Santa Monica

“The Sky Above/The Mud Below” is vintage Allen Ruppersberg. Named for a 1963 movie, the exhibition--containing collages that simulate movie posters plus an installation of printed banners and posters--combines the realist/Pop-culture side of the conceptual artist with his literary bent. Unlike some displays in the past that faced viewers with endless reports of trivial events or the entire text of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” reproduced as a painting, this current work exudes the nostalgic charm of antique posters and the familiarity of schlock advertising.

Ruppersberg’s first love seems to be paradox, and he persistently cancels out one notion with another or asks whole strings of questions. Throughout the show--from its dichotomous title to works such as “Jesus/Devil” and others that pit sweet cliches against nasty ones--the subject is a conflicted mind. The show doesn’t come off as a morality lesson, however. Ruppersberg may set out a hateful Ku Klux Klan manifesto in a religious context, but he has never been very good at preaching. He keeps his distance by couching cosmic questions in the friendly form of posters and labeling them as attractions that are “coming soon.”

In the main gallery, Ruppersberg hangs rows of triangular banners from the ceiling (in the manner of a car dealer’s lot) and covers much of the floor with “Carpets” and “Runners” composed of silk-screened “posters” with black print on garish colors. The pennants are printed with repetitive, strung-together phrases; the floor posters with questions asking, “Is one thing better than another?” or “Why is everything the same?” No answers emerge, just an impression that fundamental issues have been buried in a plethora of information and cliches. (James Corcoran Gallery, 1327 5th St., to Oct. 22.)