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ART REVIEWS : Panoramas and Pointed Social Commentary From Hayashi

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Masumi Hayashi brings fresh vision to the old form of panoramic photography. Her method--fixing the camera on a tripod, rotating and shooting at regular intervals, then repeating the process with the camera angled above and below the horizon line--may be familiar, but the results are not.

When she pieces together her long horizontal photo collages, she constructs flickering, multifaceted views that transform subjects. Parts of buildings don’t match because of the camera’s angle. The scenes often repeat after completing a 360-degree sweep, so that an image of the same building anchors two sides of a picture. This occurs in lighthearted views of Watts Towers and downtown Los Angeles that lend two trouble spots a fairy-tale sparkle. But Hayashi is after something more than attractive pictures.

In addition to her series on American cities, she photographs abandoned factories, pollution sites, prisons and seats of power. Such subjects are loaded with social commentary, and they gain in visual complexity as she overlays parts of the collages with three-dimensional photographs. A tumble-down industrial site in Youngstown, Ohio, for example, makes haunting, romantic pictures, but it also speaks of death in the Rust Belt. A relatively spare picture of the remains of the Gila Bend Relocation Center in Arizona is particularly poignant because it is Hayashi’s birthplace. She grew up in Los Angeles, went off to teach in Cleveland, Ohio, and only recently located the site of her birth in the Arizona desert.

The newest work in the show leads into uncharted territory that looks very promising. In three “portrait” collages, Hayashi has introduced human subjects and constructed puzzling, dream-like narratives in ambiguous spaces. The figures sometimes recur in different positions and sizes--a device than lends an element of time and motion to still pictures. Most intriguing is a piece called “The Lawyer and the Prisoner,” in which a tattooed nude male stands with outstretched arms on a table, while a man in a suit keeps a watchful eye from various locations.

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In a concurrent show, Robin Ryan’s acrylic-on-paper paintings have a terminal case of confusion. On the one hand, they are gridded abstractions; on the other, expressionistic figurative paintings. Unfortunately, they either collapse from over work or just look silly--as when a face peers out from behind a grid and asks, in a title, “Alfred, Is That You?”

Andrea Ross Gallery, 2110 Broadway, Santa Monica, to July 14.

Effortless Force: Looking at Ed Moses’ new work, it’s hard to imagine that he was once known for paintings that were almost as buttoned up as a pin-striped suit. In his current show of masterfully expressive abstractions, emotion hangs out so unabashedly that it appears as a raw fact of existence. Earthy and teeming with energy, this work’s most remarkable quality may be that it seems both stunningly forceful and effortless.

You get the feeling that Moses didn’t worry these paintings into life, or even work them around until they suited him; they just fell into place after years of painting. In fact, he works intuitively but uses a complex process of painting--brushing, pouring, dripping and scraping.

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Moses’ works on paper generally contain a central character made of a thick, trailed line, and throb with life amid spattered brown pigment. The paintings appear more like slices of some larger, natural drama--rushing water, crashing waves, rumbling earth. This “sliced” effect is accentuated in two diptychs and one triptych. Each of the separate panels contributes to a broad, disjointed vista that includes poetic passages and crashing forces.

L.A. Louver, 77 Market St., Venice, to June 30.

Rigorous Abstraction: Depending on your mindset, “Absolute Contemplation,” a handsome show of abstract painting, can be a very fast read or a slow revelation. Those who have become attuned to high-pitched Expressionism may find this work empty, but it’s actually quite full of convictions about the purity of painting. The works--one each by eight artists--don’t look like anything other than what they are, so viewers contemplate the stark physical aspects of what is in front of them. That usually amounts to a solid black or white rectangle, which may be distinguished by a meticulously worked surface, punctuated by brush strokes or divided by spaces between canvases.

Scot Heywood constructs a 66-inch black square, shifts it into a diamond shape, then slides a slice of it out of the square format--thus dividing space in a rhythmic meter. James Hayward activates a white rectangle with overlapping, diagonal strokes of pigment, while Michael Roberts separates two white panels of vertical strokes with a plain one. Penelope Krebs and Edith Baumann-Hudson add color to the show with no loss of discipline. Krebs’ carefully weighs bold stripes of four different colors, while Baumann-Hudson produces a pulsing effect by painting brownish red bands on a brighter red background.

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This kind of rigorous abstraction was frequently seen a decade or so ago, but it has so little visibility now that it appears almost exotic. Once your eyes adapt to the subtleties, you are reminded of just how much variation there can be in works that appear so similar.

Newspace, 5241 Melrose Ave., to June 30.

Strange Territory: Robert Gil de Montes works in the strange territory of dreams and visions. Other artists often portray this terrain in wispy, ethereal terms, but Gil de Montes has a distinctive way of working with solid forms, often combining leaden people with weightless objects painted in oil on tin or canvas.

In “Silent Song,” an immobile, masked man stands in the center of the painting amid a shower of yellow birds whose wings are folded close to their bodies. Masks, curtains and a stage-like setting lend a theatrical quality to the work, which can be too scattered or chaotic for its own good. When everything jells, his painting is powerful. One of the strongest images here is “To Open and Close the Eyes,” portraying an earthbound man with wings who watches a pair of legs disappear into a theatrical sky. In another success, “Golden Tunnel,” two blindfolded figures on wheelchairs roll on a track leading into the gaping jaws of a saw-toothed monster.

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Concurrently, Hilary Baker shows small gouache-on-paper works that allude to enclosures. A fence, a “wolf trap,” a basket-like form or a wavy line typically floats in the center of a streaked, pastel background, lending an ominous suggestion of captivity to art that would otherwise seem carefree.

Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., to July 21.


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