Delving Into the Nature of Nature

Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

In front of the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University, a cabin-like structure appears to be sinking into the earth. Surrounding it are several stones that bear the following words of Henry David Thoreau, written in Walden in 1854:

"There is actually no place in this village for a work of fine art . . . to stand, for our lives, our houses and streets furnish no proper pedestal for it. There is not a nail to hang a picture on, nor a shelf to receive the bust of a hero or saint.

"When I consider how our houses are built and paid for, or not paid for, I wonder that the floor does not give way under the visitor . . . and let him through into the cellar to some solid and honest though earthy foundation."

The mixed-media construction by Barbara McCarren outside--called "Foundation"--is part of the gallery's show, "The Death and Resurrection of Nature." It sets the tone for the rest of the exhibit. Inside the gallery, the work of nine artists also conjures up complicated questions about our relationship with (or our distance from) nature, our effect upon it, and how our detachment from it can haunt us.

Most of the artists used natural elements to create their artwork. "Nature has long been the inspiration for art, and now it has become the very medium for many artists," says Tim Jahns, the exhibit's curator, in a pamphlet essay that accompanies the show.

He set out to organize a show that would not adhere to social or political themes, but would reflect "the joy of working with natural materials and the aesthetic dimension of working with those materials," Jahns said.

Lynn Aldrich considers society's objectification of nature. In "The Birds of America," a brass cage filled with feathers hangs from the ceiling of the gallery at eye level. On a more humorous note, her ironing board piled with layers of wax paper and a visible row of

dried flowers under the top layer is called "Pressed for Time."

The delicate beauty of the tree branches in Laura Parker's "Prime," a grouping of color photographs, is enhanced by shadows in several of the images, and by the wood pieces she has photographed, which rest on a shelf opposite the wall piece.

But there are questions to consider regarding the use of natural materials in the service of art. Wendy Adest has gracefully shaped tree branches to spell out the word vision backward. Is this what tree branches should be doing?

"The show is an interesting mix from an educational standpoint. You see very accessible things, and work that asks more of the viewer," said Gordon Fuglie, the gallery's director. "It's a genuinely thought-provoking exhibition."

Despite the diverse sentiments and aesthetic quality of the work in the show--which includes Bill Viola's 1983 video, "Anthem," Wolfgang Laib's sculptures, Eric Snell's unusually embellished charcoal drawings, Kim Yasuda's multiple media installation, Richard Misrach's color photographs and Kim Abeles' artful record of the condition of our air--the well-designed exhibit space nurtures the good chemistry here.

"The Death and Resurrection of Nature" is open 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays (closed on April 9), noon-4 p.m. Saturdays-April 10 at Laband Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, Loyola Boulevard at West 80th Street, L.A. Call (310) 338-2880.

ENDURING IMAGES: Since the days of Eve, the story of a "bad" woman doing in a "good" man with her feminine wiles and tempting physical charms has been a chronic theme.

In today's mass media, that stereotype endures, although it coexists with many other notions about the women's power. In an exhibit at the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts in UCLA's Wight Gallery, precedents include examples from the first mass medium--printmaking.

"Daughters of Eve: Representations of Women in Renaissance Prints" brings together 21 engravings, etchings and woodcuts from the late 15th Century and 16th Century by German artist Albrecht Durer and his Northern European contemporaries that seem to reinforce the idea that women's power is exclusively sexual, and, moreover, depraved and dangerous.

Stephanie Schrader of Oberlin College, who conducted her research on the subject at the Grunwald Center last summer, found that point of view expressed in religious iconography as well as mythological, allegorical and genre subject matter.

"In depictions of biblical stories, Eve's misbehavior is invoked when female nudity and sexual seductiveness are emphasized, especially when they are not integral to the narrative," says Schrader, in an exhibit brochure essay that includes some of the historical background on women's status during the Renaissance and early Reformation. Schrader cites as an example Hans Sebald Beham's "Judith" (1547), in which the heroic feat of Judith beheading Holofernes has been subordinated to her nude body and passionate gaze.

Although the exhibit's prints convey negative stereotypes--some more definitely than others--they are respectful portrayals of the full-bodied female form, and, Schrader says, they suggest "the power and courage exerted by women to get what they want and to disrupt the status quo. As a result these prints pose difficult, yet intriguing questions about the relationship of art, gender, power and history."

"Daughters of Eve" is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays and 1-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 2 at UCLA's Wight Art Gallery, 405 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. Call (310) 825-1461.

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