By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
But this show doesn't claim to be comprehensive, just a tasty sampler; and with gleaming, elegant entries from Kauffman and Valentine, as well as Ron Davis, Tony DeLap, Larry Bell, Peter Alexander and a host of others, it functions as a toothsome primer to the era. Ironically, one of the most compelling aspects of the show is the work's failure to live up to its implied imperishability. Close inspection of many pieces reveals peeling laminates, feathery networks of surface abrasions, discoloration, even large dings -- all of which condense into a slight, unintended patina of pathos and vanitas that actually makes the work seem less glib.
THE FINAL INSTALLMENT IN "ON-RAMPS" SUFFERS the most from the absence of explanatory text panels. Curated by the widely esteemed ex-gallerist Thomas Solomon, "Bay Area Conceptualism of the 1970s" is bound to wrinkle brows and rankle sensibilities. Which is business as usual for conceptual art, but it would be sad if the public were to come away with the impression that this is conceptualism's raison d'être.
Some of the work provides its own context -- Lynn Hershman's persona-blurring body of work as/about her fictional alter-ego, Roberta Breitmore, is fairly self-explanatory, and if you're willing to sit through a half-hour of other videos, David Ireland's objects are correctly located as fragments of an ever-evolving house-filling installation work. Other works, like Paul Kos' succinct video and film works, are droll enough to carry themselves. Others, like Tom Marioni's From China to Czechoslovakia, consisting of a few dozen different imported beer bottles arranged in a straight line along a shelf, were clearly plagiarized from a house painter named Dave I used to drink with. Terry Fox's delicate deconstructions of the Chartres Labyrinth are surprisingly lovely, but don't even hint at the breadth and confrontational power of this artist's oeuvre. Still, if viewers can overcome the initial sense of hermeticism, they will surely come away wanting to learn more about this period, if only to find out what the hell the concept behind a two-ton pile of white sand might be.
While one could argue that the sketchiness of the four small exhibitions that make up "On-Ramps" is a serious flaw, I applaud the brevity and concision of these shows. Each amounts to a thoughtfully assembled précis of a much larger exhibit that might never make it through the labyrinths of museum-establishment hierarchies. It would be exciting to see a permanent program of this type of modest, idiosyncratic historical essay supplant the vanilla committee-curated bloat-fests and flavor-of-the-month project rooms that clog the arteries of so many of our larger cultural institutions. While the PMCA's directors have no immediate plans to extend this model, they should consider it, because it's unlikely to happen anyplace else.
ON-RAMPS: Transitional Moments in California Art| At the PASADENA MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA ART, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena, (626) 568-3665 | Closed Mondays and Tuesdays Through September 1