A Few Tests to See How Much Input the Brain Can Handle


In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, when the printing press made mass-produced books available to more readers than ever before, concerned citizens began to worry that the increase in readily accessible information would make people stupid. The capacity for thoughtful recollection might be replaced with an insatiable appetite for escapist diversion.

Now that the Information Age is upon us and our eyes are incessantly bombarded by an overwhelming volume of visual stimulation, worried observers continue to act as if diminished attention spans were the natural consequence of the image glut. Their argument appears to be logical: The more there is to look at, the less time we have to digest it.

The only problem with this line of reasoning is that it doesn't hold up. To see why, visit Michael Reafsnyder's third solo show in Los Angeles, an over-the-top extravaganza that goes a long way to show that visual overload does not necessarily lead to shrinking attention spans.

At Mark Moore Gallery, each of Reafsnyder's 20 hefty yet modestly scaled oils on panel is nothing if not excessive. Some, like "Teutonic Bombshell," "Harumph" and "Mower" are hard to look at, their furious smears and whiplash swipes of juicy paint combining the aggressive, headache-inducing vibrancy of Op art with the meaty physicality of Expressionism.

Others, like "Swishy," "What the . . . ?" and "Nyder-Michael-Reafs" are hard to stomach. Squeezed straight from the tube, fat worms of delicate lavender, murky burgundy, rusty pumpkin, frothy mint, baby-doll pink and cobalt blue clash against churning surfaces of primary colors.

In a sense, Reafsnyder is an anti-Expressionist. The madcap gestures that pile up like multi-vehicle wrecks on his paintings do not describe inner turmoil as much as they invite your eyes to metaphorically leap out of their sockets and careen around meticulously engineered arrangements of texture, gesture and shape.

To emphasize that his carnivalesque compositions belong in the visible world of shared public space, Reafsnyder has painted a smiley face on each--sometimes piling four or five atop one another. Their energy is infectious; if you don't take yourself too seriously, it's hard not to crack a smile before these embarrassingly generous images.

Imagine if a painting by Seurat were crossed with one by Pisarro and the offspring were fed a steady diet of steroids and methamphetamine. This gives you an idea of the physical wallop and optical sophistication of Reafsnyder's profoundly weird works. They get your attention in a split-second and then do something interesting with it.

Capturing your imagination, they slow you down long enough to begin to savor those moments when chaos and control dovetail, and everything falls into place with seemingly effortless ease. Once you get past their initially overwhelming impact, they allow your attention span to expand--often further than you'd expect, and sometimes more than you'd believe.

* Mark Moore Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-3031, through July 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Prankster's Sculptures: Rather than adding up to wholes that are greater than the sums of their parts, the disparate components in each of Evan Holloway's six new sculptures at Marc Foxx Gallery generate a type of abstract tension that is both palpable and invisible. Think of each part of these provocatively unresolved pieces as the pole of a powerful battery, and you'll have an idea of how they charge the space around them with continuous jolts of electrifying energy.

For example, "Ant Decoy Sculpture" fuses the idea of a perfect geometric grid with a real sapling. To make this deliciously illogical work, Holloway cut a small tree's trunk and branches into manageable sections (usually longer than a ruler but shorter than a yardstick). Then he fastened them together at right angles, forming a sort of 3-D lattice. Painted white, the incomplete cube resembles a back-country version of a Sol LeWitt sculpture from the 1960s.

A streak of pranksterism runs through all of Holloway's objects. Here it takes the form of hundreds of ants he made by hand and glued to the reconfigured tree, lining them up as if to lure real ants into the building where the work is placed.

Similarly, but less effectively, "12-Bar Blues Sculpture" reorganizes some classic blues songs by translating their positions on sheet music to specific spatial locations. Made of six speakers mounted on metal bars of various heights, this coherent, clearly formulated piece lacks the loose ends that give Holloway's best works their uncanny intrigue.

More successful is "The Sculpture That Goes With the Bank," which pairs a realistic scale-model of a bank at Western Avenue and Olympic Boulevard with a mid-size abstract sculpture made from a single strand of metal. Rising from the tiny pedestal in front of the bank, Holloway's otherwise modest sculpture grows to gargantuan proportions, picking up momentum as it bends and twists through space until it seems to travel with the force of an unstoppable train of thought.

