Festival '90 : ART REVIEWS : L.A. FESTIVAL : 'Forbidden Entry' at USC: Nowhere to Go

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some artists don't seem to realize how hard they have to work to subvert polite fictions of art that have little to do with the way people really react to stimuli. The popular notion that art can "compel" the viewer to do this or that is a feeble leg to stand on.

Selma Holo, director of the Fisher Gallery at USC, writes in the catalogue for "Forbidden Entry" (to Oct. 27) that the four Southern California artists whose installations make up the exhibit are creating "gateways and barriers fraught with paradox and complexity."

Would that were so. Unfortunately, three of the pieces are simple-minded evocations of basic themes that are not fresh and are not endowed with any special magic, and the fourth offers a fleeting moment of drama without a second act.

Carol Newborg builds a vaguely folkloric archway out of "found" pieces of wood and hopes we will feel moved to trot through it, crunching across scattered dried grasses on the floor, to peer at a plaster sculpture with an archway motif that hangs on the opposite wall. She is a trusting soul.

Lilla LoCurto writes in a statement that she expects we will experience "psychological alienation" on entering a room filled with a discordant arrangement of precariously stacked 10-foot-long red-painted fiberglass tubes. But there is nothing awesome or compelling about the objects, or the way they are arranged. Her untitled piece reflects a long-established practice of manipulating like materials in a gallery space without adding to that practice. It's not enough to change the color, size or texture of the materials to get a rise out of viewers; you have to rethink the whole idea.

Karen Frimkess Wolff's preciously titled "For Myself & Strangers Bound in Time" sits outside, in the gallery courtyard. Two screens made of small gold and silver bells on monofilament wire form a parenthesis around a cube on a dirt mound. One screen is planted on the grass, the other sits on the brick walkway. For this piece to work, it would have to create the feeling of a "charged" space, noticeably impacting the surrounding environment. Instead, "For Myself" just sits there in its dainty, I-am-art way, and says nothing audible to strangers.

Visitors have to sign a waiver of liability to enter George Geyer's "Floating Corridor of Forbidden Entry," which glimmers invitingly from the next gallery. Surrounded by darkness, a corridor of brightness--framed by mirrors and lit with a strip of small lights--invites entry. But it turns out to be floating unsupported on a pool of undetermined depth, anchored gingerly by a delicate arrangement of crossbeams and mirrors. The only safe route is along a wooden deck that circumscribes the pool, a journey that yields no further discoveries of interest.

This piece offers what Geyer calls "oppositional attraction/aversion," meaning that one feels drawn to the corridor at the same time that it looks clearly unsafe for passage. But that lovely frisson of yearning mingled with danger isn't sustained as you grow more familiar with the piece, and no striking new perception or mood seems to take its place.

Fisher Gallery, USC , 823 Exposition Blvd.; to Oct. 27 Reminiscences: While her grandmother was recuperating from an illness, Mihoko Yamagata took a series of photographs of the elderly Japanese lady. Paired with reminiscences of personal and social upheaval in a heavily traditional society, the piece--at USC's Helen Lindhurst Fine Arts Gallery through Sept. 21--is called "Kaiso" (to reflect).

The story of Aiko Yamagata's endurance in the face of the deaths of her father and husband, and some of her glimpses of the daily life in a well-born household in pre-World War II are not without interest. The low-key color photographs record the speaker's changing moods and state of health with sensitivity, at a respectful distance. But the project as a whole is uneven, more suited to family documentation than to the critical glare of the outside world.

Helen Lindhurst Fine Arts Gallery, USC, 823 Exposition Blvd.; to Sept. 21

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