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A Bountiful Exhibition That Gets White-Glove Treatment

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just the simple prospect of a show featuring 300 artists and roughly 3,000 works is enough to slow the pulse into a prophylactic stupor. But don’t let the threat of malaise deter you from visiting Post, where the “Pierogi in L.A.” show is much more likely to cast a different kind of spell: the genuine enchantment of discovery. While the scale of the enterprise sounds daunting, the sheer magnitude is what makes the show so engaging and gives it the sense of inexhaustible surprise. The fun ends only when you run out of time to enjoy it.

Pierogi 2000 is the name of a Brooklyn gallery that, since 1994, has been developing a fluid collection of works on paper by mostly young, emerging artists, about 600 at last count. On view now at Post is an abridged, traveling version of the gallery’s flat files that has made stops in London, Vienna and San Francisco. Most of the artists represented in the files are based in New York, but the local show is supplemented by a batch of L.A. artists. When the files travel on, some of the artists added on-site will be integrated into the collection.

The show has a refreshingly casual, do-it-yourself format. Three banks of flat files with fold-out counter tops have been parked in one of the gallery’s smaller rooms, and the walls above are hung, salon-style, with nearly 50 drawings, prints, paintings, photographs and collages by artists in the files. Each of the 300 artists represented has a separate, well-marked portfolio of work in one of the numbered drawers, rendering the experience of this immense group show more like a succession of separate solo shows, activated at the will of the viewer.

This is true interactivity, for after donning white gloves for the protection of the artwork, viewers navigate through this fantastic thicket of work at their own pace, following the path of their own predilections and preferences. Much of the work within the files is as playful and easily accessible as the manner of its presentation.

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The term “automatic drawing” carries credibility through its association with the Surrealist movement, but “extended doodles” suffices to describe plenty of the drawings and paintings here. Many are pattern-oriented, geometric abstractions. Some engage in mapping strategies. Visual humor abounds, some of it of the inbred art-world variety, and some derived from popular culture sources like comics. Complex, conceptual mind games are scarce, but many of the artists here revel in the invention of new ways to express self-doubt.

Visions amusing, slight, obtuse, decorative, self-indulgent, witty--they’re all here, tucked away in the file drawers, awaiting the touch of those gloved fingers.

Standouts emerge frequently enough to keep the energy high. Among them, Jonathan Herder’s sheet of notebook paper masquerading as a stamp collecting album page wryly annotated with a stream of consciousness monologue of personal misgivings and commercial slogans; Katie Merz’s skittish wisps of concrete poetry; James Lee Etheredge’s whimsical patterns of typed letters; and Jim Torok’s coy cartoon dialogue between two artists, one an impoverished, die-hard visionary, and the other a successful sellout.

Videos by artists in the files are available for screening at the gallery, and larger paintings and sculptures are also on view. What is most remarkable about the selection of larger works is their material exuberance, as if the artists were bingeing on the freedoms granted within a pluralistic art scene.

James Hyde paints blocks of color a la Hans Hofmann on a wide swath of indoor carpeting. Roxy Paine dips a small canvas in cool white paint until what look like icicles hang from its lower edge, and Bruce Pearson gives a monochrome coating to a large panel of Styrofoam with labyrinthine trails (they look like they could have been carved by giant termites).

There’s lots of pleasant, superficial grazing to be done here, but also the occasional deep well of imagination to be plumbed. How broad your investigation will be, and how deep it will penetrate are, in this thoroughly delightful show, entirely up to you.

* Post, 1904 E. 7th Place, L.A., (213) 622-8580, through Dec. 23. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

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Solemn and Primal: The elegance of Julie Trager’s sculptures at the Watts Towers Arts Center lies in their contradictions. They stage alliances between disorder and control, delicacy and strength, the dense and the porous.

The two most recent works, “Container I” and “Container II” (2000), gracefully belie their titles. Loose, conical columns of tulle (a fine netting used in veils) hang from the ceiling, open at top and bottom. One of them, a diaphanous beauty, is all white but for veins of colored thread. The other, in black, is patched together more scrappily. Both wrap gently around columns of air; thus neither holds anything of substance, but both hold the eye with their frail integrity.

