Mark Kostabi, Whittier’s second-favorite son, has been splitting his time lately between New York and Rome. The immersion in European classicism has done him good, giving an existential depth and even tenderness to his once-snarky critiques of contemporary life. Borrowing a beat from de Chirico — not to mention Renaissance painters — Kostabi now sets many of his modern allegories in deep, luminous spaces, endowing them with dramatic resonance. Other paintings retain his original diagrammatic, cartoony approach. Cleverness is still the rule, but poignancy and even profundity are no longer the exceptions.
For her part, Barbara Strasen manufactures visual space by employing the lenticular screen, which allows her to flip back and forth between disparate pictures in a single artwork. The images, vivid in their adlike Pop precision, often overlap formally or subjectively. It’s an obvious gimmick, but through deftness and sheer gumption (notably in an ambitious mural-size piece) Strasen makes it seem necessary.
Hung Liu reverses Kostabi’s and Strasen’s emotive strategy, beginning with loaded imagery and restating in a painterly, even sensuous manner. This ironizes the images, giving extra bite to their reflections on the artist’s Chinese heritage and to her indictment of anti-Asian racism. Otherhood is a cross to bear, Liu testifies, and she wants to keep us aware of its affronts. Mark Kostabi and Barbara Strasen at George Billis, 2716 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 838-3685. Hung Liu at Walter Maciel, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-1840. Both shows Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; through Oct. 14.