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Low-tech, yet high on wow

Times Art Critic

Since human experience is increasingly mediated through the digital ether, going analog is counterintuitive. Evan Holloway, a prodigiously gifted sculptor adept at playing against type, exploits this productive friction in a marvelous installation in the Pomona College Museum of Art’s ongoing Project Series.

The untitled work is composed from two principal elements. A nearly square gallery is wallpapered in machine-printed sheets of black polka-dotted newsprint. Perforated steel panels painted black stand out from these walls on frames a few inches deep. That’s it.

The result, however, is visually upsetting -- a physically destabilizing environment that appears volatile and kinetic, in which solid walls seem to dissolve into deep space and where moire patterns and galactic starbursts explode into view. It’s an optical atom smasher made from modest means.

How it works is quite simple. You see the rows of printed dots through the steel’s rows of perforated holes, which are roughly the same size. Where the holes and the black dots behind them line up, solid blackness appears.

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But the holes and dots fall out of sync as you turn your head, move around the room or just stand still and let the angle of your line of vision do the work. The rest is mind-bending mystery.

Holloway has divided the room into two zones. The largest is composed of three walls holding 14 identical steel panels. The surrounding black mesh gives the room the aura of a cage or prison -- a slyly funny critique of the conflicted relationship between contemporary art and the modern museum.

The second zone is at the room’s end. Holloway altered the polka-dot patterns by papering three nested cardboard disks, which are attached to the center of the wall. A disc is also cut from the perforated steel, then rotated a few degrees. The subtle change in depth formed by the stacked cardboard plus the slight twist in the surface pattern effectively break the fourth wall of this theatrical space.

With wonderful wit, Holloway shows his awareness of the audience by turning the wall into vision’s literal target. (This is the place where the moire and floating dots transform into exploding starbursts.)

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A productive mash-up of Pop, Minimalist and Op art, the work also has its way with Marcel Duchamp’s 1920 “Rotoreliefs.” Duchamp designed an absurd machine to be fitted with rotating disks sporting various designs. (A 1953 version is on view at Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum.) The optical illusions suggest falling into a deep tunnel or a hypnotic trance -- making skeptical fun of art’s earnest claims to Modern Age insight.

Holloway’s emphatically analog installation also targets something close to home. His project coincides with the final weeks of “James Turrell at Pomona College” (both shows close May 17). The long-running Turrell exhibition includes a trio of Light and Space installations and a selection of sculptural models, organized to coincide with the opening of “Dividing the Light,” a permanent outdoor work at the college by the celebrated Pomona alumnus.

Turrell’s art manipulates natural and electrical light to explore perceptual phenomena. “Dividing the Light,” for example, is a sky space composed of a floating metal canopy on columns, shading a courtyard seating area and framing a rectangle of sky. A sleek reflecting pool at the courtyard’s center complicates the mounting illusions of planar, solid and transparent amplitude, as does a computerized sequence of lighting effects timed for sunrise and sunset.

By contrast, Holloway’s art is low-tech. His display of spots-before-your-eyes, together with its shrewd references to crummy Hollywood special effects representing dream states or psychedelic hallucinations, has amiable fun with the mystical aura easily attached to older forms of elaborately constructed, wowie-zowie light shows.

Which is not to say that Holloway’s parody demeans Turrell’s precedent. Far from it. Holloway’s work demonstrates how art comes from other art, not life. His installation changes -- breaks up -- the calcified context within which Turrell’s art is now seen.

Simply put, the younger artist performs the essential, time-honored function of artistic patricide, scraping off the scales of respectability that inevitably attach themselves to art that was once radical but has long since congealed into the aspic of establishment approval. Not unlike Henry Moore’s bronze sculptures after World War II, which became chamber-of-commerce-authorized symbols for high cultural seriousness in civic plazas and in front of art museums across America, Turrell’s sky spaces have lately become ubiquitous emblems of a thoroughly institutionalized avant-garde.

Holloway has published a wonderful artist’s book with the show. It includes a foreword by curator Rebecca McGrew and an interview with local critic Bruce Hainley, but the chief glory is its 16 big, uninterrupted pages of black polka dots. (These printed pages, each the size and shape of a newspaper, are what cover the gallery walls.) On its own, it’s some kind of disposable, Pop-Minimal-Op-Conceptual “little masterpiece.”

Turrell’s Pomona sky space creates a place of refuge in a courtyard outside the school’s brainy computer sciences department, and Holloway’s cheeky broadsheet carries the defiant headline “Analog Counterrevolution.” Who knew polka dots would make excellent analog pixels?

