It would be hard to envision Kim Abeles ever running short of ideas. Her sculpture, which combines found and created elements in a tableau format, provides a broad array of historical and autobiographical investigations--each of which seems like the equivalent of a polished essay or written meditation on its topic.
The subject of "Calamity Jane and Questions of Truth," for instance, is the web of myth we construct to enshroud the person who fascinates our culture. There is no face or figure to look at but a series of sheer pieces of cloth, suspended from a wooden platform and contoured to imply the female form and painted with the outlines of clothes. And for those who desire to pursue the questions the piece begs, there are a whole series of jars, hung to her left, that contain little sticks with information on such topics as "Profession" and "Relationship With Wild Bill Hickok."
What is impressive is Abeles' ability to transform a literary concept into a controlled and powerful visual form. The weakness of much tableau art is its inability to look like anything but static theater. Abeles, like Ed Kienholz and Bruce Houston before her, knows that it is the controlling metaphor that makes for strong work in this genre.
Proof positive is "The Last Home of Leon Trotsky." Two photographic views of the fortress in Coyoacan where Trotsky was murdered reside in a bird cage on the upper portion of this platform. A resin-stiffened shirt is suspended in a horizontal position slightly below, as if we are viewing him in the coffin. Near the floor we find a group of rusty instruments along with socks and shoes. Somehow--and I'm not quite prepared to say how--the combination of elements transcends morbid fascination and becomes a poignant memorial to this important 20th-Century thinker.
To have an accompanying show by Carole Caroompas is appropriate. She is well known locally for her assemblages and collages with a literary bent. A current series is no exception to her established modus operandi, since the large wall pieces are loaded with text as well as image.
Her controlling concept is solitaire--numerous versions of it. In fact, the large surfaces of her pieces are actual card tables of varied shapes. For example, in "Royal Widows" small multilayered paintings/constructions function as playing cards, such as the mummy object in one accompanied by the words: "Mummies in wooden cases/Covered in glass/Singing of our own mortality."
Caroompas' words often try too hard to be profound and end up sounding pretentious. In spite of this weakness, works such as "Royal Widow" illuminate the social symbolism inherent in card games. She takes the metaphors embedded in the titles of particular games of solitaire and constructs her own solitary musings upon their meanings. (Karl Bornstein Gallery, 1662 12th St., to Feb. 16.)