Santa Monica

Conceptual altar pieces by Portuguese artist Leonel Moura combine a grainy enlargement of a newspaper photo showing skyscrapers or freeway networks and a lead bookstall displaying copies of Charles Deleuze’s “A Filosofia De Kant.” In a colored band across the photo, the word “America” is written in computer text. As cultural icons, this tough, political art appears to take potshots at the soulless material progress of the U.S., just as Moura’s earlier work attacked repression in Portugal. It’s a point of view that sees ironic contrasts between Western civilization’s love affair with codification and standards and its veneration of the individual conscience.

Moura makes this comment by juxtaposing a second-hand image of highly organized, bland American architecture with the embalmed structure of Kant’s philosophy, which held morality to be an inner-guided truth. By setting theoretical and inner-directed structures side by side in the same altar, the artist captures something of the American moral dilemma. How to contain the individual within the society without losing the individuality of the society?

As objects, Moura’s icons are as cool and blunt as the evening news. The messages may be buried within contexts as dense as philosophy, but there is still something about the newsprint imagery with its one-word legend that is comfortably familiar. Perhaps that familiarity is due to the way the identification mimics the micro-byte-information gathering of this society. (Myers/Bloom Gallery, 2112 Broadway, to Feb. 11.)