LA Weekly

Art Pics of the Week
November 29th, 2002

Tom LaDuke, Alex Stenzel

Peter Frank

The more we see of Tom laDuke’s improbably poetic approach to the SouthernCalifornia landscape, the more we realize his art is actually about perception itself. Indeed, in its glossy hyperfection, laDuke’s work recapitulates the now-you-see-it now-you-don’t of an older generation’s Finish/Fetishism and Light & Spaceyness, onlyin renditions of real places. At least we thought LaDuke’s were real places – or real scenes, moments of distraction on or off the Santa Ana or Garden Grove freeways–but now they don’t seem real anymore, their banality cooked into object lessons in looking-and-not-seeing (or perhaps seeing-by-not-looking). For instance, LaDuke captures a night view of the little of Disneyland you can see from the 1-5: A tiny ribbon of monorail, a glowing mountaintop (the anti-Matterhorn?) and the back of Toon Town’s undulating sign – an incongruous conflation. Or, he paints a lone evergreen, which you discover on closer inspection to be slightly shivered because it’s actually a reflection in a glass-sheathed office building. (But what you don’t know is that the scrawny fir is actually a cell-phone relay tower.) LaDuke’s sculpture gooses the mind from the front, but the perceptual fillips – not to mention the virtuosic workmanship – are still omnipresent, as in the tree branch fabricated entirely from pencil lead, or the cluster of eentsy “balloons” strung nearly up to the ceiling, adhered to an apparently empty pedestal.

There’s perceptual shifting going on, too, in Alex Stenzel’s paintings and photographs and painting-photographs, but Stenzel’s approach involves little optrickery and a lot of more, er, traditional pictorial concerns: Gesture, composition, form and color contrast, collage, all those modernist factors that just won’t go away. Despite certain excesses, or perhaps because of them, Stenzel shows why, and how, such issues of planar abstraction still matter. Make it lively, make it unpredictable (Stenzel is willing to risk. although not abandon, pictorial coherence for pictorial surprise), make it move, and we stay engaged. Like LaDuke’s, Stenzel’s art has a social and ecological thrust, maybe even message – and, as his complex and ambitious proposal for a 9/11 Ground Zero memorial demonstrates, he is sensitive to the political moment
– but what comes first is the artwork and its relationship to the eye.
Tom LaDuke at Angles, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica; thru Dec. 7. (310)396-5019. Alex Stenzel at Don O’Melveny, 9009 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; thru Dec. 4. (310)273-7868.