Review: 'Local Fish' at Ernie Wolfe casts a wide, fun net

“Local Fish: Piscatorial Perceptions” is all about fish: big ones and little ones, real and imagined, tasty and dangerous.

The fun-filled exhibition, at Ernie Wolfe Gallery, is also about language: the fish stories we tell and the phrases we use, including “something’s fishy,” “he’s hooked,” “going overboard,” “reel it in” and “fish or cut bait.”

But the real subject of the 44-artist show is love — the deep and abiding emotion that Wolfe, the curator, feels for fish. Whether it’s marveling at their graceful movements, experiencing awe before the bodies of water they inhabit or imagining what it’s like to see the world through their eyes, the mysterious richness that accompanies love spills from every square inch of the jam-packed show. It tows visitors into a fluid world you won’t want to leave.

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Lots of connections, both philosophic and aesthetic, link the diverse works, which include dazzling abstractions (by such big fish as James Hayward, Larry Bell and Peter Alexander) and realistic depictions of a trout, a giant squid and a shark (by David Bungay, Steve Galloway and Natalie Arnoldi).

Exquisite works on paper (by William Brice, Ken Price and Alexis Smith) hang among scrappy, hand-painted collages (by Michael C. McMillen and Ed Moses) and subtly funky ones (by Roy Dowell, Tony Berlant and Billy Al Bengston). A partially melted pile of plastic vials by George Herms resembles a clump of kelp, the perfect home for Peter Shelton’s perfectly titled “fischtung” and Gwynn Murrill’s school of wonderfully lumpy fish.

Several customized surfboards (by Charles Arnoldi and Jim Ganzer) take the shape and coloration of fish, both real and cartoon. Three ceremonial shields, carved from wood by the Kuba people in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, echo the shape of the surfboards, creating a nifty visual symphony.

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An ingeniously carved door from New Guinea, a 10-legged stool from Nigeria and a small storage chest from Ghana are not, strictly speaking, local. But they fit right into this generous exhibition, which casts its net wide and finds treasures everywhere.

Ernie Wolfe Gallery, 1655 Sawtelle Blvd., (310) 478-2960, through Sept. 28. Open Sat. 12-5 and by appointment. www.erniewolfegallery.com

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