David Ligare’s autumn exhibition at Koplin Del Rio Gallery in California, his eighth solo show there, was titled “Ritual Offerings,” alluding to the cults of ancient Greece and Rome. Ligare (b. 1945) does not traffic, however, in the fancy-dress reenactments of propiation and celebration rites that were a specialty of historicists such as the Victorian painter Alma-Tadema. Ligare’s contemporary neoclassicism is ideological as well as stylistic. His Ideal Head (Reason) combines the moral inscription of the title with a smoothly stylized profile of a man. The point is quickly made, and the composition seems too straightforward to invite lingering scrutiny. But Ligare’s still lifes are remarkable. In a sense, they look stripped down and modern, yet they simultaneously seem to occupy some Platonic realm of forms. One thing that makes them intriguing is the way they straddle interior and exterior space.
The basic architecture of the compositions involves a rigorously frontal partial box, open to the viewer like a stage set. The right-hand side of the box has also been removed, with lines as clean as a geometrician’s, revealing a placid slice of sea and sky. Strong light comes from the right, casting crisp shadows on the left hand wall. In the simplest of these images, the stage features only one object, a metal brazier, used to hold coals or charcoal. Dancing flames rise from the hemispherical coppery bowl, which rests on a slender tripod. The three legs are arranged so that only two legs appear in the shadow image, suggesting a philosophical paradox or a sly comment about two-dimensional versus three-dimensional space. The best of these works, Still Life with Apples (2006), is more elaborate. The still life is a pyramid constructed out of fruit, a marble block and a diagonal stalk of wheat. The Garden of the Hesperides and the Eleusinian mysteries come to mind as possible reference points. Here, the allusions to a rich tradition of arcana are beautifully matched by the sheer sumptuousness of the rendered objects—the gleaming gold filigree of the wheat and the red and green mottling of the apples’ skin. On the left-hand wall, the lusciously alive pyramid has been reduced to a schematic stepped silhouette, perhaps a reference to Plato’s Cave but also a witty optical trick. The religious feeling that runs deep in the harvest rites through which humans interact with nature comes through, a touch of the goddess Pomona in the rarefied air of Platonic forms. Ligare’s work appears in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the M. H. De Young Museum, among others. Koplin Del Rio Gallery, 6031 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California 90232. Telephone (310) 836-9055. On the Web at www.koplindelrio.com