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A Specialist in Confidently Out-of-Whack Geometry

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Only 13 months ago, Bart Exposito made his L.A. solo debut with a series of promising paintings that appeared to be the love children of streamlined RVs and old-fashioned TVs. Rendered with the steady hand of a sign painter, these goofy fusions of abstraction and representation also added a touch of Sputnik clunkiness and a slap of skateboarder verve to their hard-edged shapes, whose homey futurism matched that of the Jetsons. At once charming and cheeky, Exposito’s crisp images had one foot firmly planted in the world of playful self-effacement and the other in that of big, bold ambitions.

At Daniel Weinberg Gallery, a beautifully installed group of new works on canvas and paper by the 31-year-old artist makes last year’s paintings look like 5-year-old computer technology--fine for its time, but unbelievably plodding and crude when compared to the up-to-the-minute stuff that’s available today.

It’s thrilling to see an artist advance so dramatically. Gone are the gimmicks Exposito had used to disguise his paintings as multi-panel props and 3-D installations. No bet-hedging indecisiveness bogs down his increasingly confident images, which are consummately composed, in both senses of the term.

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Pictorially they are organized with an eye toward maximum efficiency. Exposito compresses loads of visual energy into flat, evenly painted pictures, carefully calibrating subtle color shifts and high-keyed accents to intensify their vitality.

Linear elements often echo one another, creating jittery movements and spinning sensations. Although straight lines define the contours of nearly all of the modular shapes in these clean paintings, there’s not a right angle to be found.

Out-of-whack geometry is Exposito’s specialty. It allows him to push asymmetrical formats and radically skewed setups to such extremes that the results look graceful, amazingly contained despite the loopy idiosyncrasies of their simple, sometimes lumpy components.

The rounded corners of Exposito’s multi-sided shapes suggest the user-friendliness of ergonomically designed appliances. They also recall works by Philip Argent, Casey Cook and Stephen Heer, contemporaries who are also making paintings that put some kick back into the phrase “new and improved.”

The compositional sophistication of Exposito’s art is not merely formal. It is matched by a sense of emotional composure. Intellectual refinement and tasteful restraint are evident in the decisions that determine each piece’s scale, palette, structure and rhythm. At once mature and spunky, elegant and fun-loving, Exposito’s paintings make a virtue of immediate gratification by making its satisfactions last a lot longer than usual--well into the future.

Daniel Weinberg Gallery, 6148 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. (323) 954-8425, through April 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Calame Finds Beauty Where Others See Grunge

The system Ingrid Calame uses to make her paintings has not changed since she began exhibiting in 1994. She still traces stains from the street and sidewalk onto sheets of translucent Mylar, overlaps them to form dense linear patterns and transfers these messy networks to square aluminum panels. The L.A. painter then fills in the actual-size silhouettes with industrial-strength coats of enamel, creating broken rainbows whose jarring color combinations have a noxious beauty that is not for the fainthearted.

What has changed is the look of Calame’s art. At Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, a dozen 2-foot-square panels are significantly more pictorial than any of her previous works. In other words, each looks--and behaves--more like a painting than a found object.

The installation highlights this transformation. Beginning in the entryway and ringing the main gallery, the sequence formed by Calame’s panels recalls the frames of a comic strip. (Her titles, “V-E-E-Uuww!” “ka-KINK-kun” and “cgup, cgup, cgup, cgup,” for example, function onomatopoetically, like the words that punctuate action-packed scenes.) You look at the jampacked paintings in search of a narrative.

But there’s no continuity from one to the next. Each concrete abstraction has the presence of a fantastic 3-D map of a universe, in which accidents and intentions intermingle more promiscuously than usual. With no key or guide, you must navigate the dizzying spaces of Calame’s paintings by the seat of your pants, making up your own rules as clues accumulate.

The stains Calame has traced are more painstakingly detailed than before. Many have the lacy delicacy and meticulous filigree of elaborate ornamentation. Their edges are more jagged; sharp, saw-toothed shapes predominate, and thin splinters resemble shards of shattered glass. Some seem to be rendered at microscopic scale. The most complicated are represented by dozens of tiny fragments, all painted the same synthetic shade.

