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SANTA MONICA

Mimmo Paladino’s art buttonholes you like a professional panhandler who’s got his pathos-shtick down so pat that you slip him a dollar before you realize you’ve been righteously had. The veteran Italian appears in half a dozen large works that make one think that Neo-Expressionism really designates all the art that fell between the cracks in the last 30 years and is now up for rehabilitation.

“Settimana Ottomana,” for example, is a big purgatorially red painting with simplified symbolic figures. When they are not reminding you of paintings made here by James Strombotne in the late ‘50s they are pandering to your sympathies with a combination of saintly suffering and the stylized sweetness of Commedia del Arte characters.

A large bronze head presents a monumental mask-like face that metamorphoses ‘round back into a schematized kneeling nude figure holding a beggar’s bowl. Its awkward style was once reserved for flaky art in Sunday sidewalk crafts festivals. “Non Avra Titolo” is a golden wood relief of Minimalist shapes suggesting occult signs and symbols that stand behind a half-figure of a male nude who has Pan’s pipes for a mouth and makes a suppliant gesture.

Taken as seriously as possible, Paladino’s art seems to make a plea for the revival of myth, magic and primitive religion, a proposition that is as persuasive to the artistic temperament as appeals to mom and apple pie are to the patriot. Even given such a sure-fire theme, the work cloys and makes us end up rejecting its seductive appeals to narcissistic self-dramatization.

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In fairness one must admit that Paladino’s art has looked better glimpsed in other locales. Either we’ve just had bad luck with pieces shown around Los Angeles or else we already live in a mythical paradise that makes this art redundant. (James Corcoran Gallery, 1327 5th St., to Nov. 22.)


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