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Review: Gary Lang's paintings at Ace Gallery make spirits soar

Right now, the most beautiful place in all of Los Angeles may very well be the center gallery of Gary Lang’s exhibition at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills. Eleven big, circular paintings, each a candy-colored rainbow of concentric rings, fill the space with enough visual warp and woof to make repeat visits thrilling.

The setup is symmetrical: three dazzling paintings on each of three long walls and two more flanking the door through which you entered. The size of Lang’s paintings matters, and it’s measured in feet: 6, 9½, 11 and 13 at their diameters. But their scale is more important. And it’s measured in the effects they have on your body.

Rather than dwarfing visitors, Lang’s paintings make the space around them feel as if it’s expanding. Your spirit does something similar, soaring beyond its regular bounds.

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Lang’s paintings pulse, hum and throb. Some are abuzz with electrifying energy. Many seem to be breathing, their rings appearing to protrude into the room and then, as if exhaling, to tunnel back into deep space. Time doesn’t stand still so much as every second seems to be so full of so much good stuff that it seems longer than usual.

One of the best things about the 63-year-old painter’s acrylics on canvas is that they treat the human eyeball as a multi-functional organ. You lock your eyes onto these works while simultaneously using your peripheral vision to take in even more. The result is a rich, sensuous experience that involves the focus of central vision and the movement-detection of peripheral vision.

Lang’s paintings pair up with one another promiscuously. The two largest resemble day and night versions of each other. Others recall photographic negatives of the ones next to them. Still others have the presence of a sound and its echo.

A similar dynamic animates Lang’s word paintings, which fill two adjoining galleries with wonderful conundrums, playful language games and a kind of soul-searing poetry that never grows old. As I noted in a Lancaster Museum of Art and History catalog last year, Lang’s word paintings make a virtue of confusion, slowing us down so that we might see what is right in front of our eyes.

 Ace Gallery Beverly Hills, 9430 Wilshire Blvd., (310) 858-9090, through May 10. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.acegallery.net

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