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Attractive Currents at The ICA

Currents: Batey & Mack, Evaristo Bellotti, Nancy Burson, R.M.Fischer, April Gornik, David Kelley, Yudith Levin, Ed Paschke, Juan Usle, Bill Viola, Robert Wilson. Through March 24, at The Institute for Contemporary Art.

Art exhibitions usually take place in an ambience of solemn silence. Not this one: the ominous sounds of rolling thunder and splashing water welcome the visitor at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

In its Currents program, the ICA tries to display the range of expressive modes in modern art as a kaleidoscope, showing small samples from recent work by artists differing widely in medium, style and interests. The current exhibition is the third in this wonderful series.

One only has to briefly peruse the paintings on display to get a sense of the variety. The vast landscapes by April Gornik, suggesting hidden forces and impending threats, are reminiscent of Magritte. Ed Paschke's portraits in sharp, sweet colors crossed by discharge-like zigzag lines look like Andy Warhol updates. The Spanish painter Juan Usle rides the present wave of expressionism. David Kelley's abstract works cater for those who like to let their fantasy run free.

A similar need for association and interpretation characterizes the sculptures of Evaristo Bellotti and (less convincingly) Yudith Levin.

But let us not lose track of the noise: The thunder is produced in Bill Viola's Room for St. John of the Cross, a video installation expressing the artist's view on the inprisonment of that Spanish mystic. The water flows in a steel and plastic fountain by R.M.Fischer, whose sculpture uses the by now well-established vocabulary of the objet trouv'e.

In the section on architecture, documentation is provided on projects by the Californian firm of Batey & Mack. It represents the current so-called post-modern trend in architecture, in which the emphasis on the modern and the cult of technology are abandoned in favor of a language inspired by the past or the primitive. (For a canonical example of this style in Cambridge, take a look at the new wing of the Sonesta Hotel on Memorial Drive.)

Nancy Burson produces portraits by manipulation of digitalized photographs. The artistic importance of this technique remains to be proven, but it leads to some curious pictures. Those inclined to construct a composite of Jane Fonda, Jacqueline Bisset, Diane Keaton, Brooke Shields and Meryl Streep will find a clue to the possible outcome.

Robert Wilson's preparatory drawings for his opera The CIVIl warS are somewhat problematic. The first American performance of Act III, Scene E, Act IV, Scene A, and the Epilogue of this colossal work, starting February 22 at the American Repertory Theatre, is certainly an event to look forward to. As things stand now, however, it is hard to appraise the drawings otherwise than as abstract compositions.

The exhibition, then, has something to suit every taste: Its format stimulates further thought, and guarantees that sections which seem less pleasing are at least instructive. There is no need for despair for those ignorant of the connection between Duchamp and urinals: as part of the excellent presentation, free brochures are available to provide a commentary on the art on display. Of additional note is the continuous video program in the basement video theatre, in which -- among others -- Bill Viola and Robert Wilson figure again.

The ICA is located at 955 Boylston Street, Boston, right across the bridge from MIT. It is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 5 p.m., admission $1 with student ID; also, Friday, 5 8 p.m., admission free.

Michiel Bos->