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West Coast Cool

L.A. curator turns "The Big Show" into a breezy stroll along Santa Monica Boulevard

The upstairs gallery is also the photo zone. Jenny Stark contributes two compelling video pieces. She works with digital video as deftly as a sculptor manipulates clay -- stretching, kneading, tweaking, adding, subtracting. Carefully constructing brief, powerful clips, she slows, chops and makes collages of images and audio. She skillfully employs music, her own and others, to set an emotional tone as she samples from other films and video for dialogue and footage, working with them in a plastic manner.

For Negative 10 (2001), Stark worked with old videotapes containing news reports from the Gulf War and episodes of Twin Peaks. The past decade had degraded the tapes, adding a patina to the recorded scenes. Digital editing software allowed Stark to zoom in on sections of the footage, like the epaulets on Saddam Hussein's uniform. The audio from the news reports is creepily relevant today, as it discusses President Bush and Middle East tensions. In one section, a male voice says, "You stay right there; I'm afraid there's been another murder," as we watch a grainy image of part of a woman's face as her smile slowly fades. There is a wit as well as melancholic dread in Stark's moody videos.

Moody but kinda spooky, Greg Ellis's fof-1 (2000) shows an image of a balding, shirtless man grasping a cat to his chest in a cuddly embrace. The grainy inkjet print on vellum makes it feel like a still from a surveillance video. Additionally, the man looks unsettlingly like the kid that jumped out of the lake at the end of Friday the 13th, the boyhood image of Jason.

Two sheets to the wind: Francesca Fuchs's Mountains turns an old bedsheet design into an affectionately ironic abstract painting.
Two sheets to the wind: Francesca Fuchs's Mountains turns an old bedsheet design into an affectionately ironic abstract painting.

Details

Through Saturday, August 11; 713-528-5858
Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main Street

Ultimately, in spite of the strength of many individual works, the exhibition feels safe; Sommer isn't much of a risk taker. It's not that he's too cool to laugh, he's just too cool to laugh loudly. Local juried shows allow an art community to view itself through someone else's sensibility. "The Big Show" shows us how the sometimes grubby cacophony of the Houston art scene looks filtered through one Los Angeles commercial gallery owner. We look a little cooler, more pulled together, more restrained, but kinda boring.

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