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New works by Deborah Small and Margaret...

New works by Deborah Small and Margaret Honda are on display at Sushi during Neofest, the Festival of New Arts. Small’s installation, “The Right Tie Can Change Everything,” spreads across every wall of Sushi’s foyer, interweaving stark images of war with the petty cliches offered as their justification. Concise passages, layered with visual and verbal meaning, appear sporadically throughout the fragmented array of paintings, cut-outs and other objects.

On one of several small shelves, six panels spell out the phrase “Ignorance Is Bliss.” Underneath the declaratory text on four of the panels is the mano blanca, the ominous symbol of death-squad activity in El Salvador. Another shelf carries blocks with the saying, “War Will Make a Man of You,” overlaying the repeated silhouette of a figure extending a gun. The image is derived from a photograph fixed in our collective memory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning depiction of the point-blank murder of a Viet Cong prisoner. Like the image of the mano blanca, it does more than describe a particular event; it symbolizes the terror and baseness of war itself.

Small deftly combines these potent cultural symbols with seemingly more benign everyday images (ties, ladders) to create a network loose in structure but dense in meaning. “The Right Tie,” like “1492,” Small’s installation last year at the Anuska Galerie, demonstrates the artist’s capacity to thoroughly engage both eye and mind.

Margaret Honda’s “Artomatic,” also in the foyer, lacks the resolution of her compelling work in barbed wire. Formerly a cigarette vending machine, “Artomatic” has been minimally revamped to dispense slides of works by local artists. Neither the bland packaging of the slides nor the austere facade of the machine have anything to recommend them; they are simply vehicles for the distribution of the product. Though this dispassionate treatment reinforces the concept of art as a commodity, it fails to reflect the seductive techniques commonly employed by the market that Honda derides.

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Nearly two years ago, New York artist Ona Lindquist made a similar statement with the “Objet Vend’art,” a renovated ice cream bar dispenser that she placed beside a movie theater snack bar. In this setting geared to mass entertainment and consumption, the artist’s message assumed a poignant, wry humor. At Sushi, the “Artomatic” offers only a one-liner, an in-joke.

Both works will be on view through May 30.

“Different Views,” at the Viridian Gallery through May 30, joins the work of two Los Angeles-based artists. Susanna Dadd’s work struggles for distinction through the use of an unusual format: Each of her unframed paintings is attached along its bottom edge to a plank of plywood. Enhanced by colored shoe polish, the wood grain presents a textural counterpoint to the luminous skies in the paintings above, and the wood’s solidity and density give the atmospheric paintings an earthly ground.

This is effective only in the two largest works--"Power From the North Sea” and “The Burning Sea"--where Dadd’s broad, moody skies hover over narrow bands of wood. The combination recalls the wide skies and low horizons of Dutch landscape painting. In Dadd’s smaller works, however, the paintings are reduced to simple gradations of tone, and the wood panels relate less evocatively to the scale of the attached paintings, making the combination appear gratuitous.

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James Griffith’s work also contains a distinctive formal twist--the combination of conventional oil painting and monoprint imagery--but here form corresponds with content. The two techniques depict two distinct worlds. The monoprint’s stark, flat tones and skeletal forms describe the factorylike environment of commercial tree farms. Against this barren vision emerges the lush, richly hued natural landscape in oil paint. The two worlds merge in these paintings as if in a montage of color and black-and-white photographs, creating a tension between conflicting realities.

This tension, between freedom and constraint, nature and artifice, is encapsulated in the painting, “Pine for New Development.” Two large planter boxes dominate the foreground, framing a view to distant hills, a lake and a clearing primed for construction. The boxes, in monoprint, are outlined in dark blue on a musty brown ground tone. From this dull surface, the slender trunk of one of the boxed pines and one plank of its container emerge fully rendered in oil. Their visual link suggests linked fates: The young pine appears destined to become lumber, to end its life as a container for another’s.

Christopher Lee’s show at the Thomas Babeor Gallery contains some of the artist’s most elegant, unthreatening work, despite bearing the title of “Weapons.” Lee has eliminated the sharp edges and tenuous balances of his earlier glass, metal and stone constructions in favor of a more refined and polished style. Its strength lies in Lee’s exploitation of the rich and multifaceted character of his materials.

Humor continues to flavor Lee’s work, even in this series. The “Bomb Clusters,” table-top pieces in which smooth glass spikes protrude from conical lead settings, do convey a sense of latent and massive power, but in the smallest, hand-held versions, the title of “Baby Bomb Buds” reverts the weapons to toys.

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In the “Weapon Formation,” Lee displays his expansive repertoire of glass acrobatics. Glass extrudes from its lead casings at the head of these standing pieces in small, bulletlike forms, some elongated in the shape of tapered candles. In another, an undulating triangle of glass points downward like smooth tresses, and in another, upward like dissipating smoke. Lee’s work has reached a peak in terms of technical finesse and clever allusion, but only at the expense of the edge and ambiguity in his earlier work.

The exhibition continues through June 6.


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