A dozen gouaches and a matched pair of installation sculptures by Dike Blair continue the New York artist’s eccentric dialogue between perception and objects. His second show at Mary Goldman Gallery nicely elaborates long-standing concerns rather than breaking new ground.
The Post-Minimal sculptures include Blair’s familiar elements of electrical lights and cords, which unfurl in linear loops and squiggles across lengths of industrial gray carpet, like an invisibly charged drawing, and across the floor into wall sockets. Painted circles beneath the lamps -- this time, Isamu Noguchi-designed paper Akari lanterns, standing tall on wire legs -- signify light.
In the same way that Noguchi merged traditional Japanese handicraft and distinctly Modernist form in the lamps, Blair makes hybrids. An upright wooden packing crate at the opposite end from the lamp turns the length of carpet pad into a sign for a shadow, for example, which contrasts with the suddenly incongruous spot of light painted on it.
The packing crates serve multiple tasks. Painted on the sides in trompe l’oeil lights and shadows, they’re transformed from an object into a picture. The fronts are plain sheets of wood, one subdivided into a Constructivist-style composition of colored rectangles, asserting spatial dynamics as being functional space dividers. The backs of the crates are where framed gouaches are hung, turning the flat plane into the free-standing equivalent of a wall.
Blair’s conceptual and perceptual gymnastics can sometimes feel stretched a bit tight. But the gouaches have snap.
Most of these are finely wrought close-up portraits of eyes. (He paints principally friends and family.) Despite being organs for looking out and, supposedly, windows into the soul, these eyes turn out to be defiantly mute. In a very neat maneuver, Blair paints the slender edge of each thin sheet of paper -- something you notice only as you peer closely at the rendering of the eye, which stares back impassively. The image is also an object.
And in several cases the pair of eyes isolated in rectangles seem not to be from the same face, or they’re from the same face but shown from different viewpoints, like a Paul Cézanne still life. Your mind fills in the facial and bodily gaps, projecting onto the surrounding white space of the paper.
The final set of gouaches is a sly group of five close-in views of parking lots at night. In each a few straight white or yellow lines against pitch-black asphalt are illuminated by a delicate blush of light along the bottom -- a glow, you quickly realize, that loosely corresponds to a car’s headlights. The parking lot is an empty field awaiting your imminent arrival; and in the dead of night, that is precisely when you are least expected.
Mary Goldman Gallery, 932 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 617-8217, through June 7. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.marygoldman.com. Parodies with a ghostly quality
Ghosts are a common sight in traditional Japanese art. In a large group of paintings from the last decade by Masami Teraoka at Samuel Freeman Gallery, where the Hawaii-based Pop artist is having his first L.A. solo show in many years, they turn up in three ways.
Most obvious are the spectral figures of women, often nude, corseted, scarred and floating through cluttered space, their voluptuous but tortured bodies edged in a sickly yellowish glow. Then there are authority figures -- mostly male and clerical, including popes, cardinals and bishops, but sometimes as mundane as Transportation Security Administration airport screeners. Their faces have a deathly, gray-green pallor. A fierce struggle rages between the ghostly cadres, many chatting on cellphones as if calling for backup, and the vicious contest seems to be an eternal draw.
The third ghost is historical European painting, which Teraoka mimics -- especially 15th century Italian art, a transitional era between Gothic mysticism and High Renaissance rationalism. (The contemporaneous morality plays of Hieronymous Bosch are also alluded to.) Teraoka’s huge “The Cloisters/Venus and Pope’s Bullfight,” more than 8 feet tall and 25 feet wide, adapts familiar compositional elements from Paolo Ucello, Piero della Francesca and others. Elsewhere, Tuscan-style landscapes merge with the Cloisters museum, in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park.
Teraoka is an iconoclast, so he needs icons to smash. Historical Catholic painting offers a ready if old-fashioned model, and the show includes gilt-framed altarpieces large and small.
