‘Post Consumed’ at the Center for Land Use Interpretation

Special to The Times

One of the best things about exhibitions at the Center for Land Use Interpretation is that they present visitors with loads of information without telling them what to think. “Post Consumed: The Landscape of Waste in Los Angeles” is vintage C.L.U.I.

The multimedia display in the idiosyncratic institution’s Culver City office begins with simple things familiar to just about everyone -- say, a newspaper -- and goes on to link everyday activities to their consequences for the planet and subsequent generations of life on it. The nonjudgmental tone is both refreshing and respectful -- an inspiring antidote to the hyperventilating theatrics of so much public discourse today.

The only bit of overblown poetry in the show resides in the introductory wall label. It states: “Garbage is the effluent of our consumption and it flows backwards through the landscape of Los Angeles. Unlike liquid wastes, which drain downslope to the sea, the tiny tributaries of trash, from millions of homesteads, collected by a fleet of thousands of trucks circulating in constant motion, hauling to nodes of sorting, distribution, reuse, and, finally disposal, flow up the canyons and crevices to the edge of the basin.”

The rest of the exhibition avoids flowery language and sticks to the basics: com- mon objects, straightforward photographs, explanatory captions, informative diagrams and unadorned videos.

In the middle of the room, eight pedestals display ordinary items -- plastic bags, glass bottles, cardboard boxes, Styrofoam and a banana peel. Printed labels outline each object’s place in the chain that links consumerism to its aftermath.

On one wall, two monitors show computer-generated images of futuristic landfills, where trash trains deliver compacted cubes of garbage to an abandoned gold mine in the desert.

The bulk of the exhibition’s information is delivered by four monitors on the opposite wall. Three of them, “Collecting and Sorting the Trash of Los Angeles County,” “Diversions in the Waste Stream” and “Landfills,” follow the format of old-fashioned slide shows: Still images alternate with printed captions to tell the story efficiently and objectively. The fourth, “Inside a MRF” (Material Recovery Facility) includes a video tour of a county center where trash is unloaded from semis, pushed around by bulldozers and then picked off speeding conveyor belts and sorted by workers wearing masks, goggles and gloves.

The scale of all of the operations is magnificent. And it would be sublime and mind-blowing if not for the level-headed, flat-footed display tactics, honed to perfection by the center, whose staff has managed to transform the language of image-and-text Conceptualism into a vernacular that’s a lot more engaging than high-brow art-speak.

Also, none of the displays has an audio component. The silence is nice. It recalls well-managed libraries and contrasts dramatically with the bells and whistles of so much contemporary art. Best of all, it leaves you with some room to think for yourself. This is no mean feat for any exhibition -- of art or just carefully collected information.

The Center for Land Use Interpretation, 9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-5722, no closing date; open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.,

Taking viewers on a dark trip

Lately, a lot of painters have been looking to the 1960s for inspiration. Their works have drawn, almost entirely, on the youthful optimism and sense of stylish possibility that defined that heady decade.

At the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Gegam Kacherian delves into the dark side of the ‘60s, dredging up hallucinations that are not terrifying, like bad trips, but filled with so many whiplash reversals, unexpectedly twisted turns and long moments of vertiginous free-fall that you never know when the giddy thrills they deliver so furiously will flip into their opposite: apocalyptic shock and sense-defying randomness. It’s an anxiety-laced place chockablock with the complexity and confusion of modern life, as well as many of its trippy pleasures.

All of Kacherian’s acrylics on canvas begin with supersaturated expanses of high-keyed colors that recall smog-induced, neon-enhanced sunsets. In these floating fields, he paints convincingly realistic figures, buildings and beasts. They are accompanied by smears, puddles and dollops of paint, some splashed swiftly and mixed vigorously and others applied delicately, with the fussiness of a perfectionist. Many resemble imaginary insects and make you blink to be sure you’re not seeing things.

