LA CIENEGA AREA

There is no way to link the art of Joseph Albers to that of Martin Puryear other than to say each currently adds up to an exhibition of exceptional interest.

We've seen little of Albers' art since his death in 1976, so 28 of his "Hommage the The Square" compositions are at once cozily familiar and a welcome novelty. They also look a trifle odd and dated with their nesting squares making variations of color orchestration like some endless series of musical etudes.

Albers was a patriarch of at least three important art movements. The lesser was Op art which was indebted to him for his investigations into visual effects. The greater were Color Field art for which he painted the grammar and Minimalism that owes him both for demonstrating how much mileage you can get from a single idea and also for a kind of abstract metaphysical style. The problem seems to be that at least in the short historical run Mark Rothko wound up with the crown of magisterial metaphysician.

Albers' hard-edges began looking mechanical as if he were just some more aristocratic version of Victor Vasarely, a kind of visual grease monkey who bumbled onto a formula that could be repeated in any combination with guaranteed interesting results. Well, yesterday I did blue-and-yellow so today I'll do green-and-red.

Albers made a very difficult thing look easy. Many of us learned from him how to see in a certain way. In his day, he was absolutely the leading didactic artist of the astonishing range of expressive variations possible just through chromatic change. His edges glowed, squares marched back and forth and art seemed serious, dignified and philosophical. We learned our lesson well and now look back on our old teacher as being a bit, well, too rudimentary. That is not only ungrateful, it is our problem and not Albers'. Works remain on view to Feb. 9.

Martin Puryear is still a relatively new kid in Sculpture Town. Although already highly reputed, the Chicago-based artist is holding his first L.A. exhibition (through Feb. 16). It consists of several large pieces that look as alien as spaceships invented by tribal artists. "Keeper" is either a wire-cage punching bag, a Gourd Idol, a gargantuan lettuce washer or none of the above. "Seer" is almost certainly a space satellite invented by the Ayatollah Khoumeini and fueled by fervent prayer. A group of works called "Boy's Toys" evoke everything from enema bags to plumbers' helpers and slapsticks. It is as good-naturely scatalogical as vintage burlesque humor.

Puryear's work manages to appear original when it is, in fact, modern-classical. With deep roots in Dada, it finds ancestors in everybody from the biomorphic Surrealists to the insidious sneer of Bruce Nauman and the sexual insinuations of Funk art. Locally, Eugene Sturman participates in a similar spirit.

Puryear holds our attention by doing all this with an exceptional combination of power, elegance and evocation that is particularly evident in "Cask Cascade." Puryear's suavity is not the dead deftness of the academy but the vital resolution of African tribal art. (Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd. and 817 Hilldale Ave.)

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