A Referential Tone


Vida Ratzlaff Hackman's exhibition at the Orlando Gallery is about more than just pictures at an exhibition. As a whole, it's a fascinating self-referential puzzle of a show, extending the notion of art as an ongoing evolutionary continuum rather than as a collection of singular artworks.

For Hackman, one piece relates in some way, directly or indirectly, to another, which makes the art appreciation process unusually interactive for visitors.

The conceptual art spirit is alive and well in her, an attitude which also makes her link to the gallery space more intense than normal.

The artist is no stranger to the Orlando, having presented several shows in years past. She is also planning a show for April 1999 at Cal State Bakersfield, where she has taught, which will retrace past Orlando shows. A mock-up of the pending retrospective exhibition sits in the gallery, like an artwork in its own right.

But this is hardly the only reference to the artist's past work, and life. Her four editions of prints under the title "Squire Raven's Boat and the San Pam" offer a composite vignette of preliminary sketches--like blueprints--for an assemblage from an Orlando show a few years back, along with allusions to the stray raven she took in and nursed.

The inherent restlessness and exploratory aspects of Hackman's work prevent her from settling into a specific medium.

The new construction called "Dinghy for Squire Raven's Boat" is a sort of crib-like structure on wheels, with a wind-blown propeller on the back and assorted photographs glued and varnished to its surfaces.

Not incidentally, the piece also holds up a tiny wooden painting frame, through which we can position an eye to manually "frame" details in the artwork on the wall behind it.

One wall in the gallery is dedicated to a triptych of pastel images, "Panorama Bluffs, June 1996," a scruffy-painted, unfinished image spread out loosely across the three panels.

On the opposite wall, the "saga" continues with "Panorama Bluffs Burning, May 23, 1996," comprising seven narrow horizontal etching and pastel depictions of the title's matter-of-fact description, stacked on the wall.

Any sense of danger or urgency is softened by the cool cerebral treatment.

So it goes, also, in "Panorama Bluffs Burning (In Progress)," in which an ornate photograph frame you might find on your aunt Mildred's mantel, sports casual paintings whose sense of style falls somewhere between pointillism and paint by number.

These are cool-handed variations on the theme of bluffs, burned and observed from a safe intellectual distance.

Further art-about-art links pop with a prominent new three-dimensional piece in the gallery, "Quackcycle (The End of Quack's Cycle)." A facsimile of a stationary bicycle props up a pair of glasses painted with details from the "Panorama Bluffs" piece it faces.

A parasol casts a shadow on the wall, which mirrors a mock shadow painted on the side of the assemblage. Also in the image mix are photographs of another older relief sculpture of Hackman's--a conceptual ancestor of this new apparatus.

Generally speaking, Hackman's self-generated ancestry of ideas runs deep.

To lump her in with the old guard of conceptualism doesn't do this art justice.

Her work is all about the interrelatedness and fluidity of art-making over time, which is more of a meaningful philosophical stance than a matter of fickle art-world fashion. Her cycle continues.

* "The End of the Quack and the Panorama Bluffs," Vida Ratzlaff Hackman, through June 27 at the Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; (818) 789-6012. Reception for the artist, Friday, 8-10 p.m.

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