1980 NY Times/Robert Miller Gallery

William Brice (Robert Miller, 724 Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th Streets): Here is still another painter returning to the fold—after an absence of 12 years. Until recently a teacher of art at the University of California, Los Angeles, William Brice, the son of Fanny Brice, shows 24 works—very large and very small paintings and several charcoal drawings. He has developed a repertory of symbols that recall de’ Chirico, except that they are painted in a style closer to that of Joaquin Torres-Garcia’s crumbling tablets. Mr. Brice, though, mixes punning humor with his mystery. In one gray-on-gray canvas, a huge Venus doubles as a temple monument. The haunches, despite being disconnected from the figure, seem to support it like two megaliths, and an ideogram symbolizing the genitals floats between them. Other, indecipherable signs flank the main mass and, though by no means trompe l’oeil, everything looks to be made of stone. In another canvas, the same Venus, now yellow ochre, has breasts that are also moons swimming in a patch of sky. Generally, the colors of this private archeology are muted grays and browns, relieved by blue, green an occasional red, and the brushwork is soft and insinuating. The smaller oils are brighter and denser and often more Surrealist, notably a torso that has been squashed into a pagan godlet worthy of Max Ernst, Mr. Brice, a fine draftsman, paints as if he were designing neo-Romantic sets for a kinky opera. (Through March 27).