<i> Times Art Writer </i>

Charlie Crist and Liz Young are off and running in their first solo shows, at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions through Saturday. Brimming with youthful energy that trails off into ragged edges, their separate installations share LACE’s brand-new exhibition space but branch off in opposite directions.

Crist’s journey takes him through prehistoric territory and into quasi-scientific investigations. In framed pages of old books, he gives us a glimpse of petroleum, zeppelins, an airship crash and vertebrate paleontology. His sculptures, constructed wall pieces and large paintings on canvas depict figures, animals and bones, or take the form of geometric volumes.

He cuts a wide swath of materials and subjects, but his real interest seems to be in making things. The gallery is chock-full of such improbable creations as a blimp suspended from the ceiling, a Masonite whale’s tail, corrugated cardboard reptiles with metal teeth and glass eyes, a welded metal sculpture of a man standing on a two-wheeled cart, and various wall panels.

These works generally have an unfinished look that reveals their materials and process of construction. Nothing is hidden, except the point--which seems to be buried in research and activity. There’s an infectious spirit of curiosity and inquiry here--tinged with an engaging sense of the absurd and a fascination with extinction--but it doesn’t quite gel into a coherent statement.


The title of the exhibition, “Language Is a Chemical,” only adds a vague layer of innuendo to a show that seems far more concerned with physical presence than metaphorical nuances.

To see Young’s installation, you must push back a swinging wooden gate and enter a dark chamber, spottily illuminated by bare light bulbs. They protrude from gooseneck stands with all the grace of interrogation lamps, thus setting the stage for a nasty experience.

Young’s work, “Psychic Bleeding: A Clinical Approach,” is said to be autobiographical--"an internal psychic landscape.” If so, it’s no rose garden. Her exploration leads her to a horrific prison of cages, torture chairs and the mechanistic remains of a figure.

Like Crist, Young has gone to enormous trouble to build all this--making her own chains and spikes and devising heavy metal contraptions that seem all the more oppressive because they are indestructible. Unlike Crist’s, her message is clear but too heavy-handed for its own good. She emulates Edward Kienholz without absorbing his gift for strengthening social criticism with poignancy.


Young introduces life into her hellhole by cooping up two fluffy white birds in separate cages and piping in the recorded sound of a human heartbeat. Though the birds may not be suffering in their dark, stale environment, they are gratuitous and certainly not original. Stuffed birds would have made the point as well, but Young is very literal-minded.

You can almost hear her say, “Why prod your audience when you can hit ‘em with a sledgehammer? That way they’ll know you’re angry.”