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Art forms in the east village

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Reasonable words and a worthwhile objective? Perhaps, but not in the eyes of most formalists, traditional modernists, and those who believe we have just entered a Golden Age. For them, these words represent a frontal assault on much of what they hold dear, most particularly the dogma of formal purity, and the belief that the 20th century is the beginning of an age of enlightenment.

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The question, of course, is how all this translates into the exhibition itself, and to what extent the works on view fulfill or illuminate Ms. Kline's written objectives and cultural interpretations.

My first impression was of great diversity. Since the shared perceptions and beliefs that animate this show discourage stylistic conformity, there are almost as many styles represented in it as there are painters, sculptors, and photographers. In addition, the level of creative commitment on the part of its artists is remarkably high. Although some of the works on view are of less substance than others, and a very small number must be described as trivial, I found none of the intentional frivolity and self-serving attitudinizing that have marred several other recent group exhibitions of younger and emerging artists.

I was particularly impressed by the seriousness of what I saw, even when the subjects were delightfully eccentric or extravagantly lighthearted, and the styles in which they were fashioned seemed more in keeping with the manufacture of toys than with the creation of works of art. Expressionism, iconoclasm, satire, narrative painting, decoration, modified surrealism, visual puns, were all there -- as well as many other modes of expression. But in almost every case, the styles chosen by the artists were put to good personal and expressive use, and the work that resulted did, at least in a general sense, reflect the show's overall intentions.

``Precious,'' curated by the Grey Art Gallery's new director, Thomas Sokolowski, consists of 100 works that comment on the meaning of the word ``precious'' as used in the mid-1980s. Although its theme is more specific than that of ``Illuminations,'' it also addresses itself to the search for meaning that underlies the other show. In fact, both overlap to a degree, with some of the artists included in one also appearing in the other.

Not only does ``Precious'' consist of intriguing and highly unusual pieces in styles and techniques that would have driven the art establishment into a rage only a decade ago, it is also assembled as shrewdly and sensitively as any of the individual works on view. I found it thoroughly enchanting -- if occasionally somewhat startling -- and recommend it as an excellent introduction to some of today's newer and more delightfully idiosyncratic trends in art.

``Precious'' will remain open to the public at the Grey Art Gallery, 33 Washington Place, through May 4.

``Illuminations'' can be seen at Dramatis Personae Gallery, 25 East Fourth Street, though April 19 and at E. M. Donahue Ltd., 28 East 10th Street, sixth floor, through April 14. Sixth Sense Gallery's portion of the show, unfortunately, closed yesterday.