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Review: Richard Newton's 'La Gruta Azul' at Jancar Gallery is poignant

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Richard Newton's “La Gruta Azul” is and isn't like that other Blue Grotto -- the radiant and idyllic sea cave on the coast of Capri in southern Italy. There, natural anomalies bring exquisite sunlight into a watery pool, causing it to mysteriously appear to glow from within.

Capri's grotto was said by the ancients to be home to demons, and Romans left sculptures behind as protective offerings. Fiends likewise lurk in the vicinity of Newton's sculpture, which glows with an inner blue light, but they are of a more commonplace (if equally destructive) sort.

Inside the front room at Jancar Gallery, “La Gruta Azul” is an alcoholic's sad and debilitating paradise, constructed mostly from a cascade of thousands of empty beer cans suspended in a Star of David pattern from the ceiling. Within the grotto's inner sanctum, a recycling trash can made of blue plastic has been turned into a bubbling fountain in which liquor bottles bob.

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Small shrines to artist-friends and colleagues and found fragments of plaster reliefs festooned with broken glass and describing the Stations of the Cross complete the ensemble. Newton commemorates shattering loss.

His dumpster environment -- surprisingly refined and even elegant, given the throwaway materials --  recalls a related installation he made 30 years ago at Exile Gallery, a short-lived, artist-run co-op in a ruined storefront on the edge of downtown Los Angeles' skid row. Castoffs come in many forms, whether material or spiritual. “La Gruta Azul” retrieves them in a quiet, poignant embrace.

Jancar Gallery, 961 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 625-2522, through Oct. 19. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. www.jancargallery.com

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