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FROM THIS EPISODE

My Fellow Americans, the State of the Art Is Strong

Judging by the propensity of good sculpture exhibitions that can currently be seen here in Southern California, I must say---my fellow Americans, the state of the union is strong. Only a few weeks ago, I talked about the exhibition of L.A. sculptors at the Hammer Museum, and the solo exhibitions of Robert Graham and Tara Donovan at the Ace Gallery. Now I want to add to this list two exhibitions at the Long Beach Museum of Art.

The retrospective of works by Los Angeles sculptor John Frame, titled "Enigma Variations," is a tightly organized and elegantly installed exhibition that may surprise you with its mixture of poetry and absurdity. The artist's trademark is an unexpected juxtaposition of intricate wood carving with scraps of rusted metal and salvaged pieces of wood. John Frame is a first-rate storyteller who allows his comically tragic puppets to speak on his behalf in the spirit of a charismatic American preacher.

The second exhibition at the Long Beach Museum focuses on Elsa Rady, another Los Angeles-based artist, whose recent work-a group of tall, slender ceramic vessels-was inspired by ancient Cycladic sculptures made in Greece in the 3rd millennium BC. Each vessel rests on a small metal shelf suspended into the air with thin cables and dramatically lit with a single spotlight. Elsa Rady's exhibition captures the somber yet celebratory mood of her art, for which she's been deservedly well known for the last two decades.

The Project Gallery, which opened last year amongst the cluster of new galleries around South La Cienega Boulevard, presents works by Brazilian artist Jose Damasceno, whose art may amuse and seduce you the way it hijacked me before I had the chance to apply the critical breaks. In one room the artist cut from the industrial gray carpet long, slender shapes, reminiscent of flowers on a vine. Then he pulled these shapes away from the floor thus exposing the painted floorboards beneath. In a final dramatic flourish, Jose Damasceno attached these floral cutouts to the walls, achieving a thrilling effect with a minimum of fuss. Made me think of the Matisse decoration for the famous Vence chapel in France.

But if you're in the mood to be not only surprised and challenged but unsettled, as well, the place to go is the Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica where German artist Katharina Grosse has literally messed up the gallery's white walls by spraying them with clouds of psychedelic colors. A few years ago she was featured at the Hammer Museum, where she similarly transformed the corporate museum lobby into a fairytale playground. Here, in the gallery's back room, Katharina Grosse created an environment reflecting on the transient nature that is the life of the contemporary artist: a mattress on the floor, a few scattered belongings on top of it and then everything is sprayed with violent bursts of color, which circles the walls, floor and ceiling. In contrast, her paintings on canvas show Katharina Grosse's impressive ability to channel the explosive energy of her site-specific installations into tightly organized, sophisticated compositions of interwoven bands of color. Just think about a tsunami invited into your living room.

Enigma Variations: The sculpture of John Frame
Through April 10

Elsa Rady: The Cycladic Swing
Through May 14

Long Beach Museum of Art
2300 E. Ocean Blvd.
Tel. 562-439-2119

Jose Damasceno: Imminent Circuit
Through April 16
The Project
6086 Comey Avenue
Los Angeles
Tel. 323-939-3777

Katharina Grosse
Through April 9
Christopher Grimes Gallery
916 Colorado Avenue
Santa Monica
Tel 310-587-3373

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