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Cuban artist Jose Fors: A deft command of metaphor and material

Cuban artist Jose Fors: A deft command of metaphor and material
"Umbrella I" by Jose Manuel Fors at Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles. (DJC / Couturier Gallery)

In his first show here in more than a decade, Havana-based artist Jose Manuel Fors strikes a powerful, plangent note. A wall-length installation, several sculptures and a group of collages all use photographs that Fors has made or found, cut into tiny tiles less than an inch per side. The physical presence of these little time capsules is as stirring as their metaphorical import.

Memory is Fors' ultimate material, and his command of its double-edged elusiveness and palpability is exquisite.

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For the installation, short stacks of the prints are affixed to the wall in a giant grid, 10 points high by 40 wide. The dense little piles are slightly askew, so the topmost image can be seen — part of a face, a pair of hands, a sliver of script, a postmark, the folds of drapery — but the underlying pictures are only hinted at by their protruding edges.

What plays out on the wall is subtle, and quietly gripping. The fragmented images, toned a soft sepia, float freely somewhere in the vague past, confetti of the unconscious, while the succinct beats of their formation assert the rational mind's urge toward pattern and order.

Fors envisions a different sort of mnemonic archive in four sculptures made of umbrellas stripped to their metal ribs and mounted on the wall like convex domes. Small photographic negatives or prints adhere to the spiny spokes, densely clustered at the center and thinning out toward the edges. The pieces faintly but suggestively echo the grand, mandala-like photo collages in Fors' first U.S. show here in 2000, each circle at once wheel, clock, cosmos.

Couturier Gallery, 166 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 933-5557, through Feb. 13. www.couturiergallery.com

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