West German-born Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) and Yugoslavian Marina Abramovic combined their artistic fortunes in the mid-'70s and have since offered the world rarefied performance pieces and several series of large Polaroids. Their “China Ring” photographs seem to deal with transcultural feminist issues. In one grouping, the flat yellow-on-black image of a crenelated castle is paired with the image of a pair of female Oriental eyes peering out of a veil and headdress. The point may be that she, too, is a yellow-and-black fortress, her body swathed against (sexual) invasion.
Other “China Ring” images consist of just the woman’s eyes; still others juxtapose the eyes with yellow-on-black signs (a dagger, a bowl, a bracelet, a penis) that conjure up a Saracen depravity, a Third World’s beggar culture, a man’s society in which women’s due consists only of trinkets. Another, more opaque Polaroid series, “Vases,” offers pairs of large, voluptuous vases with double-exposed rims set against the fleecy texture of some unidentifiable, mottled background.
Also on view are the painfully reducto-primitive wood sculptures of John Gillen--slender, pointed ovoids with a scattering of tiny holes that suggest facial features in a way reminiscent of overdesigned watches that only tell you where, say, the 12 and the 3 are. Some of these ovoids have a reddish wood stain; others are painted black. Some have built-in wood extensions holding them to the wall; others stick on directly; one sits on a base on the floor. The one called “False Idol” happens to be one-half inch thicker than its otherwise identical twin, “Preaching to the Converted.” That may be significant, and then again maybe not. (Burnett Miller Gallery, 964 N. La Brea Ave., to Feb. 20.)