Larry and Debby Kline artists and provocateurs – installation, performances, and other works

“Assembly Lines” in San Diego Union Tribune, Feb. 5, 2004
“Assembly Lines by Robert L. Pincus
San Diego Union Tribune, February 5, 2004

San Diego Union Tribune; Feb. 5, 2004 


Assemblage, the art of making sculpture from varied materials, is nearly a century old now.  1912 was its landmark year when Picasso fashioned a guitar from sheet metal and wire.  Duchamp wasn’t far behind, taking the notion in a different in-your-face direction. He acquired a bicycle wheel, turned it upside down and attached it to a stool in 1913, calling the simple construction an “altered ready-made.”   Picasso’s breakthrough was formal. It was sculpture in a new medium. Duchamp’s gesture was philosophical. He surely knew people would say “But is it art?”
All three artists in “Generation to Generation: Contemporary Assemblage” could trace their lineage back to Picasso and his humble guitar. The emphasis in this show is on the visual and the visceral, transformed materials rather than found ones. Printed tin is James Watt’s signature medium, decorated with sort of pictorial images one would find on cookie containers. Broken glass, real butterflies and scarabs, and old photographic images are favored media for Poupee Boccaccio.  Irma Sofia Poeter, who once trained in fashion design, turns stuffed clothing into surrogate human figures. 

This exhibition, installed with a sensitive eye for the strengths of each artist, is on view at the Oceanside Museum of Art.  Credit curators Debby and Larry Kline – collaborating artists as well as husband and wife – with seeing how three seemingly disparate figures could be brought together to create a cogent show. And credit the Klines and the museum with giving gifted artists – all local, meaning from San Diego and Tijuana – a generous presentation of their work.

There is an intensity of craft, of overarching vision and of visual effects that Watts, Boccaccio and Poeter share. Each has a keen interest in representing figures imbued with a spiritual as well as a physical dimension. Watts’ figures, with tin skins atop wood frames, have persistently possessed the quality of caricatures.  They have bulbous noses, bulging bellies and ungainly limbs.  He pits their comic appearance against their serious fate, setting up a finely tuned dissonance.

There’s “Prometheus” (1995), seated on a circular pedestal and with the companion eagle of Greek mythology. In the age-old tales, Zeus chained the deity to a rock for giving fire to humans; the eagle reportedly paid a daily visit to feed on Prometheus’ liver. Watt’s Prometheus revises his gender and the artist’s eagle is an amusing little bird dangling from a chain and pipe.  There are literally hundreds of little images and bits of text that make Prometheus’ surface, as with so many of his figures.  The face of Churchill appears out from his face and the words “It’s a Wonderful Life” surface elsewhere on his head.  The movie title has an ironic edge to it, given Prometheus’ troubled fate.  But its words seem to be more of a free-floating message, since the buoyant phrase recurs on other sculptures. Like Prometheus, Watt’s other works are replete with spiritual allusions. He’s done “Kokeshi Dolls” on a grand scale and decorated one with a found imprint of “A Psalm of David.”  His religious references aren’t messianic or didactic. Rather, they are part of a beatific vision of life. Even little images of Alfred E. Neuman captioned with his indelible slogan “What Me Worry?” take on a different slant in the context of Watts’ art.  They become a lighthearted mantra instead of a wisecrack.

Boccaccio depicts angels, human-scale ones.  They have none of Watts’ jaunty comic sensibility, but they do display an equal measure of visual drama.  Done in shattered glass and wood, they flank a doorway. One pair functions as sentries to a room that contains a jarring sight – a life-size bed housing a giant heart covered with a skin of glass.  The heart is in two pieces, lying on its side, and the jagged edge of each half is gilded.  There are butterflies in relief on the headboard.  This work, “Suenos Rebeldes (Rebellious Dreams),” is like a vivid metaphor of a broken heart made literal.  It’s also clear that Boccaccio means for us to connect this stunning sight with other works in the show, many of which contain pictures of a strikingly pretty little girl.  She is, as the exhibition catalog tells us, Boccaccio’s sister. Catherine Boccaccio, 15 years older than Poupee, always appears in this youthful state within the artist’s smaller-scale reliquaries and boxes.  Catherine appears frozen in time, doubly so encased behind glass.  Such work can be seen as a set of memorials to childhood, elegies for innocence lost.  The artist’s sister is in costume, dressed like a little angel, a winged archer or a ballerina.  These portraits are archetypal.  They also hint at rebirth, in their display of scarabs – an ancient icon of regeneration – as a recurring element.  And, the autobiographical dimension of these works gives them added poignancy.  Boccaccio’s sister is a clinical schizophrenic, unable to care for herself as an adult.  “I never knew her in a normal way,” the artist recalled in a 1999 interview.  These works are surely therapeutic for the artist but they are much more than that.  In Boccaccio’s exacting use of materials and in her eye for symbol and arresting image, she gives common symbols like angels and hearts a fresh life.  Hers is a picture of pain and its transcendence.

Poeter’s contribution to the show is a depiction of, as the title of her room-size installation announces,”Generaciones.”  She means to suggest the flow of human life through time and has devised a remarkably vivid image of this rather abstract concept.   White Shirts, blouses, pants – large and small – form a continuous stream across the length of the room. She has suspended them above the floor and fastened them to and through vertical screens of sheer cloth.  ‘Generaciones’ is both simple in its overall effect and full of complexity in its details.  The screens are like markers on a timeline, the horizontal flow of surrogate figures akin to the longer stretch of time.  It is a philosophical work that wears its ideas lightly and appeals mightily to the senses.

-  Robert L. Pincus


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