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Pomona College Museum of Art, 330 N. College Way, Claremont, (909) 621-8283, through May 17. Closed Mondays. www.pomona.edu/museum.

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Stopped at the 50-yard line

Cathy Opie came to prominence in the early 1990s with portrait photographs taken in the gay, lesbian and transgender communities. (A 15-year Opie survey will open at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in September.) So it is inevitable that her new pictures of high school football teams are framed by unanswerable questions of communal and individual sexual identity.

Indeed, that is a subtle strength of the 29 new works at Regen Projects II. Opie’s photographs of a familiar, masculine American ritual assert nothing -- except, perhaps, that being open to the unexpected is advantageous.

Nineteen photographs are player portraits, and 10 show teams out on the field. Opie calls the team pictures landscapes. Together with their large size -- roughly 4 by 5 feet -- the term neatly distinguishes them from the norm.

These are not the familiar media images of photojournalism, which attempt to capture the compact, explosive moment in the typical football play. Only one shows a play in action, but it’s happening off in the middle distance. (Good luck even finding who’s carrying the ball.) What dominates this landscape is the number 50, written on the artificial turf.

Opie employs a documentarian’s analysis of the moments before and after the main event -- on either side of normative society’s 50-yard line. In those twinkling instants of concentrated anticipation or exhausted bewilderment, the outcome is not yet clear.

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The field in “Football Landscape #8 (Crenshaw vs. Jefferson, Los Angeles, CA)” is shared by clenched opponents, while the foreground pair of blue-and-gold-clad players seen in battle-ready profile seem like a classical relief on a temple frieze.

The formal portraits, mostly waist high or cropped above the knee, recall August Sander’s classic typological catalog of the German people, “Man of the Twentieth Century.” (Coincidentally, a selection of Sander photographs goes on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum on Tuesday.) Encased in padding, looking into the lens, unsmiling and mostly frontal, the warriors on display are adolescents.

Most of the lavish landscapes were photographed at night, lending the costume dramas the theatrical glamour of artificial illumination. But in the portraits, the eye goes to a freckled arm, the flash of braces on teeth, acne mingled with beard-stubble and perspiration on skin. Heroic communal ideals disappear, supplanted by individual quotidian truth.

Regen Projects II, 9016 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 276-5424, through May 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.regenprojects.com.

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A wreckage in fabrication

Daniel Dove’s six recent paintings in his fine solo debut at Cherry and Martin make the most of surface manipulation. Paint shifts from slick to scumbled, like rust on a trophy or moss on steel. At times, it appears a squeegee has been dragged across the canvas, roughing up but not obscuring the depicted images.

Sometimes, as in the ruined interior of “Theater,” the territory feels abandoned. Elsewhere, the airplane fuselages that dominate “Autopsy” and “Sequel” echo with violent disruption, and the interlaced tubular abstractions of “Funland 1" and “Funland 2" recall forms in early 20th century American Modernist art.

In surface and image, the aura of Dove’s deftly handled paintings is one of Industrial Age decay. What yields the most resonance, however, is the work’s strange mix of melancholia and manufacture.

“Autopsy” is based on the forensic reconstruction of a crashed plane, but Dove has inserted jagged, cartoon-like gray shapes to signify the brutal blast. The zigzag shapes cast shadows on the floor and the fuselage. This bizarre yet clever painterly trick snaps attention back from what the painting represents to what any painting is: a fiction. Destruction is balanced with construction, and the precariousness is aesthetically riveting.

Cherry and Martin, 12611 Venice Blvd., (310) 398-7404, through May 24. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www .cherryandmartin.com.

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Leaving behind a dull blueprint

International Conceptualism gets a designer look in Joao Louro’s stylish, well-informed but dull mixed-media text-and-image works at Christopher Grimes. Trained first as an architect and then as a painter, but indebted to such artists as Victor Burgin, the Art & Language collective and other theorists of the intersections between words and moving images, the Lisbon-based Louro juxtaposes fragments of movie dialogue with architectural drawings on panels of flat, hard-edge color.

“Diamonds Are Forever” shows a John Lautner elevation for his 1968 Elrod house in Palm Springs on a rectangle painted swimming-pool blue, above text from the 1971 James Bond movie partly shot there. “L.A. Confidential” shows a plan for Richard Neutra’s 1927-29 Lovell house, featured as a rich pimp’s residence in that 1997 neo-noir film.

Given the utopian associations of those two light-filled Modernist buildings and the contrasting dark criminality of the movies in which they played supporting roles, Louro’s juxtaposition is apparently meant to suggest trouble in paradise. It’s familiar territory, though, and the works add little to it.

Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 587-3373, through May 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.cgrimes.com.


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