Uncategorical Imperatives at Kala Gallery

Four artists, no manifestos.

The current anything-goes art world demands that good-faith viewers constantly change gears, re-evaluating art’s forms and meanings. Sometimes this aesthetically flat world (to borrow Thomas Friedman’s term from economics) resembles the windblown plain cited in Robert Bolt‘s A Man for All Seasons, its hedges (i.e., laws) all leveled, and we poor unshriven souls crawling about beneath the gusts. But the total freedom can also lead to interesting combinations of ideas and media, as is the case with Blurring the Line, a show featuring four eclectic local artists — David Fought, Wendy Hough, Sandra Ono, and Robert Ortbal — who employ, writes curator Lauren Davies, “repetitive actions and the complex massing of odd materials” to explore, in contrarian fashion, “the linear qualities of sculptures and the sculptural possibilities of drawing.”

Fought explores perception, time, and the brain’s form-creating proclivities with spare sculptures deriving from geometric abstraction and Minimalism. “5 Wire Objects” and “5 Crosswire Fills” are, respectively, wall-mounted and pedestal-mounted polygonal constructions of coat-hanger wire, paper, plaster, paint, oil-pencil, and lighting that initially resemble half-assembled kites, tents, or butterfly chairs. Move around them, however, and they change shape. Shadows turn out to be drawn lines, and vice versa. Convex flips into concave, presence into absence. The spatial/optical play recalls Cubism and later works by Josef Albers, Al Held, and Richard Tuttle. Hough’s “Wall Drawing 5” also plays with time: Her abstracted landscape, composed of long, sinuous chalk lines on a black background, each varying slightly from its predecessor above, suggests a merger of digital scanning with the billowing draperies of Baroque portraiture. It also proclaims its process, and, like all installation works, its limited temporality. Ono and Ortbal infuse commercially available materials with Surrealist and Symbolist overtones. Ono’s pieces, all untitled, contrast overt bodily and organic references (buttocks, breasts, testicles; fish, snake; garbanzo, embryo, brain, coral, poop) with their hardware-store materiality (glued cotton swabs, aluminum foil, wax earplugs). Ortbal’s sculptures are more delicately poetic, although equally eccentric and surprising. In “to begin,” a stylized cityscape of red and black blocks rests atop a landscape of white polyps or tentacles; these protuberances are covered with small scooped-out cavities, some of which cradle green, pollen-like spheroids. In “Architecture of a Scent: just outside of Tonopah,” sponge-like forms (remember Jean Dubuffet‘s clinker sculptures?) transfixed by rods or swabs cluster together like weird Sputniks — or like the wooden metaphoric bones and ligaments in Jasper Johns‘ 1972 “Untitled.” Blurring the Line runs through November 27 (hurry!) at Kala Gallery (2990 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). 510-841-7000 or Kala.org

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