ART REVIEWS : Joseph Kosuth: He Spells Everything Out for Us


Pioneer New York conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth is still getting the word out. In this group of works he seems philosophically preoccupied, as usual, with the difference between the physical sensation of seeing something and what we think about what we saw. In the distant past, the artist deemed it sufficient to letter quotations from thesauri and suchlike on canvas. Nowadays he evidently recognizes that art cannot live by verbiage alone. He is writing his mind-benders large in neon, etching them in metal or emblazoning mottoes on glass. This gives the work sculptural presence and allows an agreeable byplay between the visual and the mental.

In “No Number 2” he causes neon to spell out, “The agreement of thought and reality consists of this: If I say falsely that something is red, then, for all that, it isn’t red.” That appears straightforward enough. What you see is what you get. The mind can’t change reality.

“No Number 3,” is one of several works done, “after Augustine’s confessions.” It dithers more, wondering, “Do I see something different each time or do I only interpret what I see in different ways? I am inclined to the former. But why? -- To interpret is to think, to do something; seeing is a state.”


Kosuth adds his own paradox to all this by lettering the text thrice on separate panes of glass.

Anybody is free to find this art as pretentious as some self-involved sophomore covering up an identity crisis with Great Thoughts. It is. It is also consistently subversive and funny about intellectual posturing as when Kosuth memorializes lines from the notebooks of Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Wittgenstein showing they have crossed out mistakes.

Margo Leavin Gallery, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., to Oct. 13

True to His Roots: For a writer, William Burroughs is quite an artist. The legendary former druggie and author of such books as the loopy, fascinating “Naked Lunch” debuts here as a painter with a couple of dozen works, mainly on paper. True to his roots in the upper echelon of the Beat Generation, his style is grounded in Abstract Expressionism.

“Blue Rain Blue Sky Boats” is an azure-and-paperwhite abstraction worthy of Sam Francis or Yves Klein. Its background grid could have been stamped from paint-soaked wire mesh but its lyrical smears are pure spontaneity. Burroughs works with a childlike freedom that budding abstract painters take years to attain--relaxed, loose and elegantly controled at once. His sense of color never falters as in the fuchsia and green of “The Red Shark” or the urbane tans and greens of his jokey chair-and-paint-can assemblage.

Thank goodness he makes a few gaffes to save the pros from utter humiliation. He’s susceptible to the easy effects of stencils or finger painting techniques as in “Picasso Goes Gay.” A couple of awful punk-style Neo-Expressionist things have been made on scrap wood by blasting spray cans with a shotgun. They prove even virtuosos have their limits.


Earl McGrath Gallery, 454 N. Robertson Blvd., to Oct. 6

Bluhm Is Back: Second-generation Abstract Expressionist Norman Bluhm makes a rare West Coast appearance in a selection of works spanning 1954-60. Most have the look of splattered ostrich feathers but that airy quality is grounded by arrangement and a palette that suggests cave paintings that have visited Times Square. The strongest performance in this mode is “Silent Ixtaccihuata,” where black strokes attack from upper left to be tensely harmonized by opposing white and red.

A couple of more liquid compositions dimly suggest Monet. At a glance all of it seems dry or garbled. Gradually it appears in its own terms and it looks OK.

Manny Silverman Gallery, 800 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Oct. 20.

Arends Whispers: L.A. artist Stuart Arends shows just eight small rectangular boxes made of combinations of painted wood, fiberboard and aluminum. Hung at about eye-level, they look a bit like shy Donald Judd’s. Sculptural effects are minimal even for Minimalism. A couple appear embedded in walls like truncated beams. The only clue to the intent of this whispering show is its title, “Celadon.” The rare and delicate pale green Oriental ceramic glaze has long been associated with extreme refinement and romance. Arends uses the color along with the ambiguous surface of aluminum to broadcast an almost inaudible sense of delicate longing.

Asher/Faure Gallery, 612 N. Almont Drive, to Oct. 6.


From Boxes to Slabs: John McCracken is a survivor of Los Angeles’ Finish Fetish era who has developed as calmly as a cowboy watching alfalfa grow. He started out making shiny, solid-color boxes and planks that leaned on the wall. Now he is up to five shiny, one color slabs hung horizontally like shelves. They are faceted, making long streamlined V-shapes and wedges. Such attenuation can be dangerous but McCracken keeps it sculptural despite the speedy Mercedes-Benz surface of a work like “Autobahn.” His subtlety and control show best in the blue “Zircon.” Viewed at an oblique angle it seems to cantilever off the wall, reversing its own perspective.

One look at Gerald Kamitaki’s black-and-white striped compositions and you think of prisons. Rendered in wooly vertical paths of chalk and graphite, they suggest chain-gang uniforms, cell bars and corrugated siding. Nah, they must just be formal compositions. They reminisce about Frank Stella’s early black paintings. Juxtaposed sections offset stripes, creating subdued optical and sculptural effects. Then you notice the artist’s vitae sheet. He was born in 1943 in the Japanese-American detention camp at Manzanar.

Fred Hoffman Gallery, 912 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica to Oct. 13.

Large Figures and Pensive Palms: Anyone regretting the apparent demise of Photorealist painting can get a dose of it in the L.A. debut of Santa Fe practitioner, Diane Marsh. She paints individual portraits and figures about twice life-size suggesting some influence from Chuck Close. Works are mesmerizing at first go, as highly detailed work often is, but the experience begins to unravel almost immediately.

“Hope” is the unfortunate handle hung on a blond nude that looks more like an over-lighted medical photograph than an allegorical figure. What appears beautifully drawn and finished collapses into incoherence on closer approach. By concentrating equally on all parts the artist gives neither psychological nor optical emphasis so the expressive result feels like someone agonizing over nothing.

James Murray’s small prints and drawings have budged little since he was last seen here but the work retains its virtues. Panoramic horizontal landscapes retain a dark, biblical kind of grandeur like 19th-Century illustrations by Gustave Dore. It’s hard to recognize some of them as depicting Los Angeles even though they show palm trees and unfinished freeways. Despite frequent predictions of our destruction by a massive earthquake it’s still hard to believe the end of the world will include good old Lotusland.

Tortue Gallery, 2917 Santa Monica Blvd. to Oct. 6.


A Feast for the Eyes: Biff Henrich lives in Buffalo, N.Y., and debuts here with four color photo blow-ups of a group of people eating. They appear to be a family, first lolling around a Christmas tree replenishing themselves after an orgy of present-opening, then scarfing some more around the traditional Yule dining table. Their style is strictly Babbitt kitsch. Even the ornate furniture seems to be made of plastic.

Henrich’s work reflects his beginnings as a cartoonist adapted now to the shrill palette of chemi-color photography and vaguely echoing the Flemish exuberance of a robust painter like Jacob Jordaens.

Our worthies chow down everywhere, munching in the tiny family pool and at some sports event. Probably Little League. If they keep this up they will get as fat and grumpy and Henrich’s consumerist satire is affectionate and thin.

Linda Cathcart Gallery, 824 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, to Dec. 3 .