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Terence Koh at Peres Projects in Chinatown

Special to The Times

If you happened to be in Chinatown on the night of Terence Koh‘s opening two weeks ago, you would have noticed something peculiar: a fine, white powder coating the shoes, pant legs, skirts and coat tails of many of those crisscrossing the neighborhood between galleries throughout the evening. Tracing the trail of white footprints back to Peres Projects, you would have found what looked like an empty gallery, but for the crowd, a keg of beer and an inconspicuous arrangement of objects on the floor near the back wall. A small, white desk lamp and a white Styrofoam cup were set along the edge of a 3-inch hole in the floor.

The payoff was in the basement, where a long, low-ceilinged room painted white, softly lighted, is filled with a 4-inch layer of the mysterious white powder. A variety of objects adorn the walls, also white: a row of prize ribbons; a row of rectangular metal plates bearing the image of a young man, all shot through with a single bullet; a scrawl of neon spelling the word “felt”; and an enigmatic assortment of items -- an owl, an E.T. figurine, a radio, a stack of towels -- arranged on the surface and the underside of several shelves, as if the room were equipped to flip over at any moment.

The exhibition, which marks the fifth anniversary of Peres Projects, is actually a re-creation of the gallery’s first show, which was also Koh’s first show. The only difference is that the objects themselves are now cast from bronze, aluminum and steel. It is a subtle but telling difference, pointing to the steep rise of both artist’s and gallerist’s market cachet in those five years.

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The effect of the installation on the night of the opening was especially enchanting. The parade of viewers kicked up the thin dust that hung in the air like fog. A pair of live white parakeets, since removed, darted between the rafters. At the moment I happened to pass through, two children were skipping about and kicking up the powder with glee, exclaiming something to the effect that this was the best art they’d seen all night. In the absence of the crowds, the work has a quiet, hallowed presence, celestial and deathly in equal measure.

It is this sort of finely tuned tactility -- and the magical quality it produces -- that makes it impossible to dismiss Koh’s rock-star rise as mere dazzle, despite the trendy tenor of the rhetoric that’s accompanied it (from the media and the artist himself). It is the nagging question of just what lies beneath this seductive veneer, however, that keeps one -- or keeps me, in any case -- from wholeheartedly endorsing that rise.

Whiteness is a potent element to be sure, conceptually as well as sensorially, and the spectacle of an artwork that uses this whiteness to literally stain its viewers, obliging them to carry its traces out into the world, is a resonant and fascinating gesture.

But if there’s any particular significance to the assortment of objects, say, aside from their place in some sort of personal lexicon, it’s not apparent, nor does the show’s small catalog or any other supporting document make any attempt to elucidate. The catalog -- which consists of a handful of images: a play list; a rather lewd endorsement by artist Bruce Labruce; a short essay (apparently cribbed from the Internet) on target shooting; and a lengthy ode by Koh on his friendship with Peres -- is an appealing, evasive document much in the spirit of the artist’s alternately raunchy, beautiful, and baffling website asianpunkboy.com.

Need there be a significance? I’ve been flipping the question over and over since seeing the show, and I think that my conclusion is yes -- in the end, at least, or in the next five years, if Koh is to fill out the contours of his flashbulb success. Koh’s is an art of sensation rather than idea, as far as I can tell -- much like fashion (which I doubt he would take as criticism: He has often referred to his passion for clothing). Idea, however, lasts longer.

There’s something to be said for the magic of materials, for the subordination of logic to poetics and erotics, and the deliberate obscuring of intention -- all of which Koh does very well. But one begins to wonder at some point what he’s actually got to say.

Peres Projects, 969 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, (213) 617-1100, through June 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.peresprojects.com.

Negative space gets explored

Soo Kim has become known in recent years for cutting highly intricate patterns into the surface of photographs, carving out negative space between the branches of trees or inside the framework of buildings, and often layering the images to create delicate, lace-like compositions.

In “Superheavies,” her third solo show with Sandroni Rey, Kim extends the motif in two directions: one is an intriguing step forward, the other feels like spinning her wheels.

The latter is a series involving a young woman posing in front of a light-drenched curtain, her head and arms draped across a glass table that catches her reflection like a still lake catches the reflection of a mountainous landscape. Around her arms and hands, Kim has cut out whimsical swaths of pattern that read rather too literally like flights of the young woman’s imagination. The cutting, so elegant in the landscapes’ work, has a gimmicky quality here, and slick production values give the images the feel of a television commercial.

Far more exciting is a second series involving straight -- that is, uncut -- photographs taken through the windows of a Lloyd Wright-designed church in Palos Verdes. In these works, Kim makes use of reflections across the panes to layer geometric patterns over organic ones (the tree branches behind the window) within the space of the frame itself. They’re visually complex, even chaotic compositions that seem to fracture space into dozens of planes, challenging expectations of photographic coherence and giving the eye much to feast upon.

Sandroni Rey, 2762 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 280-0111, through June 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

A flickering play of light

“Motor Post Motor Band Disband,” the centerpiece of Erika Vogt‘s first solo show at Daniel Hug, is a string of seven short video works that play with the visual mechanics of light, projection and shadow. Vogt churns nondescript footage through multiple generations -- taping and retaping, filming and refilming -- until the substance of that footage begins to dissolve, its representational integrity subsumed by multiple layers of light.

Projected at relatively close range onto a square of glossy silver paint, the image assumes a curious glisten that sharpens into searing highlights depending on where you stand. In an added aural twist, the video projector whirs with the recorded sound of a film projector.

The result is muddled but generally intriguing. The flickering play of light and color has a seduction of its own, bestowing the imagery with a sense of almost narrative suspense that carries the viewer from one segment to another.

The several large digital prints that surround the video piece haven’t the same sensory pleasures to fall back on and wind up just feeling muddled, despite the attention-grabbing scale.

According to the press release, the series has something do with the “American artist as icon” and “a series of ritualized actions with objects that make historical reference to notions of progress,” but all I could make out were vague, highly pixilated, not especially interesting images of what seemed to be a figure engaged in some sort of activity.

There may have been something interesting going on in the studio, but Vogt seems to have skipped a few steps between there and the gallery, leaving one with little sense of what she’s trying to accomplish.

Daniel Hug, 510 Bernard St., Los Angeles, (323) 221-0016, through June 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Startling, strange and elegant works

Olga Koumoundouros‘ “Great Expectations” is one of those thrilling works that seems to appear fully formed, without the least dependence on a statement or press release, its meaning -- and power -- entirely embodied in the shrewdly calibrated interaction of wisely chosen materials. One of a pair of sculptures on view in Suzanne Vielmetter’s project space, it consists merely of two long metal jacks caked in tar, extending from opposite corners of the small room to pin a crystal chandelier obliquely against the ceiling. It reads as the embodiment of sheer brute force: startling, strange and violently elegant. The title lends an affecting poignancy. There isn’t one among us, I suspect, who hasn’t felt like that poor chandelier at one time or another.

The other sculpture, “The Wreck of Hope, After Caspar David Friedrich,” isn’t nearly so concise but has a similar resonance. A small wooden cart, rigged to resemble a miniature covered wagon but caked in thick, immobilizing plaster, it too speaks of struggle, frustrated effort and the persistent, if sometimes pathetic human instinct for betterment.

Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 5795 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (323) 933-2117, through June 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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