But the work runs up against a problem common to art that derives explicitly from earlier art: If you’re going to parody Piero or Sandro Botticelli, you’d better be able to handle paint as well as they did.
Teraoka’s reputation developed in the 1970s and 1980s with exquisitely satirical watercolors on subjects such as fast food and the brutalities of the AIDS epidemic. The work’s transparent colors made brilliant use of traditional Japanese ukiyo-e prints that explore the pleasures and pains of the “floating world.” By contrast, the Renaissance satires are heavy-handed and sometimes clumsy.
Perhaps it’s a matter of belief. The stylistic forms of his Italian (and other) predecessors arose from grappling with profound faith, while Teraoka’s paintings mean to register a horrified disbelief. One can sympathize with the sincerity of the sentiment while finding the paintings artificial.
Samuel Freeman Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through May 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.samuelfreeman.com. Visual feast of color, technique
There’s an easygoing charm to Mary Addison Hackett‘s abstract paintings, a simple acknowledgment that, hey, this is art, not rocket science or a cure for cancer. Painting is tough enough to pull off on its own distinctive, seductive terms without adding demands for the impossible.
Six large recent paintings, five vertical and one square, in Hackett’s fine debut solo show at Kristi Engle Gallery mostly succeed by marshaling a virtual anthology of modern painting techniques. Oil, acrylic and spray paint is scuffed, smeared, brushed, poured, dribbled, stained, shaded and drawn. Rulers and other hard edges seem to have been employed in places, along with templates or rudimentary stencils.
In one a linear web of blue marks creates structural scaffolding, built in concert with the painting’s lexicon of colorful marks. The sturdy structure contrasts with the evanescent shimmer of silver spray paint. Appropriately titled “Linking Room,” the painting carves a visual space in which seemingly incompatible colors, forms and styles all manage to connect. It’s large enough (at 6 feet by 5 feet) to engage a viewer’s body rather than just the eye.
Comic-book footprints seen from below seem to march across the top of “Fast Acting Mr. Electric Sunshine,” flipping the spatial orientation in the elastic manner of a cartoon. “The Highest Mountain” is composed of elements that should not cohere side by side but nevertheless do, and they get there by rhyming a shape, transforming the path of a dribble into an intentional line or making a brush stroke do a sudden U-turn to avoid collision with another mark.
Hackett has titled her show “I forget now what this is all about . . .,” quoting the 19th century critic John Ruskin, champion of all things pagan and fierce enemy of standardization. These are paintings drunk on painting, and gimlet-eyed to boot.
Kristi Engle Gallery, 5002 York Ave., Highland Park, (323) 472-6237, through June 7. Closed Sundays through Wednesdays. www.kristienglegallery.com. Traces of nature on a grand scale
Five large and seven smaller new ink paintings on synthetic white vellum by Sandeep Mukherjee are abstractions that create mysterious associations with nature. A long sheet covered with small dabs of golden brown or scarab green dots in layered circles is like a scroll painting of rain causing ripples on a pond, sunspots on overexposed film or a close-in view of the ancient rings of a felled tree. Looked at closely with light glancing off the surface at an angle, the translucent inky dots recall snail tracks.
Mukherjee often works large -- the biggest paintings here are 14 feet wide -- so the paintings need room to breathe. The show is in two venues: the rather cramped Sister Gallery and, two blocks north, an expansive new space called Cottage Home.
At each, Mukherjee shows one work that is distinctive from the rest. Dark feathered marks, dense at the periphery of the sheet and a loose tangle toward the center, create the sensation of looking up into the sky from a place within the Earth. Unlike Miró, whose insect-view of the universe conjured a delirious Surrealist fantasy, Mukherjee is content to leave you in the aesthetic underbrush. It’s a surprisingly marvelous place to be.
Sister Gallery, 437 Gin Ling Way, and Cottage Home, 410 Cottage Home Road, Chinatown, (213) 628-7000, through June 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.sisterla.com.