Sometimes you don't know where you've been until you see it receding in a rearview mirror. When the 21st century began, the usual postmodern tropes of the previous century still applied. A decade later, "postmodern" is a word that is seldom heard in reference to art or architecture. There even seems to be an unheralded revival of classical modernism, with new building designs that look positively 1965 (like the new University Medical Center), and in visual art there has been a quiet reprise of abstraction that evokes 1950s action painting, even as the best examples look relatively fresh today. Iva Gueorguieva's new paintings are darkly passionate in ways that recall the existentialist intensity of America's mid-20th century painters, poets and musicians — at first glance you can almost hear Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or even Allen Ginsberg reciting riffs from Howl: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked ..." in a miasma of espresso, pot and cigarette smoke.
But that was then, so who is this woman? Bulgarian-born and Philadelphia-educated, Gueorguieva lived in New Orleans for three years and, seemingly on a whim, moved to Los Angeles a month before Katrina struck. The works in this show are based on her New Orleans memories, and the best of them display similarly perfect timing expressed as prismatic cul-de-sacs and gestural slashes. Clinamen (pictured) is a masterpiece of swirling vortexes and painterly mini-tornadoes with controlled explosions like fireworks in a labyrinth. The name refers to the tendency of atoms to swerve, as predicted by the classical Greek philosopher Epicurus in an eerie anticipation of Einstein and Heisenberg. Auto Extraction is a lyrical example of visionary abstraction that harks to the portentous point in the 1940s when the surrealism of Arshile Gorky and Roberto Matta morphed seemingly full-blown into abstract expressionism. Matta called it "morphologies," landscapes of the inner world, things felt more than seen. The look may be related, but Gueorguieva makes it lyrically her own. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Through Oct. 29
Prefiguration: New paintings by Iva Gueorguieva
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300; www.heriard-cimino.com