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ART REVIEWS : Paradox Adds Strength to ‘Paint-Zone’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fabian Marcaccio takes a scattershot approach to abstract painting, aiming in his target’s general direction rather than trying to hit its bull’s-eye. Titled “Paint-Zone L.A.,” his frenetic installation at L.A. Louver Gallery proposes that what takes place in painting’s general vicinity is more interesting than what happens at its center.

Each of his eight works defies the integrity of the picture-plane, transforming its autonomy into a figurative field repeatedly interrupted by illusionistic flourishes and sculptural intrusions. To disperse a viewer’s attention across a wide range of possibilities is the goal of the Argentina-born New York-based artist.

Two of his paintings resemble colorful tents that cling to the wall like synthetic spider webs or high-tech animal hides. Stretched over twisted skeletons of copper plumbing and held taut by nylon ropes, climbing anchors and aluminum turnbuckles, the contorted surfaces of these pieces are covered with screen-printed drips, brush strokes and interwoven patterns as well as with hand-painted shapes in glistening silver, bruised maroon and a tacky rainbow of artificial color.

A third painting consists of a small canvas to which is attached a pair of three-dimensional brush strokes cast from a mix of pigment and plaster. Before hanging this abstract relief, Marcaccio used it like a crayon, drawing sketchy rectangles on the wall. His “drag painting” seems, like Frankenstein, to have an out-of-control life of its own.

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A similar sense of animation infuses Marcaccio’s five other paintings. Images of brush strokes unravel to form strands of canvas, color leaks out of manipulated drips, fabric appears to melt into puddles or to dart around like microorganisms and solid frames seem to dissolve into liquid stains before becoming gaseous clouds of immaterial color.

Everything in Marcaccio’s art is in flux, as if his paintings are decomposing and regenerating before your eyes. Sometimes their perpetual activity feels too clever or coy. But this caveat also seems to strengthen Marcaccio’s paradoxical works, which insist that painting stands up best when it breaks down, becoming something else altogether.

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

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Back in Time: Like giant hieroglyphs covered with a few thousand years of mold, gunk and barnacles, six paintings by Larry Poons at Ruth Bachofner Gallery are so ugly they almost look good.

From across the gallery, each large rectangle resembles an Impressionist painting that’s been melted down and tossed into a blender, after having a few gallons of metallic paint (often queasy lavenders and murky blues) tossed into the mix.

From close up, the overall gestalts are lost. Generally suggestive of landscapes thoroughly polluted by toxic waste, Poons’ viscous abstractions fragment into two or three layers that are entirely unrelated to one another. All that prevails is a sense of mind-numbing disconnectedness.

The blending of colors that seem to be part of the paintings (from across the room) actually takes place in your eyes. The clotted surfaces of excessively built-up pours and smears disintegrate into thousands of separate painterly incidents that appear more accidental than intentional.

Beneath these gooey encrustations protrude linear strips and torn sections of foam padding, as well as Styrofoam spheres and other packaging materials. Glued to the canvas in patterns that sometimes resemble textual fragments but spell nothing out, these ridges and bumps have no formal relation to the paint poured and piled over them.

It’s impossible to focus, simultaneously, on the underlying structures and the surfaces of Poons’ paintings. This results in a back-and-forth, schizophrenic sort of viewing. The most complex and recent piece adds a third layer, a plane of ellipses applied atop the multi-textured chaos.

Recalling the artist’s squeaky-clean optical works from the 1960s, the skittish ellipses suggest that Poons practices archeology in reverse, with his most recent paintings lying beneath his oldest ones. And backward archeology is an apt metaphor for his attempt to turn time back on itself, in paintings made to deny narrative’s linear progression.

* Ruth Bachofner Gallery, 2046 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 829-3300, through Nov. 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Nature’s Beauty: In Anthony Hernandez’s sumptuous Cibachromes at Craig Krull Gallery, the ordinary world looks too beautiful to be its naked self.

Dense tangles of tree branches and vines seem to have had their color and clarity enhanced in the lab so they would form all-over compositions of dizzying complexity. Likewise, a gorgeous, golden plain under a steel-gray sky appears to be bathed in artificial light, endowing four well-used salt-licks in its middle-ground with an eerie glow more akin to otherworldly talismans than to common ranch supplies.

In other two- and three-part panoramic close-ups, hundreds of bright orange leaves float in a dark pond speckled with chartreuse algae or startlingly white rocks rest on a bed of deep-green leaves at the bottom of a rushing stream. Painterly panache, rather than direct documentation, is at the root of Hernandez’s art.

Almost all his handsome pictures suggest impeccable studio set-ups rather than photos shot in the field under natural conditions and with available light. Nothing, however, is artificially set up in the work of this Los Angeles-born, Idaho-based photographer. Darkroom manipulations are also kept to the bare minimum.

Hernandez’s carefully composed and painstakingly selected photographs (he sometimes makes only one a day), never pretend that nature is a pure, perfect sphere set over and above culture. On the contrary, his beautiful fusions of natural splendor and refined artifice demonstrate that art, despite being man-made, is a natural phenomenon.

* Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave. B3, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Nov. 25. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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Odd Precedents: Until now, no work of contemporary art would have caused you to consider Robert Irwin’s minimal disks from the 1960s in conjunction with Dale Chihuly’s exuberantly colored glass wall sculptures from the 1990s. At Patricia Faure Gallery, however, seven shaped paintings (or painted reliefs) by Craig Kauffman instantly put you in mind of this odd pair of precedents.

From Irwin’s magisterial disks, Kauffman’s concave, bowl-shaped ovals of translucent plastic inherit both their basic format and an exploration of the ways shadows interact with volume to form mysterious entities and throw a monkey-wrench into your perceptual machinery. From Chihuly, Kauffman’s luminous, spray-painted forms draw a sense of playfulness that borders on the goofy.

The result is an intriguing body of work that’s simultaneously comic and serious, funny and subtle. Kauffman’s curious hybrids combine the immediate, simplified appeal of cartoons with the typically more long-lasting attractions of abstract art.

Each of these qualities cancels the other out, leaving strangely neutralized objects that are difficult to categorize. Kauffman’s best works, in a supple palette of pearlescent grays, never reveal how they’re meant to be seen, preferring contradictory hints open to multiple interpretations.

* Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave. B7, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through Dec. 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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