Millions of people see the fool-the-eye three-dimensional dove on their Visa card every day without realizing they're looking at a hologram, a miniature marvel of technology and optics.
"Images in Space and Time," an exhibit of 200 holograms from 15 countries continuing at the California Museum of Science and Industry, attempts to show how the growing use of holography is affecting such diverse fields as medicine, manufacturing, information storage and the fine arts.
The scientific and industrial applications constitute the most interesting part of the exhibit. "Coronary Artery" by Lee Lacey (U.S., 1985) reveals how the blood vessels embrace the heart muscle--and how a doctor can find a partially blocked artery that requires surgery. Lacey's "Holo/CAD" (1985) combines holography with computer-generated drawings of an instrument panel for a new car. The three-dimensional image tells more about how the finished panel would look than a flat drawing would, enabling the designer to make adjustments early in production.
Some Soviet experiments using holograms to replace fragile art objects in museum displays are somewhat less successful. Holographic diamonds don't sparkle, which takes a lot of the fun out of looking at a case of jeweled medallions. As a hologram only records a single point of view, it's impossible to examine some ancient gold ornaments from various angles to see how they were cast.
Ironically, the most sophisticated technical accomplishments often produce the least impressive images. Toshiro Kubota has devised a way of layering monochromatic holograms to create fully colored, three-dimensional images: His "Dojo: Japanese Doll" (Japan, 1985) represents a technological breakthrough, but it's so realistic that to the casual observer, it just looks like a doll in a case.
The examples of "fine art" are the least successful works in the exhibition. The 3-D effect is initially intriguing, but when the novelty wears off, the viewer is left contemplating a series of vapid technical exercises that are devoid of content. These tendencies are summed up in Robert Schinella's hilariously kitsch study, "Witch and Devil" (U.S., 1973), created for the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco--where it should have remained.
Unfortunately, none of the artists represented here seem able to go beyond that penny arcade/peepshow mentality.
In "Wine Goblet" by Charles Lysogorski (U.S., 1986), the full bowl of a glass hovers over its broken stem; odd bits of junk seem to float inside a real aquarium in Claudette Abrams' silly "Personal Effects" (Canada, 1986). Michael Snow's attempts to do portraits and figure studies make real people look like cheap department store mannequins.
With 200 holograms on display, there's a lot to look at in "Images," but that doesn't mean there's a lot to see. The viewer learns that holography is good for more than those little doves that make it tough to counterfeit credit cards. But the technology is still waiting for someone to explore its aesthetic potential seriously, the way contemporary composers are exploring synthesized sound.
A word of caution: The show is designed to be seen by someone about 5-feet-6. Boxes are provided for children to stand on, but tall people should be prepared for sore knees and shoulders from all the stooping they'll do.
"Images in Time and Space" continues in the Armoury Room of the California Museum of Science and Industry, 700 State Drive, through March 25. Information: (213) 744-1966.