LA CIENEGA AREA

Bruce Cohen's latest paintings are characteristically precise, designerly interpretations of interiors. The 17 oils on view are the sort of thing that impress people as being startlingly real, but are actually a cunning merger of magical realism and abstraction. He arranges rooms and their carefully pruned contents into consciously composed, hard-edged paintings, strictly organized around a vertical/horizontal structure. Skillful handling of light and gradations of value give the illusion of depth, while the regularity of floor-tile patterns and the squareness of tipped-up tables contradict perspective.

Though Cohen infuses his indoor compositions with the light and scenery of their outdoor surroundings, thus incorporating the age-old theme of windows, he presents himself as a still-life artist. The same little blue-and-white bowls of lemons and apricots, rumpled pillows and pitchers of tulips appear repeatedly. Even figures (in two paintings) are rather like still-life objects; the backside of a shapely young woman registers first as an artfully arranged component, second as a living being.

As Cohen has become a regular exhibitor here, he has perfected his vision to a state of fastidiousness and fashioned a stylized offshoot of Paul Wonner's painting. Cohen's achievement is considerable, but it raises persistent doubts about the triumph of style over substance. His sort of perfection seems chilly and constricted. It makes you want to puncture the pristine veneer to allow a little breathing space for emotional resonance. (Asher/Faure Gallery, 612 N. Almont Drive, to Feb. 2.)

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