Los Angeles

Marc Pally

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

The idea of one artist assembling a body of work and titling it “Group Show” is appealing and makes sense. Who better to pair oneself with than oneself? But as Franz Kafka noted, “I have hardly anything in common with myself.” For different reasons, this also might be true of Marc Pally’s message. Group Show (all works, 1989) is also a wall piece, consisting of 58 little paintings arranged in a giant oval. Each painting, with two exceptions, contains a two- or three-word phrase (“Hemorrhoid Sufferers,” “Cluster Analysis,” “Go For It,” “Crying Out Loud,”) or a name, such as “Oliver North” or “Piero della Francesca.” The paintings on white backgrounds seem to recede into the wall and those with Day-Glo-colored backgrounds seem to beam and quiver. All channels are open and incessantly muttering: in the end, they cancel each other out.

Lucky Strike is a silver painting under which can be detected the textured markings of organic forms, as well as the stenciled phrase “JESSE HELMS IS A HOMO.” If there’s a painting to be made that can address the paranoid retromoralism of Jesse Helms and his war on free speech, this is not the one. Fighting idiocy with idiocy is a sad and embarrassing response. Each of the other three rooms here held an additional silver painting. The numb silver squares function as shiny reflective specters, monochromatic blobs void of subtlety; their scale appears random. They are effective as nonpaintings because, as much as they call attention to themselves as oddities, they also pointed to several carefully rendered paintings that were hung nearby.

A perverse irony entraps these colorful, labored paintings and drawings; they bear an unsettling resemblance to the work of several other noted Los Angeles artists. One finds the erotically suggestive forms of Lari Pittman, his mixtures of distorted landscape and sea life; the stark cubistic outlines of Jill Giegerich; the furious bunched-up calligraphy of early Tom Wudl; and Roy Dowell’s hard-edged mosaic discs and ethnographic markings. This “group” show, however, is not an open testament to collective ideas; it’s a slippage or vacancy of meaning, an excess of piggy-back rides. These paintings pride themselves on the purity of the unique image, yet there’s nothing individual about them. They appear as eccentric abstractions using a standard expressionistic language of scrupulous edges, unfinished sketchy areas, meticulously rendered forms, and self-conscious drips, and an underlying tone of mystery and combustion. This show illustrates an anxiety painters sometimes share: namely, that it isn’t enough simply to paint, that painting by itself isn’t an intellectual enough endeavor, that it’s merely a sensual relationship of materials and therefore not a suitable medium for the rigorous discussion of complex ideas. The use of text, in particular, is inappropriate, almost absurd, like a monocle on a frog.

Benjamin Weissman