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The Disturbing Object

Long Beach Museum of Art

2300 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90803

Exhibition Views:

Works on View:

Claire Copley Gallery

Los Angeles, CA
May 1977

Art News Review

Psychological Manipulation

Michael Asher-Morgan Thomas at Claire Copley Gallery
Review by Melinda Wortz, May 1977

“Guerrero exhibits a plaster-of-paris burst of Beethoven which he has flocked with bright orange sand. The object is kitsch, vulgar, confusing. Together with this object he shows a triptych of three black and white photographs of the bust, taken with a homemade pinhole camera” – Melinda Wortz

“Michael Asher-Morgan Thomas at Claire Copley Gallery Inc.: Claire Copley Gallery Inc. at Morgan Thomas,” reads the exhibition announcement, and most viewers go to both galleries to see Michael Asher’s new work. What they find is Claire Copley exhibiting her gallery artists – Daniel Buren, the day I went – at Morgan Tomas’ gallery, while Morgan Thomas shows Raul Guerrero and Donald Metzler at the Copley Gallery. “Where is Asher’s work to be seen?” wonder many confused gallery goers, as it is nowhere in evidence either on the walls or in a physical alteration of the gallery space itself. (In Asher’s last show at the Copley he removed the partition between Copley’s office and exhibition space, eliminating the dealer’s privacy along with the wall.)

The new work is a psychological manipulation/investigation of the artists/dealer and dealer/public relationships and interactions. It tests each woman’s relationship as a dealer to the physical space where show works, her territoriality, how much her psyche (and by extension ours) is tied up with her environment. Both women have learned about their own needs and styles as dealers from the experience. Copley, whose gallery is located on the relatively heavily trafficked La Cienega Boulevard misses the activity, the street traffic which inadvertently finds its way into the gallery, as well as those who regularly make the rounds. By contrast Thomas’ gallery is located on the west side of town, on Santa Monica Boulevard off the beaten path, so to speak, in a small upstairs space where she lives as well as works. She feels that living and working in separate spaces, as she must during the Asher exhibition, has a fragmenting effect on her psyche.

This work of Asher’s was on exhibit simultaneously with a work for LAICA in which he asked two, three or four people each day simply to sit in the gallery and talk among themselves and/or to the gallery visitors. From this experience, too, various new kinds of relationships developed relating to the art public. In either case some sort of interaction with, or at least observations of, actual human beings was necessary in order to “see” the piece. Opinions differ widely regarding the meaning and motivations of the piece. I see it as a humanizing experience of the art world, in contrast to the elitist relationships and sterile spaces often encountered in gallery situations. Asher’s medium is other people in the art world, and in that sense his recent work might be seen as setting in motion a performance without a scenario.

Among the cognoscenti of Asher’s work, his activity seems to have overshadowed somewhat the artists actually on exhibit in the respective galleries – Buren, Guerrero and Metzler. Buren sent several pieces of striped fabric, painted at the edges and precut in various geometric, together with directions for installation. These portable pieces are conceived to be installed anywhere, not for a particular space. Both minimal and decorative, they interact effectively with the small windows and skylights of Thomas’ space. One fabric polygon fortuitously echoes the shape of the adjacent light form reflected from the skylight. The exhibit demonstrates once more that an artist can make his esthetic mark on any space with minimal means.

Guerrero exhibits a plaster-of-paris burst of Beethoven which he has “flocked” with bright orange sand. The object is kitsch, vulgar, confusing. Together with this object he shows a triptych of three black and white photographs of the bust, taken with a homemade pinhole camera. The resulting images are ghostly, difficult to discern, like so-called spirit photographs. A fourth photograph in color, a clear precise print, is equally bizarre. Somehow the glossy, slick reproduction of a ridiculous object lends it an air of credibility that is completely consistent with its actual material presence. The photographer Metzler in the second gallery has chosen images that relate with wry wit to Guerrero’s – a “bust” (nude women in swimming pool visible from the torso up) and ambiguous tracks in sand. Since these two artists did not know each other before the exhibition, the degree of their supportive interaction is remarkable. It is as if the situations which Asher set up to force new modes of interaction on the two dealers has subtly affected the content of their exhibitions.

