Santa Monica

Stephan Huber, who lives in Munich, mingles hints of Bavaria's history of decorative arts and crafts with a wary take on post-industrial culture in his large-scale sculpture. Highly finished in a fashion that evokes high-tech luxury consumer goods and overtly presentational in ways that recall Baroque art, this work nevertheless has a deadpan, close-to-the vest quality.

In "Gloria," an elaborate aluminum support holds the large silk-screened image of a forbiddingly massive piece of equipment. It sits idle in a vaulted factory space that looks like a cathedral. The artist seems to be arguing that industrialism is as powerful--but ultimately as useless--a force in human life as religion. Both have had great edifices built to their glory, but neither has solved the basic problems of mankind.

"Kathedrale" offers double images of a highway superstructure, inserted into twin billboardlike aluminum structures. The billboard may be the altarpiece of the modern age, but it offers an unsatisfying and false salvation.

In several pieces, pool table imagery conveys a metaphor for the fragility of life. In "Perfektes Spiel" (Perfect Game), 10 glossy green balls are frozen in random alignment within a sleek metal box lined with green felt that hangs on the wall, a set of rectangular metal "fingers" tilting it toward the viewer. The game is up, and the devil may well be winning.

The presence of an Observing Force--maybe God, maybe Big Brother--is nowhere as marked as in "Festung" (Fortress). The image of a huge pair of eyes is visible within a rectangular slot in a veneered wood block attached to a heavy-duty aluminum bar. If an American viewer's thoughts run irrelevantly to the oculist's billboard that serves as a prominent image in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," the symbolism is similarly troubled.

Still other works resemble compact monuments to nothing in particular. "Testa Rosa" is a red lacquered, purified pagoda shape mounted on casters as if to mock the very notion of permanent placement in an uncertain world. The stress on finish here--as everywhere else--also suggests the difference between useful and useless work, and the relative worth of impersonal machine-made finish versus the patient employment of laborers' hands.

Arresting in a cold, glossy way, Huber's big toys are ultimately about consumerism as the opiate of the people. But unlike much similarly themed work by contemporary Americans, these pieces seem firmly anchored by a long view of history and a searching, almost Ingmar Bergmanesque dialogue with God and the Devil. (Karl Bornstein Gallery, 1658 1/2 10th St., to Aug. 19.)

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