ART REVIEW : Marc Pally's Playfulness Rings Hollow at Felsen Gallery


There is something totally appealing about Marc Pally's large lyric abstractions. He can turn organic shapes into beguiling games of randomly meshing imagery by deftly shuffling his 15 panel canvases around the wall like two-dimensional Rubik's cubes. But Pally apparently longs for his paintings to do more than lilt, he wants them to challenge--at least intellectually. They don't, but the belligerent titles make you wish they did so there would be a point to the adolescent, verbal hostility besides just making you doubt the artist's sincerity.

A few years ago Pally was giving his brand of organic embellishment and doodling pattern a hefty reality slap by incorporating blunt, back-to-the-financial-trenches words or heavy-handed references to art world politics and criticism. Pally now leaves the floating, geometric and biological nebula he cooks up alone, reserving all the pugnacious commentary to the works titles. The juxtaposition is odd and slightly offensive, but finally just harder to believe than appreciate.

Pally's titles play simplistic word games that when taken together with the imagery seem a harshly self-criticism. "What's Done Is Dung" mutates into "What's Dung Is Dumb" as the artist covers white fecal-shaped bulges and Abstract Expressionist grounds with graphite Op Art patterns. If dumb is the visual joke, the work gets a weak spin from the self-proclamation. Similarly the larger, more interesting acrylic and charcoal paintings try to counter their apparent charms by dragging out their underlying profit motive like a farmer's daughter turned prostitute. One self-reflective title--too dirty to be reproduced in a family newspaper--is given an otherwise enticing image of floating abstraction. "No Grudge, No Win: Conflated Goals" reads another that seems to be begging for critical hostility to get some juice flowing.

But Pally's contrived attempts at putting all his cards on the table ultimately sink beneath their own dishonesty. Tagging yourself a for-profit artist and what you do so well as a marketing ploy, while continuing to make the art and seeming to deplore your own ethics, eventually rings hollow. Even if we can appreciate the elastic morality Pally adopts we doubt whether the disparity between what the painting is doing and what the title says it's about can ever be reconciled.

Rosamund Felsen, 8525 Santa Monica Blvd., (213) 652-9172, to June 29. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Getting Physical: Painter Bob Alderette has always delighted in the physicality of his built-up imagery. After a five-year exhibition hiatus, his new works are still muscular but have gone darker, trying to carry a greater load of content with a brooding sense of intelligence. While still painterly, the overall effect is more crude than previous work. Alderette is insetting cut shapes of wood veneer into pieces of irregular, unstretched canvas and painting the whole to unity. The results suggest a deconstructive analysis of the visual language of symbols. In "Being and the Objects of Presence," a nifty little circle of symbolic description, wood is both the surface and the thing represented as a framed empty stage, broken limb and trees.

There is however, something overly basic about many of Alderette's references to language and representation. Embalmed books, shallow windows, slide transparencies all pop up with amazingly limited amplification of meaning and an almost overwhelming concern for the way the painting looks. In accompanying drawings, however, simplicity becomes delightfully direct. "Everything Speaks" is a series of straightforward linear drawings that link insect language to human communication then evolve further into enigmatic representation. Besides a pleasing sense of line and a great sensitivity to the fragile quality of the gossamer transfer drawings, these works are especially powerful for their lack of pretense that lets the content speak unencumbered by materials. There's a relaxed quality to these images that would benefit many of the larger paintings where method seems to war with message.

Space Gallery, 6015 Santa Monica Blvd., (213) 461-8166, to June 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

The Quirk Ethic: Margaret Nielsen has always had a quirky sense of humor and the willingness to warp nature and the landscape into tall tales of visual improbability and mystery. In the past she has explored the contrived visual artifice of scenic postcards or painted glowing, symbolic mythic journeys through primeval forests and raging rivers. Her latest paintings return to the picture postcard to mine their inherent schlock in search of the power of real nature. It's a leap of awareness going strangely from the mundane to the magnificent but Nielsen manages to make it.

In Nielsen's hands nature is the frozen grandeur of Yosemite's granite domes trivialized and ignored by the thousands of visitors who use its majesty for photo backdrops. You could say Nielsen is appalled by the gift shop mentality which confines nature to a national park then parcels it out in souvenir postcards and bric-a-brac. She uses Albert Bierstadt's detailed and romantic landscape painting techniques juxtaposed with sepia toned images from '40s and '50s postcard pin ups and other pieces of fluff to deny nature its grandeur. Her kitsch makes us long for the real thing--and that's a point well taken.

Asher/Faure, 612 N. Almont Drive, (213) 271-3665, to June 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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