ART REVIEWS : Frank Majore’s Less Lurid Photographs


Advertisements are designed to trigger a psychodrama. The goal is to shame, seduce and/or deceive the target audience; proclaiming the virtues of a particular brand of soap or car is secondary. Of this, Frank Majore is well-aware. His photographs luxuriate in the sheen of the advertising image in order to crack the code from within--not with the zeal of a consumer advocate, but the cunning of a practiced post-modernist.

In the ‘80s, Majore was known for hyper-saturated color prints in which martini glasses, lipsticked demi-mondaines and silk sheets floated through implied mini-narratives like Madison Avenue-sanctioned apparitions. His new photographs at Thomas Solomon’s Garage are black and white, and considerably less lurid, less va-va-voom. Still, a series called “The Birth of Venus” resembles a Vogue spread on the wonders of bubble bath, and a chrysanthemum with a string of pearls wrapped around its stalk reads like an ad for Mikimoto’s top-of-the-line gems.

Majore’s juxtaposition of deep blacks and translucent whites recalls the graphic contrasts of Irving Penn, while his minimalist compositions conjure those of Paul Outerbridge Jr. Both photographers have been quietly transferred from the marketplace to the pantheon. Majore’s images suggest that such transitions are redundant, for the art historical canon is nothing if not a genteel form of advertising.


Majore’s cloud photos, which take on Alfred Stieglitz’s “Equivalents,” play with this idea. Vaporous dissolves of white, the images are as complex and exquisite as any Symbolist reverie. These are, then, self-conscious exercises in one-upsmanship; they proselytize vigorously on behalf of Majore’s “genius.” Here, Majore masquerades as a newer and avowedly “improved” model--the linchpin of many an advertising campaign, as well as the ironic jab of this sophisticated project.

* Frank Majore, Thomas Solomon’s Garage, 928 N. Fairfax Ave., (213) 654-4731. Ends Saturday. *

Sounds Like Art: Phyllis Baldino’s mechanized playthings at TRI are polite--at least initially. They wait patiently for you to enter the room before they begin to perform. Then, spurred into action by motion detectors, they go slightly mad, taking you along with them.

Neon-colored tubes spin, 120 r.p.m. motors whir, and an ungodly sound not unlike a chorus of sick whales fills the space. Any 11-year-old would be thrilled.

Baldino begins with the plastic tubes children buy at novelty shops, which produce a range of sounds when spun in circles. She mounts them to the wall, and powers them with motors so that they operate themselves. The ones in the front room move with deliberate grace--a kiddie version of Rebecca Horn’s mechanized balletics. The ones in the back rotate with manic glee--and generate enough noise to prove it.

Where Baldino wants to go with all this, however, remains muddled. On the one hand, she seems to be thinking about the inevitably accelerating pace of childhood amusements. On the other, she is concerned with the way kinetic art plays upon juvenile desires. Disappointingly, the two thrusts of the work don’t come together--or perhaps they come together so obviously one craves something more.

A video installation called “Venice in Berlin in Venice” provides an oblique addendum to the exhibition. While visiting Berlin, Baldino discovered that footage of people frolicking on the beach in Venice, Calif., often runs on late-night German television. Baldino recorded the footage, brought it back to the States, played it on a portable monitor set up on Venice Beach, and then filmed the purloined footage, returned to its original site.


More interesting here than the visual conceit is the notion of sound as an arbiter of experience--aesthetic and otherwise. It is the overwhelming din of static that cues you to the successive levels of alienation from the real, and to the inevitably mediated nature of both fantasy and distraction. If Baldino were to focus more directly on sound and the mechanisms of hearing, the work might well resonate on more complex--if less ear-splitting--levels.

* Phyllis Baldino, TRI, 1140 S. Hayworth, (213) 936-8255. Open Fridays-Sundays, through Feb. 28.


Entrancing Revelations: Like the pages of a book of poetry, Merion Estes’ diminutive paintings line the Jan Baum Gallery walls, each one precisely the same size, each one offering a minor revelation. Estes infuses her abstractions with a lyric beauty that seems--at least when you are in the thrall of the best of them--infinitely various. Even when you become aware of her habitual tropes, it’s difficult not to be entranced.

Estes’ technique, like that of Adam Ross, involves building up layers of pigment on panel and then sanding selectively, so as to reveal buried patterns, networks and meshes of color. Some of the works are marked with highly gestural overpainting; others feature sweeping vertical forms on either side which, like curtains, heighten the built-in drama.

The less successful paintings are those in which Estes attempts to conjure a female sensibility. These images are pint-sized Helen Frankenthalers--all sunny yellows, luscious corals and tangled skeins of baby pink and blue. The problem is that Estes is already working in what amounts to a stereotypically “feminine” mode: She makes small, jewel-like objects that are staggeringly pretty. Her mandate, it would seem, is to counter such reductionist, gender-specific readings, not to reinforce them. To do anything less is naive--and places a limit upon work that has the potential to be far more expansive.

* Merion Estes, Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., (213) 932-0170. Closed Sundays and Mondays, through Feb. 26.



Smaller Doses Needed: “Dance of the Melissae,” Nancy Macko’s large-scale installation at the Brand Library, literally overwhelms. The sounds include tap dancing, Tibetan chants and the swarming of bees; smells include sniffing vases filled with coriander and lavender; and visuals--wooden panels incorporating beeswax, votives filled with pussy willows, cave-style wall drawings celebrating early honey gatherers, and the “Stations of the Goddess,” featuring ritualistic items like dial-an-herb wheels, accouterments for inhaling pollen, and antique bee smokers.

This kind of bombardment is Macko’s way of initiating us into a cult--indeed, a cosmology--in which the sensual, rather than the rational or the punitive, prevails. This is a world infused with a feminine spirit; and bees, which Macko refers to at various points in the installation as “souls of nymphs,” “priestesses of the goddess” and “symbols of regeneration,” are its reigning metaphor.

Macko is a fine artist, yet in many ways, she sets herself up. She hits the viewer with everything she’s got--with sledgehammer-like intensity. One finds oneself edging away, and latching onto the less didactic elements--the cocktail dress, hat and gloves of a “modern-day bee-priestess”; a gold razor blade for cutting lines of powdered pollen; a Pepsi-stamped baby bottle filled with honey. Like honey itself, Macko’s work is highly concentrated and most effective--and affecting--in small doses. Perhaps at this point, an operation as rational and punitive as editing is what is called for.

* Nancy Macko, Brand Library and Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale, (818) 548-2050. Closed Sundays, through Feb. 19.