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Dazzling drops of water

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One wouldn't think an exhibition consisting entirely of paintings of drops of water would be worth writing about, but Tschang Yeul Kim's show of such paintings at the Staempfli Gallery here most definitely is.

For one thing, these works are totally convincing as illusion, and were as painstakingly and as realistically executed as any traditional trompe l'oeilm painting.

For another, they are impressively large and in most instances consist of hundreds -- even thousands -- of precisely delineated drops of water arranged on unprimed brownish canvas. (A few smaller paintings, consisting of one to a dozen or so drops of water are also included.)

And last, but certainly not least, these paintings are conceived and brought to life with such extraordinary sensitivity and formal tact that we know immediately they were not intended merely to fool our eye or to cause us to marvel at the technical virtuosity required to paint them.

In an intriguing sort of way, these paintings represent a bridge between the apparently irreconcilable contemporary pictorial modes of representational and nonrepresentational art. On one hand, these drops of water are as realistically painted as any object in a Vermeer painting. On the other, they don't exist in a "real" world but rather in a formal universe. This universe shares the obsessive overall patterning of that aspect of post-World II modernism which took its cud from Pollock, Johns, Poons, and Warhol. Repetition and serial imagery are utilized to raise basic issues of perceptual experience, and to stimulate questions about the nature of painting itself.

Not that these works go that far. They do not break new ground so much as acknowledged the contemporary artistic milieu and its most persistent issues and realities. While Kim is above all an artist, he knows he lives in 1981 and acts accordingly by bringing his personal vision of art in line with the larger artistic realities of this period.

It is his good fortune that he is artist enough to make it work without loss of either personal integrity or cultural significance. He remains totally himself while performing the high-wire juggling act of being "modern," something quite rare and well worth watching. Serge Hollerbach

Serge Hollerbach, showing at the David Findlay Galleries here, is another sort of artist entirely. Warm, compassionate, and apparently totally representational, we feel we know what he is about the minute we first set eyes on his work.

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