Clay used to be a “craft” material, utilitarian and debased. No longer. “Material Affinities” shows how five radically different artists slip smoothly back and forth between ceramic and other media. In her extravagant use of a vast range of materials, from chrome to latex to neon, New York–based Lynda Benglis turns naturally to clay, fashioning objects with the same rough sensuality she brings to everything else she makes. Englishman Richard Deacon may be a far more circumspect form-maker, but he, too, has no trouble rendering his self-contained but oddly metamorphic shapes in glazed clay or terracotta as well as wood. Among the local talent, Ann Page integrates clay most completely into her art; her work here spans some 30 years, taking in everything from paper to pine board to Plexiglas. Michael Todd, best known for welded metal pieces, has expanded his material repertory, allowing his formal sensibility to gain resonance in wood, bronze and clay in particular, compiling a body of ceramic work that would make any clay specialist proud. Painter Roger Herman has been generating a series of kinked pots etched with gnarly renditions of the figure, as exhilaratingly coarse as the expansively stylized expressionism of his canvases.
A more compact affair, “Monochrome Painting” surveys an even wider span (15 artists, nearly 50 years), bringing proto-minimalist New Yorkers Ad Reinhardt and Robert Mangold together with recent Angeleno “radical” painters such as Lies Kraal, Scot Heywood and Roy Thurston. You’d expect a roomful of one-color paintings to radiate a seductive diffidence — okay, a diffident seductiveness — but there’s a gentleness, implied tactility and even droll wit that makes these not-nearly-so-blank objects quite appealing. The shaped canvases from the 1960s by Canadian Clark Murray are the show’s most engaging objects, but the whole display radiates a surprising geniality. “Material Affinities” at USC Fisher Gallery, 823 Exposition Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat. noon-5 p.m.; (213) 740-4561. “Monochrome Painting” at Cardwell Jimmerson, 8568 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; (310) 815-1100. Both thru Oct. 20.