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Santa Monica

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Brian O’Connor charges after the bland, cheap side of contemporary life in honest and probing--if sometimes overly anecdotal--figurative paintings. Deborah Baca applies her pristine watercolor technique to an idea that’s basically no more than a gimmick.

In “Hilarious,” O’Connor rounds up a fat man whose body turns into a cone, a gesturing, half-dressed businessman and a slouching pinhead in a leather jacket. All cohabit a box-like space shared with a nude sculpture. Whatever the joke they’re reacting to, there’s little doubt it’s in poor taste.

The strongest work of the group--because it lets simple but allusive imagery work unhampered on the imagination--is “Give Me the Simple Life.” It tacitly compares a ghostly copy of a court dwarf Velasquez immortalized in one of his paintings with the image of a middle-aged businessman making an ineffectual gesture and literally disappearing into the grayness of his house.

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Baca paints delicate, detailed still lifes rife with obvious allusions to popular artists (Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keeffe) and other well-known folk. In “Marilyn,” for example, the viewer finds a baseball on the floor (Joe DiMaggio!), a news clipping about the Kennedys (the liaison!), a catalogue from a 1963 Christie’s auction featuring the famous Andy Warhol silk screen and other items fit for a trivia game.

Such works pander to a People magazine mentality satisfied with cute “conversation pieces” instead of art that demands real effort and awareness from the viewer. (Andrea Ross Gallery, 2110 Broadway, to Nov. 25)

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