The strength and sensuality associated with hair conspire to powerful effect in another pair of works, this time fiber sculptures mounted on the wall. “For Heraclitus IV” (1998) reads as a long plait or net of black tulle girded by thick strands of twisted black fiber. Draped on the wall, the piece tapers to an end of long, inky tails with a slightly disarming visceral presence. “Loss” (1995), too, is a powerful, palpable drawing in space. Its loosely tangled, knotted black cords evoke a web gone awry, a nest offering little shelter.

Like all of Trager’s work--especially the pelt-like “Scroll” and “Histories” (both 1995)--these have an organic feel to them, solemn and primal, as if she is enabling these pieces as much as sculpting them. Based on her materials, her repetitive processes of twisting, knotting and stitching, and the bodily connotations of some of her work, it comes as no surprise that Trager has been recognized as a worthy heir to the legacy of Eva Hesse.

* Watts Towers Arts Center, 1727 E. 107th St., (213) 847-4646, through Jan. 2. Closed Mondays.

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Hinges and Cans: In “Truth of Nature,” one of Sylvia Glass’ recent mixed-media works at Jan Baum Gallery, a curling plant husk is attached to a canvas surface next to a painted version of the same form. Which is more true, which is more natural? An object excised from its physical context and presented as artifact, or a rendering of that object, a representation that captures its rhythm in space through the illusion of paint?

Different levels of reality shift and overlap like this throughout Glass’s work, which can be quietly provocative at its best, numbingly uniform otherwise. Glass interweaves found objects with painting in glass-fronted cabinets, assemblages, books and other hybrid forms. She cuts into canvases and builds them up, accretion being the operative force.

Old tintype portraits anchor many of the works, imbuing them with an elegiac quality reinforced by the addition of dried flowers, bones, nests, shells and small animal skeletons. The primal power of the handmade mark teams up with the implied power of time and its erosive impact on all that surrounds us, from the natural world to the world of our own making.

Each of the objects that Glass incorporates into her work has a strong, declarative presence, even the rusted hinges, flattened beer can and old buttons. In the most engaging of the works, though, those objects dialogue; they are linked not just through adjacency but through association or function, such as the nest, egg and skeleton in the cabinet-piece, “Nest.”

Glass has a profound regard for texture, but cumulatively her work lapses into sensory overload. With too many distinctive textures and material histories competing but not relating, they cancel each other out. Too much of a good thing leaves the senses numb.

* Jan Baum Gallery, 170 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 932-0170, through Dec. 22. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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Formal Tensions: Stephanie Pryor’s debut solo show at ACME is a pleasant sort of tease. Her paintings exude a sensual vigor, offset by hard-edged control. They effervesce with a spirited sort of abstraction, playing loose and free, but the shapes within congeal, here and there, into familiar forms that lay the groundwork for narrative content. The paintings are beautiful; a cool reticence keeps them just this side of ravishing.

Pryor, who earned her master’s in fine art from UCLA earlier this year, keys each untitled painting to a single, flat, pale, rather drab color, then clusters animated swirls and pools of intense indigo, emerald and scarlet across it or in opposing corners. The shapes seem semiautomatic-abstract gestures that verge on recognizability, recognizable forms that sink easily back into the plane of the nonspecific. A scorpion and butterfly appear on one pale pink panel, a fish and jellyfish float across the pale blue of another, and cats both domestic and wild snarl and claw on others.

Except for the placid aquatic scene, the animal references suggest a charged, survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere of threat and conquest. But the most palpable tension in the paintings is formal--between the lush, vigorous physicality of the fluid passages and the cerebral hipness of the flat areas, between the liquid and the opaque, between binge and restraint. Using acrylic paint with acrylic ink, Pryor vacillates between the hard-edged efficiency of a house painter and the luxurious, impassioned flights of the watercolorist. If Kandinsky rose from the grave to collaborate with Ingrid Calame, the products of their quirky union might look something like these.

* ACME, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (323) 857-5942, through Dec. 23. Closed Sunday and Monday.


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