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Mercury News. San Jose, California, October 1992


Catherine Maclay

Patterns with purpose. Decorative works hold serious Messages

In one of her untitled photo assemblages, Zofia Kulik arranges repeated black-and-white images of a male figure in various poses to create the symmetry of an Oriental carpet. With the aid of parallel lines that divide the field of miniature men into recognizable patterns, the human element is quickly converted into a stylized motif, and the resemblance to an old Turkistan rug is startling.

Kulik, a Polish artist whose work developed as a protest against the rigid and dehumanizing aspects of communist rule, achieves similar effects in her mandala pieces, where kaleidoscopic patterns repeat and refract the human form. There are strong visual similarities to the work of the 19th-century California photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who anticipated motion pictures with his sequenced photographs of people and horses in motion, but Muybridge's innocent and eager explorations of the camera's possibilities are worlds away from Kulik's sharp political critique.

Kulik is one of 14 artists whose work is on display in "Dark Decor" at the San Jose Museum of Art. The exhibit presents pieces that combine the decorative emphasis of the Pattern & Decoration movement of the 1970s with the graffiti-influenced political art of the recent past.

A reaction to minimalism, the intimate and accessible art of the "P&D" movement soon faded out of the mainstream. But when the cruder and more vital art of graffiti moved from the street into the studio, it came to stay. "Dark Decor" includes stylistically diverse works in which decorative patterns are used to make political and social statements. […]

Catherine Maclay, a free-lance writer based in Berkeley, writes regularly on art for the Mercury News.

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