Barbara T. Smith’s two multipartite pieces from the late 1960s on view in Chinatown predate the performative work for which she is best known. But they are dynamically interactive, effectively turning the viewer into something of a performer. Very much of their time (embracing minimalism and kinetic art, for instance), The Black Paintings and Field are also innovative, anticipating in their embrace of the viewer the post-hippie sensibility of the 1970s. Even the fact that the two works look and function so differently prefigures ’70s stylistic pluralism. The Black Paintings seem blank and glossy, each interrupted by only a small, bright-colored geometric shape. But the sheen subverts the obdurate blankness with its reflectiveness. In fact, it’s the viewer being reflected, so the sequence becomes an ever-changing series of portraits determined by chance encounter. Your participation is solicited even more egregiously by Field, the far friendlier sculptural installation in midgallery. Indeed, Field’s tubes light up and make sounds in response to your presence. Where The Black Paintings are diffident, Field is ingratiating. But they both like you.
If you want austere, go instead to Kaucyila Brooke’s “Viewing Platforms,” a photo (and video) documentation of the curious structures called Hochsitze that Brooke found in northern Germany. These observation platforms are situated at what seems to be the border between farmland and forest, erected for hunters to stake out game. Brooke photographs the staircases and elevated boxes with resolute matter-of-factness, but the ramifications are manifold — especially when you find out that some of those crops are planted specifically in order to lure game into the cross hairs. Some of you will muse about ecological imbalance; others will think back to Foucault’s discussion of the repressive conformation of the prison space; still others will recall the guard towers that have dotted Germany, literally and figuratively, for so much of the past century. Barbara T. Smith at The Box, 977 Chung King Road, Chinatown; Wed.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.; thru Jan. 5; (213) 625-1747. Kaucyila Brooke at Michael Dawson Gallery, 535 N. Larchmont Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru Jan. 19; (323) 469-2186.
Kaucyila Brooke, Untitled (New Twin Cornfield) (2005)