This McLaughlin Group Proves Very Rewarding


“Starting With McLaughlin” is by far the best group exhibition to appear in a commercial gallery in recent memory. Breathtakingly beautiful, highly intelligent and astonishingly sophisticated, this 11-artist show at Patricia Faure Gallery belongs at the Museum of Contemporary Art--if only that museum’s curators were interested in chronicling the history of a type of abstraction that has produced a high percentage of L.A.’s undiscovered artistic treasures.

Two paintings by John McLaughlin (1898-1976) form the spark that ignites the exhibition’s searing visual energy. A small tan, white and yellow masterpiece from 1953 embodies the off-balanced gracefulness that has caused McLaughlin’s art to be admired by a wide range of contemporary painters. With even greater simplicity, a black and white canvas from 1964 attunes viewers to the mysteries of emptiness, revealing how potent nothingness can be.

Unlike most historical surveys, which strive to establish precise lineages and lay out generational links, “Starting With McLaughlin” leaves such plodding documentation to art historical footnote writers. Rather than trace obvious influences, this ambitious exhibition strives to show how some painters have been inspired by an enigmatic predecessor.


It succeeds magnificently.

Although none of the works resemble one another or share stylistic affinities, they make sense as a group. Unifying them is a commitment to the physical nuances of visual perception, and the belief that such experiences have real consequences. These paintings do not merely cause you to see the world anew, they convince you to live in it differently.

The large main gallery contains the show’s heart and soul. Composed of the 1964 work by McLaughlin and more recent multi-panel pieces by Michael Roberts, Scot Heywood, John M. Miller and James Hayward, this group of heavyweight paintings may be the most gorgeous and moving installation to appear in L.A. in more than a decade.

Each of its canvases builds upon the curious doubleness embodied by McLaughlin’s paintings. Where his spare works never settle into static compositions, the four other artists’ works likewise keep your eyes moving, often causing your heart to race, mind to whirl and spirits to lift.

In smaller galleries, a velvety blue-black painting by Alan Wayne, an impeccable white one by Perry Araeipour and an ocher and graphite diptych by Carol Kaufman expand upon the supple sensuality of McLaughlin’s art. (Kaufman is an art director for The Times.) A charming little painting by McLaughlin’s dealer, Angeleno Nicholas Wilder (1938-1989), pays homage to the reclusive painter’s intense focus.

Abuzz with eye-popping energy, Penelope Krebs’ stripe painting appears to draw very little from McLaughlin’s example, as does Marie Rafalko’s smooth olive green panel that is aglow with a rosy tint. Even so, these mesmerizing works take nothing away from a show more concerned with open-ended possibilities than closed certainties.

Like McLaughlin’s generous paintings, this exhibition gets things started rather than wraps them up. A single visit will make you want to return at least once.



* Patricia Faure Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through May 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays.