If Modernism survives its well-publicized death, it will be with the help of artists like Mark Lere. Far from being a formal purist, he nonetheless bridges the gap between Minimal austerity and the Post-Modern urge toward accessible content. In league with such artists as Jill Giegerich, Robert Therrien and Martin Puryear, Lere makes spare sculpture that suggests a variety of subjects but also keeps its distance from them.

Amid an assembly of 22 sculptures, we see strange references to natural formations--a twister, a mussel, a human head and thorax--and to man-made objects--a chess pawn, a shovel and stairs. Either solid and weighty or hollow and airy, these artworks are variously constructed of such materials as wax over aluminum, wood (that looks like pressed shavings), welded steel, bronze rods or stacks of marble circles. Interest arises about equally from Lere's straightforward use of materials, the skewed or rudimentary forms they take and the associations his works trigger.

A "Perpetual Fountain," for example, is a wiry piece with a cylindrical "pipe" running a circular course from the base to the top of a cuplike shape, as if to empty water into it. The ideas of flowing water, plumbing and receptacles are sketchily contained in a few lumpy lines of metal. An angular pressed-wood "Stump" seems to get its name from three sources: tree stumps, the wood itself and prosthetic devices. Nine watercolor-and-graphite drawings have knotted configurations and see-through volumes floating weightlessly in cloudy atmospheres.

Lere's art is smart, witty and handsome, but the best thing about it is its inquiring tone. Nothing is quite set, everything is in flux, each object relates to the others--as if the artist is presenting a universe of objects and ideas for us to consider. His work was once inclined to be ponderous, but with maturity he has acquired the light touch of an inspired dreamer. (Margo Leavin Gallery, 817 N. Hilldale Ave., to April 5.)

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