Lasker's Own Purposeful Purposelessness

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jonathan Lasker is a consummate cartoonist whose witty, meticulous paintings map loopholes in logic. At L.A. Louver Gallery, eight oils-on-linen from the past few years set up simple visual systems only to interrupt their neat, repeating rhythms.

Made up of incessant, two-dimensional scribbles, highly controlled doodles and nonsensical, overlapping hieroglyphics, many of Lasker's natty abstractions appear to have been designed and composed on a computer, before getting greatly enlarged and thickly textured as they are painstakingly transferred to canvas.

Often, the abstract figures that float above Lasker's monochromatic grounds function like "Windows" software. Rather than letting you look into illusionistic deep space, these programs allow you to pull information closer or let you see parts of two, three or four files simultaneously.

Painting's ballyhooed demise is Lasker's point of departure. From his stoic, unemotional point of view, the end of any style of art-making--and the type of thinking that end facilitates--implies the beginning of something new and different, if not improved.

This kind of disinterested detachment links Lasker's diagrammatic pictures to Immanuel Kant's description of art as "purposeful purposelessness." It also accounts for the profound and infectious levity of the New York-based artist's work.

Lasker's perversely efficient paintings play the refinement of High Modernism against the distastefulness of low-brow decoration, filtering both styles through the rubric of the computer. You don't savor or scrutinize the squeaky-clean surfaces of his images as much as you scan them like the screen of a monitor, letting your eyes swiftly glide over their smoothly applied fields of bright colors until you locate information that interests you.

An irrepressible cheerfulness seems to surge from Lasker's optimistically unsentimental images, especially in an artistic climate currently plagued by chic world-weariness and an overriding, ill-conceived obligation to social utility. Attuned to the nuances of computers, his loopy pictures go along with radical transformations in how we see and think, as long as these changes stimulate the senses.

* L.A. Louver Gallery, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through March 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Eyes on a Golf Course: Skeet McAuley's gorgeous, seven-foot-long photographs of elaborately manicured golf courses in resplendent natural settings in Arizona, California and Hawaii lure you into looking at them in two different ways. These dazzling, color-saturated panoramas at Christopher Grimes Gallery focus on the seam where man-made landscapes have been patched or grafted onto their natural surroundings.

Sometimes it seems as if you're looking at two opposed world orders, one cultural and the other natural. At other times, McAuley's crystalline pictures elide almost all the differences between artifice and nature, making the entire world look like a beautiful postcard, carefully composed for your visual pleasure.

When this happens, his photographs lose a lot of their impact. Their dissonant edge is subsumed into a giddy and slick celebration of tourism. These artful compositions presume that no part of the world escapes the sightseeing industry's capacity to transform everything into a pretty picture, there only to be consumed at one's leisure.

But most of McAuley's stunning prints emphasize the disjuncture between tees, fairways and greens and the dramatic, unadorned landscapes in which these garden-like grounds for gentlemanly sport are set. His best works give shape to an almost otherworldly weirdness, a disquieting sense that human beings might already be alien intruders in the Edenic world they've constructed.

By treating the environs of golf courses as prefabricated collages, McAuley points out that art, as one form of artifice, distances us from our surroundings. However, by locating this sense of estrangement at the center of his work, the L.A.-based photographer goes very far in alienating this experience of alienation.

Art, after all, isn't only about escape and leisure. Sometimes it returns us to the world, where it plays a vital, if contradictory part.

* Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through March 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Pictures of the Past: A dignified parade of solitary monuments from lost civilizations marches through Lynn Davis' handsome sepia-and selenium-toned photographs at Kohn/Turner Gallery. Made on trips to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, India, Egypt and Rome over the past five years, these unabashedly romantic silver-prints of gods, colossi, sphinxes, columns, stupas, pyramids and temples reveal that this contemporary photographer looks for awe-inspiring experiences wherever she can find them.

Her sensual pictures explore history not to catalogue the achievements of various cultures, or to learn from their mistakes, or to know the daily details of their peoples' lives. Davis is drawn to the past for artistic inspiration alone. First and foremost, her interest is formal.

Rather than presuming to know the past, her elegantly composed, masterfully crafted works intensify the mystery of history. What counts in these photographs of awesome statues and daunting ruins is their emotional impact upon living viewers.

Davis usually frames her subjects tightly, eliminating distracting surroundings and dramatically setting the carved figures and gigantic stone buildings against clouds in the sky. Often, the monuments in her photographs seem to have fallen, fully formed, from the heavens.

Even so, there's something personal, almost intimate, about Davis' photographs. Emphasizing silhouettes and contours, she seems to draw with the camera, creating a warm, hands-on link between ancient monuments and the present.

* Kohn/Turner Gallery, 9006 Melrose, West Hollywood, (310) 271- 4453, through March 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Mottled Constellations: Shane Guffogg's eight abstract paintings at Kantor Gallery are based on images borrowed from a commercial airport's radar screen during its busiest period of activity, when the risk of a deadly accident is highest and the need for alertness, accuracy and clear communication is greatest.

But you'd never know the source of these muddy abstractions by looking at them. Nothing high-tech, cartographic or precise appears in the murky blobs and indistinct splotches of paint the young, L.A.-based artist has poured and mixed with translucent layers of resin to make his cloudy images.

Guffogg's mottled constellations of stains, spills and droplets more closely resemble internal organs or vaguely anthropomorphic forms. Laid out in loosely symmetrical patterns, his compositions recall illustrations of diseased tissue common to medical textbooks. A palette dominated by fleshy reds, veiny blues, corpuscular whites and the grayish browns of spoiled meat support this unsavory comparison.

But nothing really gels in Guffogg's undeveloped paintings. His four smaller works are his best, if only because they're the least overblown.

On an intimate scale (measuring in inches rather than in feet), Guffogg's abstractions possess some of the spontaneity of watercolors. On a large scale, however, his intentional accidents look careless, not carefree. Too slight to hold their own on large expanses of canvas, his enlarged, amorphous forms get lost on the wall.

* Kantor Gallery, 8642 Melrose Ave., Suite 100, West Hollywood, (310) 659-5388, through March 11.

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