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LA CIENEGA AREA

Robert Ginder appears nostalgic for the Middle Ages. The local debut exhibition by this San Diego artist features paintings combining elements of Byzantine altar painting with Photo-Realist depictions of idyllic ‘50s America as fabricated by Life magazine. It’s a strange recipe, to be sure, and Ginder occasionally goes a bit flashy, but when he’s on, his work is stunning.

Sleepy L.A. back streets lined with palm trees and mock-Spanish adobe cottages are Ginder’s beat, and he casts these scenes with a gauzy softness that romanticizes them, even as his perfectly detailed renderings attempt to pass themselves off as factual representations of reality. This conflicting combination of artifice and truth is common coin in the Photo-Realist realm and Ginder separates himself from that pack by cutting his paintings into the shape of curved arches and treating the sky in a highly subjective way. There’s no sun in his sky; what we see instead is a shimmering golden dome of flaking gold leaf. Aflame with some kind of heavenly rapture, that sky is freighted with fairly obvious possible meanings, none of which are particularly original. However, read these paintings in simple terms--that Ginder finds a holy beauty in the seedy streets of Los Angeles--and they work just fine.

Also on view are trompe l’oeil plaster wall sculptures that simulate fragments of advertisements once emblazoned on the sides of now-demolished buildings. These broken and faded bits of the past approximate relics scavenged from a pile of urban rubble, and they might be described as Madison Avenue frescoes, focusing as they do on advertising slogans and products, many of which have vanished along with the innocence we attribute to their period. We see a hand clutching that omnipresent American elixir “Coco-Cola,” a bouncy blonde nibbling an “Old Nick” candy bar, an ad for the latest-model Ford (circa 1950), and that guy in the bellhop outfit who hollers “Call for Philip Morris.” Model citizens all, these happy consumers look prosperous and full of hope for the future. It seems that products change along with the mood of a country. (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Gallery, 812 N. La Cienega Blvd., to May 31.)


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