Too bad William Brice’s retrospective – now at the Grey Art Gallery – had to open at Los Angeles’s ”Temporary Contemporary” instead of its new Museum of Contemporary Art. The premises that have been acting as a stopgap are splendid but they lack the pearly light that fills Arata Izosaki’s new building and that Brice himself seems to paint by. The artist belongs to the same generation as Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis, but unlike them seems to have done no more than flirt with automatism. Maybe this has something to do with his having studied under one of the mode’s great foes, Rico Lebrun, whose influence is detectable in one or two drawings of the late 1950’s. More obvious, however, is the effect of Matisse – in the flat, vividly colored interiors and landscapes of the 1960’s. But it was Greece and its classical ruins, which Brice saw for the first time at the end of the decade, that became the decisive force – seemingly with a little help from de Chirico and Surrealists such as Max Ernst.

For the last decade, this New Yorker-turned-Californian has been a painter of architectural fragments, figures masquerading as architecture and stony biomorphic shapes, all of them suspended in space. Some are modeled, others are flat and still others are the sum of their contours. But all hang separate from one another, shapes that could act as large pictographs if they were compartmented. No matter how uncommunicative the canvases are or how refined their surfaces (Brice is a master of delicately smudged grays), most simmer with a romantic eroticism.