. As different as they all are visually from, say, Sam Francis, they still share those California good looks; it’s impossible to dislike them and you’re even allowed to have special favorites (no complete acceptance of all things in the world as being art).

My favorites? Ron Linden (especially Crowhore) and Guy Williams, although I can’t say whether Williams’s five-color coordinated canvases would work as well if exhibited separately. And I still can’t stand to stand while reading, but Smith’s enlarged film scripts/film strips are nice (yeah, it’s not just serialization for formal reasons, the line is celluloid, frame to frame to frame). Well, I could go on like this, description after description, but fear of sounding like a formalist stops me cold. No structural procedures are common to these artists, so the scrawl would begin to sprawl like the L.A. metropolitan area. (You pick out your favorites and scribble, but it’s highly undemocratic.) Precious objects are precious objects and my personal preferences from Diebenkorn 1945 to Linden 1975 mean the same thing; the works resemble each other closely, only Linden’s a little more loose in technique and tighter in concept. It doesn’t matter how far the distance traveled, chronologically or psychologically. The new looks like the old, and the good things, new or old, are tradition, as in the new tradition, a tradition that looks good. Linden is expressing himself, goddammit.

Jeff Perrone