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Art review: Gwynn Murrill at L.A. Louver

October 30, 2009 | 10:30 am

Wrasslers.300 Raw sexual energy is not what we’ve come to expect from Gwynn Murrill’s work. The L.A. sculptor has, for decades now, portrayed animals — tigers, cougars, cats, dogs, eagles, deer — with the dignity of ancient Egyptian statuary and the distilled elegance of early modernism. Her show of maquettes at L.A. Louver is filled with their concise essential gestures, primarily in bronze and ceramic.

But the nature of the human animal intrigues Murrill too, and in exploring it, she resists her characteristic impulse toward purity and idealized form. Nine small bronze tabletop “Wrasslers” are complex, vital knots of physical intimacy.

In each, two figures couple, some with balletic grace but most with a messier, more naked urgency. The messier, the more interesting. The most vigorous and compelling are lumpen, pinched forms, one with a mint-green splotchy patina like lichen on sea rock. Vigorous and untamed, the sculptures are viscerally rather than conventionally naturalistic.

Another odd and compelling surprise in this show of nearly 100 small pieces (some of which have been translated into full-size sculptures) is a shelf of four identical forms in different materials — white plastic, pinkish ceramic, bitter brown bronze and bronze with a milky, calcified patina. A strange little hybrid, the seated female nude with legs tucked classically, sensuously to one side has broad shoulders, undefined, paddle-thick hands, and a triangular, bear-like head with protruding snout.

In spite of its compact size (just under 4 inches tall), the figure — alone and especially multiplied — has a powerful presence. Works like these stand out refreshingly among Murrill’s oeuvre as undomesticated curiosities, private and primal.

– Leah Ollman

L.A.Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Nov. 7. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.lalouver.com

The Wrasslers 1, 2006. Photo credit is: Courtesy L.A. Louver.

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