Kacherian’s best paintings cohere not by creating a convincing illusion or even making a type of sense that can be articulated, but by drawing viewers into a sensual world that is sufficiently familiar to get you to suspend disbelief and go with the outlandishly physical fantasy.

The ones that falter are too cute for their own good. In them, the balance between such first-generation Surrealists as Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta and contemporary fashion magazine imagery tips too far toward the latter.

In contrast, Kacherian’s most fascinating canvases manage to make wild, gestural abstraction and fastidious depiction blend like the ingredients in a designer hallucinogen you can’t get with a prescription or find on the street.

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through Aug. 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Associations and emotions flow

Buddha and Superman fuse in “Twilight of the Idols,” a larger-than-life-size sculpture that Aragna Ker has crafted from papier-mâché, toothpicks and brightly colored modeling clay. Titled after Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1888 rant against complacency, which the iconoclastic German subtitled “How to Philosophize With a Hammer,” Ker’s DIY monument to justice and serenity includes a crude wooden platform that allows viewers to climb to the height of the figure’s head and peer into a pair of funky, binocular-style lenses set in the back of its skull and aligned with openings in its eyes.

You see the world from the Buddha-Superman’s point of view. It’s a kaleidoscopic vision that is blurry and woozy, like an attempt, by a latter-day Dr. Frankenstein, to graft a fly’s compound eyes into the sockets of a human.

Ker’s other works at the Sabina Lee Gallery similarly marry the polyglot tenor of our times with the insistence that the mix-and-match free-for-all of the global economy changes not just the world around us, but the very way that we see things -- altering our perceptual capacities and habits and, in the process, transforming our identities.

Materials mix promiscuously. Ker uses Popsicle sticks, National Geographic magazines, multicolored plastic straws, unused shish-kebab skewers and dozens of inexpensive lenses as if they were meant for one another. The ideas, emotions and associations his works generate flow even more freely, making strange bedfellows of American Minimalism, European Op Art and Vito Acconci’s early performances, not to mention Olympic ceremonies, Mexican wrestling, Saturday afternoon crafts, vampires and model-train dioramas.

It’s a topsy-turvy world that you have to see for yourself. And even then you may not believe it.

Sabina Lee Gallery, 5365 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 935-9279, through Aug. 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

A material change pays off

Over the last five years, David Ryan has made a name for himself as the master of medium-density fiberboard. With great consistency, the Las Vegas artist has transformed the unlovely material home-builders use by the truckload into whimsically elegant abstractions that appear to float on the wall like laser-cut clouds in an electrifying palette of scorching oranges, neon greens, icy whites and sumptuous burgundies, among a synthetic rainbow of gorgeous tints.

Although Ryan’s multilayered, multipart relief sculptures seemed to be as light as feathers, they were not. As they grew in complexity and size, reaching upward of 4 feet by 5 feet, each began to weigh up to a quarter ton. This made transport and installation difficult. Worse, it made it almost impossible for Ryan to work in his studio, cutting, joining and spray-painting his jigsaw-puzzle-style pieces, unless he had a couple of studio assistants standing around to do the heavy lifting.

So he quit using the material. And he took up Coraform, a high-density urethane commonly used as insulation. It’s as easy to cut as the fiberboard, a whole lot lighter and only a bit more expensive.

It’s worth every penny. In a small side room at the Mark Moore Gallery, Ryan’s first large work made of spray-painted pieces of precisely cut Coraform packs more punch than his previous works. It commands so much more space than its actual dimensions suggest that it’s hard to believe that it extends only four inches from the wall. The nearly 5- by 8-foot abstraction fills the room with a satisfying wallop of sculptural presence and makes you want to walk all around it, exploring its shapely details from every angle and discovering its spatial ambiguities.

Titled “LHC,” after the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland that may be capable of creating black holes, Ryan’s diabolically beauti- ful wall-relief is sculpture at its space-saving best: Bold enough to fill the whole room with its powerful pleasures yet compact enough to hang over the sofa.

Mark Moore Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 453-3031, through Aug. 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays.