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'Jerry's Girls' places bright talents in a drab, ill-contructed package; Perfect art for the holidays

Are you the least bit tired of heavy-handed, crudely drawn, angst-filled canvases? Do you sometimes long for those pre-neo-Expressionist, pre-Minimalist days when art confined itself to classical notions such as beauty, pleasure, or love? If you find yourself sheepishly nodding in agreement, then Catherine Bertulli's new watercolors, on view at the Barbara Krakow Gallery, are for you.

Bertulli fits a special slot. Not the least bit Pollyannaish, her work nevertheless is informed with an eccentric joie de vivre - surely a refreshing quality on the current art scene. In actuality, Bertulli's still lifes of flowers, plates, chairs, and so forth are realized with definite artistic license. She rarely renders an object as it exists; instead, she flattens it to the page, plays with its shape, and transforms it into a two-dimensional celebration of color, pattern, and form. Yet distortion, with its implication of the grotesque, is the wrong word for Bertulli's buoyant visual jaunts.

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In such oversized compositions as ''Chow Table and Lillies'' Bertulli arranges her crazy-quilt interiors from a frontal perspective. Her object - in this case a patterned vase bursting with huge blue and gold star-shaped blossoms - widens at the top, and exaggeratedly narrows at the bottom. The effect is one of irrepressible energy, which evokes nature's thrust toward growth.

Bertulli's objects become more than what they are. Her mood is irreverent, witty, and joyous. Although she emulates Matisse in her frankly decorative affection for flat color and shape, she retains an original flair of whimsical exuberance. This is the perfect show for the holidays, for it expresses the genuine (and rare) delights of the season. Through Jan. 10.

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