In his latest series of paintings, Jerome Sander begins to break away from his usual formal and psychological explorations of the male-female couple and focus instead on the figure as a historical motif. Employing flat colors in a sketchy, reductive style reminiscent of Dan McCleary, Sander quotes from Romanesque, African and Oriental sculptural traditions and filters them through an extremely mannered Neo-Classicism that evokes both De Chirico and Sandro Chia.

The result is a stylistic pluralism that borders on pastiche, homogenizing representation into an exercise in quotation. People and objects no longer exist in and of themselves but rather as remembered images from a museum or book illustration. All painting thus becomes a form of self-conscious appropriation, transforming historical precedent into conceptual fetishism. Because Sander simultaneously exposes and exploits this deceit, he transforms a potentially interesting premise into yet another exercise in painterly ambivalence, where dubious rhetoric is disguised as confession, awkward execution as self-reflexive critique.

Much the same could be said of James Solomon’s ceramic sculptures, where men and women in various stages of undress strike what seem to be highly erotic poses, only to be undercut by the comparative rustic innocence of execution and composition. Solomon’s strategy is to deliberately defuse any sexual charge by stressing apathy and indifference over pleasure or pain. This is reinforced by his crude figurative rendering, which attempts to evoke both the integrity of folk art and the archetypal characteristics of Everyman. Again it doesn’t come off because the failure to synthesize the contradictions of form and content comes across as mere fence-sitting, draining the work of both structural resonance and broader significance as contemporary totem or icon. (Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., to April 25.)