Although a Luddite would approve of the low-tech, handmade simplicity of Calame’s labor-intensive works, their zigzagged contours recall digitally transmitted enlargements, which depict curved lines as right-angled steps. This gives her shapes the presence of paper cutouts, the best of which evoke Alex Katz’s early collages and Henri Matisse’s late masterpieces.

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Although it’s absurd to think of some of the splotches and spills that collect on the ground all over the city as being more sophisticated than others, that’s exactly what Calame’s paintings demand. A connoisseur of the marks made by the gunk and crud of mundane mishaps, she resurrects the ghostly traces of only the most attractive accidents.

The beauty Calame captures resides in the irregular--in misfits, exceptions and extremes. Although she begins with the grunge everyone walks across without giving it a second thought, she selects, edits and composes so effectively that the results invite viewers into a world of perverse refinement and unexpected delight.

Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. (323) 525-1755, through April 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Schnabel’s Series Oversize, Overblown

In the late 1980s, Jim Shaw organized “Thrift Store Paintings,” an exhibition of amateur artists’ works he had purchased in secondhand stores. In the early 1990s, Charles Ray made a series of oversize female manikins, whose power to dwarf viewers increased as you approached them. Robert Therrien’s gigantic dining room set from 1994 shrunk viewers even further, transforming the ordinary world into a playground for the imagination.

Julian Schnabel’s new series of 13 “Big Girl Paintings,” simultaneously on view at Gagosian Gallery’s Beverly Hills and Manhattan branches, brings these works to mind, along with those of several other contemporary artists from whom the New York painter borrows a bit too freely for his own good.

Each of Schnabel’s six pictures in Beverly Hills covers between 75 and 90 square feet of canvas. This is about 35 to 40 times the size of the modest painting that inspired them, a straightforward portrait of a young blond woman wearing what appears to be a high school uniform. (Some of the paintings in New York are even bigger, measuring in at 166 square feet.)

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In 1987, Schnabel purchased the original portrait, signed by D. Childress, in a Houston junk shop. Loading his own brush with purple pigment, he laid a long brushstroke over the eyes of its now anonymous sitter and added a few signature blobs, most notably a finger-like shape that curls suggestively toward her neck.

His new paintings, in weighty, specially made frames modeled on those found in make-your-own frame shops, are overblown copies of his retouched version of Childress’ picture. Formally, they recall a series of collages by Robert Heinecken, in which black rectangles block out the subjects’ eyes. They also evoke John Baldessari’s brightly colored dots, which cover people’s faces in his recycled images.

As a group, Schnabel’s paintings mimic Amy Adler’s photographed drawings, serial works that much more effectively emphasize the significance of slight variations amid seeming similarity. As for paint-handling, Schnabel adds nothing to the repertoire of gestural realism that isn’t given more punch by any number of painters, including Roger Herman and John Sonsini.

The Sunday-painter naivete that gives Childress’ little picture its charm is no mask for Schnabel’s disingenuousness.

Gagosian Gallery, 456 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9400, through May 4. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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Alexander: Sculpture as Popular Entertainment

Andy Alexander’s “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” builds upon the rapidly evolving genre of landscape sculpture. At China Art Objects Galleries, the young artist’s single piece is a diorama builder’s fantasy: an approximately 8-by-4-foot chunk of the countryside so filled with highlights that the real thing pales in comparison.

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Combining Ouija-board mysticism and horror movie theatrics with just the right touch of narcissistic self-involvement, this tricked-out sculpture features leafless trees (whose limbs writhe anthropomorphically), rolling hills (which trace the shape of the artist’s supine body), and a red Plexiglas river (which snakes, vein-like, through twisted gullies). Set on a light-box that functions as a low pedestal, Alexander’s playful self-portrait is awash in a rosy glow. Its atmosphere is sexy, schlocky, hellish and right on the money.

A movie camera, cast from amber-tinted resin, rises like a full moon from the hill under which Alexander’s head appears to be buried.

Embedded on the hill’s other side, right where his cranium would be, is a small monitor. It plays a looped snippet of “Evil Dead II,” whose soundtrack fills the gallery with eerie music.

Embracing artifice as if there’d be no tomorrow without it, Alexander’s sculpture demonstrates that popular entertainment is not art’s enemy.

His only goal is to create a multilayered object that worms its way into your imagination. When that happens, there’s no telling what comes next.

China Art Objects Galleries, 933 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 613-0384, through April 27. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

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