Spot Making Sense

Spot Making Sense brings together the works of twelve West Coast artists whose paintings, sculptures, and projected images share a love of synthetic color with a belief in the power of visual stimulation and commitment to the idea that art lives in the responses it generates. Rooted in the conviction that works of art had better look good and deliver the conceptual goods if they are to be anything more than easily ignored wallflowers, the eye popping, mind bending pieces in this exhibition insist that life is more vital when pleasure and intelligence play tug-of-war within individual viewers.

Unflinchingly optimistic, yet savvy in the ways of the world, these two- and three - dimensional images use cartoons to make the well worn debate between abstraction and representation look like a fussy academic exercise. Figuring out whether or not any one of these works depicts something is fruitless; even if you arrive at an answer to this conventionally formalist question, you are no closer to knowing what the pieces in Spot Making Sense are up to than when you laid eyes on them.

As a group, these works embody a snappy attitude that echoes the sentiments articulated in a pop song by the Talking Heads. Like the song " Stop Making Sense" argues that senselessness is temporary; no matter how wacky an experience may seem in the present, it can always be made sense of retrospectively provided it's still got a hold on your attention. By that time, however, art (both visual and aural) will have done it's duty. Having embraced and given aesthetic form to some sort of proactive nonsense, it will have altered the terms by which we ordinarily make sense of things.

In the long run, then, nonsense makes sense, often in ways that are more compelling than can be explained rationally. In the present, it makes sense to take non-sense seriously, to pay attention to the seemingly frivolous details, distractions, and diversions that don't fit up into out typical patterns of "sensible" thinking. In both the song and the show, silliness enters the picture with a lot more responsibility than it's usually given.

Both goofy and deliberate, the title of the exhibtion is meant to demonstrate that slight alterations, such as the transposition of two letters, can have meaningful consequences, even if they're not immediately apparent. ( Putting kinks into things is often more interesting than ironing them out.) Spot Making Sense also suggests that there are intelligible meanings more adequately manifested in spots and blobs, in lines and stripes, and in shapes and spaces than in words. ( Some sensibilities lead naturally to spot making.) Inarticulate, but never incoherent, the works in this show are animated by a variety of senses that are more nuanced and supple-and much more open-ended than those that fit into everyday routines.

The mid-size paintings and mini-tableaux by Phil Argent, Sharon Ellis, Adam Ross, and Michael Pierzynski treat the "Spot" in the show's title as a location. Argent's Dream Car #4 celebrates mobility by transforming a personalized Nevada license plate into a Mannerist extravaganza, shot-throughwith dangerous beauty. Ellis' Cathedral of the Dandelions carves out a modern Gothic space seething with seductive menace. Similarly, Ross' futuristic cityscape, swimming in a dense, fire-engine red fog, is toxic yet enticingly other worldly. And Pierzynski's Hollywood Reservoir looks so enchantingly melodramatic that it seems to inhabit a world that's too good to be true.

Jack Halberg, Yek, and Jennifer Steinkamp assert that it's more interesting to think of art in terms of lounges, clubs, and discos than to treat the spaces in which it is shown as if they were reading rooms, intensive-care units, or morgues. Shamelessly social, Hallberg's gregarious paintings undermine the fraudulent autonomy of the white cube by glowing in the dark and looking even better in black light. Also meant to be seen in black light, Yek's Blue Hawaii curves out from the wall to open a sensous space that drifts free of its surroundings like ambient music wafting through a night sky. Likewise, Steinkamp's spinning cube of projected light plays tricks on your eyes. This little Urchin transforms a corner of the gallery into a pulsating wall of warping color that's trippy and dizzying.

For their parts, Linda Besemer, Ingrid Calame, and Monique Prieto re-visit recent art history 's big losers, turning the bland mechanics of Color-Field painting into the basis of scintillating images. Made of nothing but acrylic paint, Besemer's stripe painting, titled Sophie's Neuroses, recalls works by Kenneth Noland and Gene Davis, but curls around on itself like a piece of cheap candy whose insides are as deliciously lickable as it's outsides. Tough, post-industrial, and spunky, Calame's OOO la la OOMPA!!! might be Helen Frankenthaler's worst nightmare: an impenetrable, enamel-on-aluminum stain painting whose shapes are meticulous tracings of spills on the floor. And Prieto's droopy blobs of crisp color, stacked like odd architectural elements, redeem the overlooked humor in Jules Olitski's early works by marrying the hovering forms to Tom Wesselmann's punchy Pop palette.

Sally Elesby and Pauline Stella Sanchez take a crafty, low-tech approach to achieve similarly thrilling effects. Elesby's spindly constructions, made of wire and colored glue, have the presence of paintings that are constantly unraveling and reconfiguring themselves, depending upon whatever whim moves them. Sanchez' bumpy monochromes resemble lunar surfaces, but if you look directly at them, their screaming fluorescent yellows will blind you like the sun, causing lime-green afterimages to remain in your eyes for quite some time.

Silliness and seriousness intermingle in all the works in Spot Making Sense as its artists take visual risks and invite viewers to join in on these unsanctioned activities. With no guarantee of sucess or utility, their works promise only the excitement that accompanies any high risk venture. To me, such verve and panache is worth betting on or investing in. If that sounds like a sales pitch it is. But I've never encountered any art that's not trying to sell something, even if only the ficiton that it's exempt from such wheeling and dealing. Unlike such supposedly virtuous work, the fun loving art in Spot Making Sense is not dishonest. It's actually old-fashioned, in that it puts what it's got on the table or the wall and lets the viewers take it from there.

David Pagel
Los Angeles, CA

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