Big Show, Small Vision

At Lawndale's "Big Show," the artists get lost in the "grid"

A good deal of the art on view looks facile and quickly made, even provincial -- including works by award-winners Sandra Skrabanek, Bill Davenport and Kelly Klaasmeyer. Using black-and-white photocopies glued onto plywood, Skrabanek creates stylized floral shapes with such powerful media images as a human fetus, skeletons, insects and worms. Davenport's interplay of needlepoint and cartoony "boy art" has neither the material inventiveness nor irritating edge evident in the hybridized visual language of his earlier painted plywood sculptures. Klaasmeyer's elaborate, gold-embroidered box of gouaches cataloging items from her dead grandmother's drawer -- a canasta score pad, a motel key -- is of little technical or sentimental interest.

In his catalog essay, Moody cites L.A. artist Jim Isermann as a touchstone for many of these artists. Isermann's stitched-together swatches and remnants purchased at swap meets revisit the formal conventions of modern painting and sculpture. But Isermann's stained-glass and fabric works are labor intensive, even if genuinely preoccupied with a total belief in image; many of the artists in the "Big Show" are simply preoccupied with ironic distance. There isn't really much here that's provocative or eccentric. The pastiche of styles is blatantly derivative, even feeding off our own community by producing a little Karin Broker, a Billy Hassell, a Liz Ward, even an Art Guys piece.

The few successful examples at Lawndale are not mere entities or objects, but are agents, resurrecting abstract art by investigating the very motion of the eye across, in and through the surfaces of the works. They move. Consider Kathleen Packlick's Discovery, composed of rows of concentric circles in flux, a kind of textbook diagram that simultaneously reads as colorful marbles, eyes or planetary charts.

Among the few photographs selected for the show, which Moody ghetto-izes in Lawndale's small gallery, are Amy Blakemore's enigmatic, time-displaced vignettes that confound the commercial perversity of religion and superstition. Positioned on the "color" wall, Forrest Prince's purposefully ramshackle, formally designed placard of homilies takes on renewed evangelical meaning within the context of this exhibition: "You can forget Mary Boone. Abstract, like all other self-indulgent pseudo-intellectual art forms, is out. Truth is in."

What is the truth? Truth in materials? In ironic distance? In image, mark, line? What does the show say about the immediate and personal experience of a single work of art? Moody seems to say that there's nothing really unusual about the compulsion to encode in the era of techno-speak; but then neither does it seem strange to reflect back on our own conscious experience. If anything, Moody's emphasis on presentation, coding and grouping promotes further dialogue about the nature of art. As such, the "Big Show" goes beyond the superficial issues of who was selected and who was left out. It's really about trying to understand the thing that connects all artists. In this case, however, the grouping is considerably less than the sum of its parts.

"The Big Show" will show through August 27 at the Lawndale Art and Performance Center, 4912 Main, 528-5858.

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