ART REVIEWS : At Burnett Miller Gallery, Minimalism Marches On

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At Burnett Miller, minimalism is never out of style. And so, on the occasion of the Los Angeles International, the gallery is showing three British artists whose work is--surprise!--cool, concise and devoid of decorative detail.

It's also very good. Gladstone Thompson, Perry Roberts and Craig Wood test the possibility of an ongoing minimal aesthetic, removed many times over from its inaugural moment. What they demonstrate is that while less isn't always more--sometimes it is, quite simply, a bore--less can engender new modes of perception, reject the complacency of illusion, and quietly lay bare the institutional terms of art's validation.

Thompson claims the territory where minimalism transmogrifies into conceptualism. "Soffit-Los Angeles"--like much of the work of conceptualist Michael Asher--is nearly invisible, articulating the gallery space while vanishing into it. A soffit is the underside of a part of a building: a staircase, an entablature, a cornice. Here, Thompson affixes a narrow wooden structure underneath the gallery's main archway. Of course, you don't notice the piece until you consult the price list. What Thompson has done here is alert you to the gallery as a space wherein certain ways of seeing are activated and others are dulled.

With his large-scale wall paintings, Roberts treads similar ground. Black stripes inside black squares conjure jail cells, or, at least, hemmed-in spaces. Thus, the artist redoubles the architecture that contains his own work. The optical effect of these spare images is extraordinary: They make the white of the walls seem even whiter, while refusing to respect the boundaries between art "object" and the surrounding wall. Less impressive are Roberts' drawings on paper. These are so thoroughly purged of pictorial detail that they barely exist; here, the legendary poverty of the minimal aesthetic rears its head.

Wood's single sculptural piece, "Male Gloves," is also regrettable. Fifteen black rubber gloves project from the wall, dangling between them several white bingo balls. Wood enacts minimalism's commitment to serial consistency and its literalist treatment of material, but what he winds up conjuring is a vastly superior, post-minimal, counter-example: Louise Bourgeois's stunning mound of black, finger-like extrusions.

Wood's overhead projections, the highlight of the show, are another matter entirely. The artist sets up a pair of projectors in a darkened room; underneath the glass, he places thin, crinkled and folded sheets of transparent polythene. Projected on the wall, framed by squares of white light, the sheets magically resemble sleek abstractions--fields of contiguous shards, clusters of overlapping geometric fragments. Yet these are not paintings. What, then, is their medium?

Is it light?

Light is about as minimal as it gets. But it begs a larger question: How are we to reckon with a work of art that is, literally, immaterial? By what standards is it to be judged? The fine exhibition relies upon less to get us to consider more--and more, and yet more.

Perry Roberts, Gladstone Thompson and Craig Wood at Burnett Miller, 964 N. La Brea Ave., (213) 874-4757. Closed Sunday and Monday, through April 16. A Meditation: The flower--fragrant, seductive, but short-lived in its beauty--is a familiar metaphor for the feminine. Anya Gallaccio seizes upon flowers--nearly a thousand--for her meditation on femininity.

Currently on view at Kim Light as part of the Los Angeles International, the work startles first with its beauty, and, then, with its conservatism.

Gallaccio places 700 red, gerbera daisies behind the gallery's skylight, and 200 daisies behind a window that ordinarily opens onto an upper floor. Neatly lined up in rows, their petals splayed against the plate glass so as to display themselves to best advantage, the flowers resemble a legion of rosy-cheeked schoolgirls decked out in identical uniforms. The "girls," however, are starting to go bad: to rot, to crumble around the edges, to sweat.

Aside from the flowers, the main gallery is completely empty. Two, smaller rooms house the rest of the installation: a quartet of color photographs of zinnias, pushed up dizzyingly close to the picture plane, and a sculptural piece consisting of a half-gallon of blood, sandwiched between two sheets of glass, encircled by a bed of rock salt.

The work is exquisite, impressively so. It is also painstakingly orchestrated. The white frames that surround the flower-filled skylight and window, for example, are echoed by the white mats surrounding the photos, and again, by the neat border of salt that surrounds the glassed-in pool of blood.

But perhaps this consistency betrays a larger problem: Gallaccio's nearly obsessive desire to contain things, to keep them at a safe distance. The flowers are behind glass, up high over our heads; one can see the condensation and the slow putrefaction of the petals--but just barely. The blood, too, is pressed under glass, its associations with female biology effaced as it transforms itself into a swirling, Op Art image. Where, then, has femininity gone?

When thinking about the scents/sense of femininity, one thinks of Suzan Etkin's "self-portrait," in which the gallery is sprayed every 15 minutes with the artist's favorite perfume. Etkin presents feminine identity not as unique, but as mass-produced. For her, the feminine is neither a state of mind nor of body, but a commercially viable substance that is always, necessarily, in the process of dissipating. Efforts at renewal may be assumed, but they are doomed. The only smells that endure in Etkin's work are those of irony and anger.

With Gallaccio, by contrast, all smells are contained, sealed behind an armor of glass. What fills the room instead are neatly framed pictures of impending, but unrelentingly gorgeous decay, a swooningly Romantic vision of the feminine that seeks to protect us--and perhaps the artist, too--from femininity's rather more unpleasant truths. Unfortunately, the only smell that endures in Gallaccio's work is that of fear.

Anya Gallaccio at Kim Light, 126 N. La Brea Ave., (213) 933-9816. Closed Sunday and Monday, through April 10.

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