Christopher Georgesco, one of the most interesting young sculptors in Los Angeles, is seen in his second solo exhibition at New Space Gallery, where he premiered last year. Except for two tripartite works, the pieces are all deceptively simple, monolithic shafts of concrete cast around steel bars and mounted on small, square, Cor-ten steel bases. Most pieces seem to be divided into two rectangular segments at the base, but as they rise vertically other structural components emerge almost imperceptibly from the central mass, so that in fact each piece consists of three discernable sides or faces. From different viewpoints the façade is entirely different, varying from a smooth, flat, simple surface which movies in and out of an angular indentation near the center of the vertical mass, to a more complex breakup and reintegration of angles and planes which recall Cubist sculpture. The right angles visible at the base, as well as the straight lines and smooth surfaces, imply the rationality of geometry, but the geometric structure is a dynamic and changing one – a very different from of geometry form a holistic conception. Although the narrow vertical mass of Georgesco’s work seems at first classical in its simplicity, prolonged looking reveals continually changing forms. In spite of its ostensibly geometric structure, the sculpture produces a strong illusion of movement, interior force or energy. In fact Georgesco conceives of the angular indentations in the work as intersecting points of circles which radiate outward into the surrounding space.

As materials, cast concrete and steel may suggest a cold, industrial look, but Geogesco renders them remarkably warm, coloristic and even expressionistic. He varies the texture of the surface with the number of stones he adds to the stand-cement mixture, and with the amount of polishing or protective coating applied. The smoother surfaces retain vertical striations from the plywood mold in which the pieces were cast, while other planes are roughly mottled with protruding and receding ground stones. Surprisingly, the concrete medium is highly sensitive to subtle nuances of ambient light, in a manner more associated with bronze or marble. The gray of the concrete itself contains a number of ephemeral variations from a warm yellowish to a cool bluish. As with the perception of Geogesco’s subtle spatial displacements, elusive effects of light and color become apparently only slowly. Viewers must slow down and allow the complex nuances the time to be discerned. In this respect his art has a quiet, meditative effect.

Charles Frazier’s mini-retrospective of photographic documentations and videotapes, 1968-77, is another exhibition which reveals a meditative esthetic. All the works deal with ordinary objects and experiences which the artist magically transforms into mysterious and ritualistic images. Variations on Manifest Destiny is a series of nine 16-inch square photographs. A double exposure of the front and back faces of the great seal, which appears on the U.S. dollar bill, was re photographed with a number of objects superimposed on it. Randomly found, these objects – a steel ball, a curved needle, a triangle, a compass and a whistle with chain – were chosen for their “natural geometry.” The cryptic and esoteric imagery of the great seal – the eye of Horus, Egyptian pyramid and Greek symbols of victory – were used by Masonic and other fraternal organizations in the founding years of our country to create the illusion of continuing the grand civilizations of Egypt and Greece put together. This imagery in the context of the dollar bill is, in the words of the artist, “bullshit – completely corrupt as an image, with no meaning except as currency.” When combined with the objects noted above, however, the imagery regains a kind of occult, alchemical power.

In a series of ten photographs Frazier documents “the dissolution of a pyramid of sugar cubes through fire, ants and rain into a river of sweet water.” The prose may sound incongruous, but the visual imagery is powerful and poetic – the cubical structure melting into crystalline forms contrasting starkly with the black, segmented ants and eventually becoming a flowing liquid. Both this piece, A Fish Sound, a River of Light, and Variations of Manifest Destiny are exhibited together with the objects which were photographed. The contrast between the simplicity of the process and the mystic imagery which results attests to the artist’s strength.

Two photographic pieces and three videotapes deal with light in the form of a flame. Myth Extended, a single photograph, records a double image of a lighted gas lamp. Out perceptual past experience tell us that this image must result from a double exposure, but Frazier’s intent is to question the validity of understanding the present through past experience. He asks, instead, under what conditions of reality we might actually perceive a double, superimposed image. Since we do have binocular vision our perception of a single image is a learned convention which is possible to unlearn, and through the process we can see the manner recorded by Frazier’s photograph. A second photograph of light is a magic square consisting of 81 (nine rows of nine) images of a gas lamp. Those which are unlighted, if perceived out of the overall grid, form a geometric pattern as do numbers in intervals of five within a traditional magic square. Video tapes of a dictionary page on fire – burning the definition of “illumination” – and a single flame, accompanied respectively by Purcell’s Accordion knot United and classical Chinese music, create a hypnotic, mystical mood – the unifying characteristic of Frazier’s esthetic.