Manuela Friedmann practices a kind of maximized minimalism that owes at least as much to “traditional” European geometric painting as it does to pared-down American cool. In simplifying Mondrian and complicating Marden, Friedmann’s canvases radiate Zen lushness, their intricately balanced areas of warm, restrained color fitting into each other eccentrically but snugly. The borders between the monochrome swaths jog back and forth, wandering all over an invisible gridwork, teasing but never defying its strictures like riffs on an eight-bar blues figure. Friedmann’s own blues — and greens and ochers — are as restrained, passionate and affecting as the music they suggest. In a separate room, Valerie Green lets loose her inner shopper in a jangly installation that throws our passion for consumption back in our faces. It’s a girls’ day out (and a nod to the Xmas season), with Green amassing plastic clothes hangers and crumpled shopping bags and shoes, all violently colored — and all photographically represented in freestanding cutouts whose erratic edges add to the brittle sense of manic indulgence.

Eileen Cowin’s two recent video ventures into the realm of the social are hardly less fraught, or less droll. Using stopped and slowed-down action, one installation upstairs at Fringe Exhibitions impressionistically records the process of her being taught self-defense moves; until you get this, you watch her avoid and return the assaulting gestures of an (African-American) man and read all sorts of things into the exchange. The installation downstairs is far more straightforward, a man-on-the-street series of gotchas in which Chinatowners and visitors to the district are asked if they go to the new art galleries that have sprung up in the nabe. The denizens are more articulate than the tourists, even — especially — when quizzed in Mandarin. Manuela Friedmann and Valerie Green at South La Brea Gallery, 205 S. La Brea Ave., Inglewood; Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru Dec. 9. (310) 486-0266. Eileen Cowin at Fringe Exhibitions, 504 Chung King Ct., Chinatown; Thurs.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (213) 613-0160.

—Peter Frank

LA Weekly