It's unusual to find concurrent exhibitions that complement each other as perfectly as those of L.A.-based sculptor Charles Ray and German painter Gunter Umberg. Both shows are defined and linked by color (black), a minimal economy of form mitigated by an almost overwhelming sense of presence, and edgy dialectics between materials and process, appearance and reality, "objectness" and metaphorical allusion.
Although Ray has earned a strong local reputation for blurring the boundaries between sculpture and performance, his latest "Ink Box" is a phenomenological tour de force. It is composed of a 3-foot-square steel cube, finished in lustrous black auto lacquer and filled to the brim with 200 gallons of printer's ink. The ink's surface is indistinguishable from its container, so that the total form appears to be a solid mass. Even given the knowledge that to touch the piece is to flirt with potential disaster (how could something that looks so formally pure be so organically messy?), the desire is at times overwhelming. As a result, Ray achieves a unique tension between the meditative and the neurotic, between the actual formal parameters of the object and its metaphorical, viewer-induced "other."
Umberg's monochromatic paintings work in much the same way. Mixing three different black pigments with damar varnish, Umberg applies up to 40 or 50 layers onto sheets of aluminum, crisscrossing his brush strokes to create a grid-like surface texture. Like Robert Ryman, Umberg attaches each work extremely close to the wall, so that it appears as a void or black hole. Surrounded by the white gallery space, the results achieve much of the retinal push-pull one usually associates with the Light and Space school. However, Umberg is more interested in the organic porousness of the black pigment itself. Extended viewing reveals subtleties of color, composition and texture that draw attention to both the micro- and macroscopic parameters of materiality, of the articulation of paint as both object and essence. Like Ray, Umberg is a master of physical transcendence. (Burnett Miller, 964 N. La Brea Ave., to March 28.)