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    L.A. Confidential
by Michael Duncan
Joe Goode
Final Solutions, CE p77
at L.A. Louver
Joe Goode
Final Solutions, CE p74
at L.A. Louver
Larry Bell
at Kiyo Higashi
Billy Al Bengston
Hawaiian Eye
at Rosamund Felsen
Bruce Connor
at Kohn Turner
Bruce Connor
Sept. 13, 1959
at Kohn Turner
Raymond Pettibon
installation view
at Regen Projects
Kiki Smith
Genevieve and the Mary Wolf
at Shoshana Wayne
Despite steamy weather, the fall season here seems unusually chipper, offering supremely confident shows from both established figures and newcomers. Getting the jump on next month's huge survey show at the L.A. County Museum, "Made in California," the new gallery exhibitions demonstrate the solid staying power of longtime local heroes while also tapping the city's seemingly endless supply of fresh talent.

Most dazzling is a grandly scaled breakthrough exhibition at L.A. Louver of new paintings by Joe Goode. The culmination of his last two decades of art making, these fiery, smoggy and cloud strewn nature paintings are studies of nacreous light, veiled with subtle textures made by drying beaded splashes of water over the paintings' delicately toned oil surfaces.

An alchemist of atmospheres, Goode -- the most underrated painter of his generation -- balances conceptual rigor with supremely controlled technique to depict the experience of the natural elements: fire, water, earth, and air. Creating his own environmental mixes through the traditionally opposed media of oil and water, he engages viewers in mind-bending studies of the act of perception itself (until Oct. 14).

Perception is similarly turned inside out in a choice selection of variously treated glass cubes by fellow 1960s survivor Larry Bell at Kiyo Higashi. These trademark works from the past three decades use the elegant symmetry of geometric solids to play with perspectival space and mirrored illusion. With only a few small sections of coated glass, Bell can achieve perceptual illusions more sophisticated and esthetically gratifying than entire Dan Graham environments. Included also is a mod anomaly in Bell's oeuvre, an eight-inch mirrored cube from 1966 silk-screened all-over with a Pucci-like pattern of opaque baroque swirls that looks completely hip (until Oct. 28).

Bouncing back with timely vengeance is L.A. painter Billy Al Bengston at Rosamund Felsen with an exhibition of eye-boggling works from the '60s and the present. Whether the young'uns know it or not, Bengston is the Godfather of the new school of L.A. and Vegas painting. His content-free icons, acrid colors, clean-lined design and fresh surfaces blow the kid stuff out of the water.

The exhibition features works from Bengston's own stash from the past, including a candle-lit gallery of "Dentos" -- bashed-up aluminum sheets featuring chevrons bordered by burnished swirls or covered with splashes of lacquer ($30,000-$150,000). Most heartening -- literally -- are new smaller-scaled works featuring iconic hearts ($6,500-$15,000). These day-glo-edged works show that the artist is back on track, making complexly simple abstractions that pack a wallop (until Oct. 21).

From the same generation, but striking a funkier chord, is San Francisco's Bruce Conner, whose incredibly rich survey show organized by the Walker Art Center opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in early October. At Kohn Turner Gallery, he exhibits a choice group of early assemblages along with recent inkblot drawings. The assemblages (priced in the $25,000-$75,000 range) remain some of the most haunting and haunted works of the last century, conjuring a sexily gothic romanticism in their webs of nylon, tattered photographs and plastic gewgaws.

Works like September 13, 1959 and Altarpiece demonstrate Conner's sensuous notion of spirituality, mixing shots of cheesecake nudies with homages to saints. Drum is a fantastical conga embellished with some of Conner's earliest obsessive drawing. He continues to experiment in his latest "Inkblot Drawings," achieving more and more sophisticated mark-making and patterning. Several works feature blots with a looseness that seems gestural and downright painterly ($6,000-$12,000).

Similarly intense -- and definitely driven -- is L.A.'s Raymond Pettibon, who offers at Regen Projects his first local gallery exhibition since last year's stunning museum retrospective. A let-it-all-hang-out extravaganza, the show features a cavalcade of new and old drawings pinned salon-style over large splashy wall paintings. Pettibon's cacophonous personae all vie for attention, complementing or contrasting their busy backgrounds. (until Oct. 14).

L.A. may seem insular at the moment but it can make room for quality outsiders -- even if they are New Yorkers. Shoshana Wayne Gallery features a strong show of new work by Kiki Smith on the theme of Sainte Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris whose gentility is symbolized by her friendship with wolves. A stunning stained glass in one gallery depicts delicately delineated multiple portraits of the saint. In another gallery, large portraits on handmade paper depicting Genevieve's repeated trancelike stance demonstrate the refinement of Smith's draftsmanship ($6,500-$18,000). Full-size bronzes of the nude saint and a wolf companion have a disarming directness that belies their stolid material ($150,000). In this quiet, spiritually resonant, and more refined body of work, Smith seems to have achieved a new maturity and confidence.

MICHAEL DUNCAN writes on art from Los Angeles.