Even better is "Symmetry Demonstration," which juxtaposes a pair of brightly colored boxes, open on both ends, with their depiction in pencil on paper. This deceptively straightforward exercise in compare-and-contrast orchestrates a fascinating dance among shadows, mirror-images and one-point perspective.

The weightiest work is also the most perverse. A lump of plaster that has been carved to resemble a gigantic rubber band, "Incense Sculpture" also functions as an incense burner. Marrying hippie mysticism to highbrow formalism, it never lets one interpretation get the upper hand. As in all of Holloway's idiosyncratic sculptures, there's always something left over: the pleasure of making connections between things that don't fit together.

* Marc Foxx Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 857-5571, through June 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Playfully Unruly: At a time when slick surfaces, crisp contours and flat expanses of post-industrial color seem to define the hottest of what's hot in contemporary painting, it's refreshing to see Roger Herman's new oils on canvas, which are a little too messy and rough around the edges to fit into the taut, precisely controlled look of the moment. A casual, lived-in quality suffuses his 10 pictures at Susanne Vielmetter Gallery, all of which present tightly cropped views of the interiors and exteriors of comfortably unpretentious homes.

The format of the veteran painter's 17th solo show in L.A. recalls that of photo-spreads in fashionable magazines that feature the newly refurbished homes of people with enough disposable income to hire professional decorators to tell them where to put the sofa. But that's about all Herman's loosely brushed paintings share with the world of designer perfectionism.

His unruly works, painted in a speedy, shoot-from-the-hip style, never hide the mistakes or adjustments that accompanied their production. Drips, smudges, wavering lines and blurry mixtures of abutted colors play as prominent a role in these unpolished images as do their honestly observed details.

Likewise, evidence of major compositional changes regularly appears in the ghostly traces that peek through the most recently applied coats of paint. For example, in the largest canvas, which measures 7 by 11 feet, Herman moved the ceiling, floor and two walls to make room for everything in the tidy bedroom. Similar maneuvers in other pictures accentuate the sensible, that's-how-it-looks Realism that defines the show as a whole.

The palette, a mix of tertiary colors that leans toward muted olive greens, hazy blue-grays and dull reddish tans, has the wonderfully familiar feel of well-worn jeans and the tint of sun-bleached bricks. In earlier works, he applied paint more thickly and vigorously, setting up jarring contrasts and making a much bigger deal of the spontaneous drama of the painterly process. By contrast, his new canvases are more restrained and understated, not quite well-mannered but far from acerbic. The quiet confidence that comes with years of experience endows Herman's hospitable pictures with a welcome combination of seasoned maturity and do-it-your-self feistiness.

* Susanne Vielmetter Gallery, 5363 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 933-2117, through June 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Swells and Dips: Jacob Hashimoto does to floors what Frank O. Gehry does to walls and ceilings. Twisting and bending the flat, level and ordinarily rectangular planes that provide one with firm footing in buildings all over the world, the young L.A. artist creates undulating seas of sensuous swells and vertiginous dips.

At Patricia Faure Gallery, he has transformed the main space into a playground for the imagination. Rising from the floor just inside the entrance is "Big Mountain," a carpet-covered stage in which neither a right angle nor a straight line can be found. Nearly reaching the 25-foot ceiling, Hashimoto's sturdy structure resembles a 3-D version of a snow-covered range in an animated cartoon.

Its scale is deceptive. To take off your shoes, stroll through its gullies and climb to its curved peak is to feel like a kid. Looking down from the top recalls childhood views of toboggan runs, when snowy hillsides seemed sublime--both scary and thrilling.

Two smaller galleries contain monochrome sculptures that present different versions of similar surfaces. One, painted deep green, has the presence of a miniature landscape that a model railroader might use as a base. The other two, painted white, more closely resemble architectural models, experimental designs that pique one's imagination and set you to thinking about the limitations and possibilities of the built environment.

Terrifically inefficient, their rolling surfaces aren't easy to navigate and would require furniture whose legs are all different lengths. The rational, adaptable format of a flat floor is appropriate for businesses and workplaces; but at home, where it's nice to escape the relentless productivity of the workaday world, the artist's whimsical designs make a lot more sense. Like Verner Panton's ergonomic furniture and curvaceous, body-hugging rooms, Hashimoto's playful floors point to a future that's both smarter and more fun than the present.

* Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through June 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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