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Los Angeles Times


March 21, 1990, Wednesday, Home Edition




"L.A./Brazil Projects '90," an art exhibition on view at the Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park through April 29, is an exercise in cultural exchange that inadvertently suggests that when it comes to art, the world is a tiny global village. A group show that juxtaposes recent work by eight Brazilian artists with pieces by eight prominent Los Angeles artists, "L.A./Brazil Projects '90" reveals that all over the world (or at least in Brazil and America), artists are trudging the same path, obeying the same road signs and regulations, and paying homage to the same modernist saints as they inch towards immortality.

Jointly curated by Brazilian art critic Sheila Leirner who selected the Brazilian participants, and Municipal Gallery curator Ed Leffingwell, and director of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation Henry T. Hopkins, who picked the American artists, the show purports to be an inquiry into "painterly painting," however it veers off that track on several occasions. The thing that really unites the work is its reverence for European art of the 20th Century. In her gushingly wet catalogue essay, curator Leirner explains that "the issues and styles introduced by artists such as Duchamp, De Chirico and Malevich are the concerns of the new generation of Brazilian artists" -- and that's immediately evident in this rather conservative work.

Nearly every artist in the show, in fact, cites Duchamp as a primary influence and the rigorous intellectualism of the high priest of Modernism is clearly apparent here. Proposing that the point isn't to reshape the world into art, but rather, to retool the mind into a machine capable of perceiving the art in everything, Duchamp left an indelible mark on the art of this century, and his presence hovers like a benevolent ghost over "L.A./Brazil Projects '90." Benevolent, but a bit intimidating. It's clear by their work that these artists are steeped in history, and the struggle to remain in touch with ones instincts in the face of intellectual and historical self-consciousness is a leitmotif in the show.

One hates to reveal a regional bias, but the strongest work in the show does hale from California, and three luscious field paintings by Joe Goode take top honors. Resonating with weight and authority, these canvases are freighted with a purity of form, surface, and color evocative of the best work of Jasper Johns. Two paintings by Nelsen Valentine -- one of a cloudy night sky, the other of the same sky by day -- exude a lyrical serenity that comes as a welcome tonic, surrounded as they are by explosive Expressionist canvases wildly waving their arms for attention. Metaphysical landscapes evocative of early work by Vija Celmins, the work of this young painter (Valentine is just 29) shows great promise.

Jill Giegerich shows mixed media works incorporating construction materials she first encountered as a child in her father's workshop, while David Amico (who describes his work as "a quest for freedom") offers staunchly traditional figurative abstractions. John Millei shows an untitled installation that involves dozens of small paintings on tin of various shape and size (they resemble Mexican retablos), installed salon style on a large wall. Millei sees himself as a mannerist, and this piece -- rife with references to art history -- is mannered indeed.

Roger Herman shows loosely painted Expressionist canvases depicting the facades of sterile modern buildings. In the catalogue text, Herman explains that he strives to be uninvolved with the images he depicts, and goes on to announce with pride that after years of practice he's succeeded in emptying his work of emotion. I guess this is sort of like grooving to the rhythm of a song rather than the words. Herman also comments that he sees his work as a reaction against the freeze-dried intellectualization of art, but his work looks pretty freeze-dried to me. Pauline Stella Sanchez explains her mixed media wall sculptures as "an attempt to demystify the heroism of painting," but me thinks she doth protest too much. With the scandalous prices going down at the auction houses and so forth, neither art nor artists have been receiving very good press lately, and it's highly debatable whether anybody considers painting a heroic activity.

Sergio S.T. Romagnolo shows sculptural works made of molded plastic that give off a rank stench of decay evocative of work by New York artist Izhar Patkin. Like tacky figurines left out in the sun too long, these melted pieces are really creepy. Jorge Guinle shows explosive Abstract Expressionist canvases that, for all their bluster, reek of nostalgia; this style of painting -- at least in Guinle's hands -- seems wan and spent. Nonetheless, curator Leirner describes Guinle's work as "a colored handbook of Freudian Angst." Oh dear.

Jose Roberto Aguilar shows stunning figurative abstractions based on Dante's "Nine Visions of Paradise" that pulsate with the wild, cosmic humanism of A.R. Penck. Antonio Dias shows formalist mixed media works made of graphite, rubber and wood on canvas, while Flavia Ribeiro shows minimalist field paintings of asphalt and encaustic on canvas. Ribeiro's handsome canvases explore the same issues that occupy Joe Goode, and the work of these two artists complements each other nicely. This is the one instance where the shows hands across the border theme really coalesces.


GRAPHIC: Photo, Jill Giegerich's mixed media work in "L.A./Brazil Projects '90."