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La Cienega Area

If whimsy is not your strong suit, steer clear of Elaine Carhartt’s pudgy, three-quarters life-size ceramic circus folk. Ample-bellied, with contentedly fat faces, they dress in pastels and romp stolidly with guileless open palms.

“Fat Hannah” sits in fleshy inertia, wearing a squashed-eggplant hat and a flowered bathing suit. “Zip” sports a fez and ruff and a knob protruding from his chest; his pup “Pip” has a froggy look. A pair of “Ball Players” is frozen in a parody of effortful play: one standing with palms out, the other bending as if to wait for the ball to roll his way. A blank-looking fellow with stiff arms is attached to a mutant pony and a smiling-idiot girl is stuck on a ball.

There are hints here of an engagement with the tradition of the fool as a stock character presumed to be devoid of inner life and with dolls as passive instruments for children’s capricious play. The static, contrived poses of the figures suggests that they are possibly members of some lobotomized race doomed always to be dully, blissfully pleased with themselves. But what comes across most clearly is a boutique cuteness--the kind of housebroken ugliness that consumers have been taught just wants to be loved. (Hunsaker/Schlesinger Associates, 812 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Dec. 23.)


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