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Going nowhere

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Julian Opie At the Ikon Gallery, Brindleyplace, Birmingham until 4 November

On the evidence of this Ikon Gallery exhibition, Julian Opie could well have contributed to Carchitecture (see facing page). Take the large, vinyl-on-aluminum work on the first floor, Imagine You Are Driving 2 (pictured), where a broad expanse of empty black tarmac curves away beneath an unmodulated and unnatural blue sky.

But this stylised distillation of the view through the windscreen is shorn of the exhilaration found in so many other versions of the 'open road', whether Shell posters of the 1930s, Jack Kerouac's novels, or Easy Rider. Like so much of this show, spread over three floors of the Ikon and annexing the lift shaft and small square outside, its conscious artifice keeps emotion at bay - thought too, though.

For while Opie employs a wide range of media, the individual pieces are repetitive and thin. The computer animation, Imagine You Are Moving, that plays on half-a-dozen monitors in the Ikon's foyer, presents a journey through a cartoon countryside of flat bands of colour and a child's cut-out trees.

Neither departure point nor destination figure, only endless transit - which, in so bland and unspecific a landscape, soon seems a mindless chore. Fair enough if this were one of several propositions about contemporary experience, but the entire first floor display does little to expand or qualify it.

Opie treats cities (clustered 'sculptures' of corporate towers) and people (clothes as a badge or sign beneath a blank oval 'face') in the same reductive way as landscape, and the results are just as simplistic - the world is so much more variegated than he allows. Continually giving it the look of a logo is just a one-liner, no more witty or profound than the Sainsbury Wing.

On the second floor, a series of C-type prints are more engaging. Their subjects are mostly landscapes - Alpine lakes and mountains, the Liverpool skyline, a Cornish beach - and in each case the part-abstracted and mechanically produced image is accompanied by a text from Opie, a fragment of autobiography.

'I was driving back from a day of skiing in the French Alps, ' begins the caption to a scene of lights in a night-time valley - scattered small ovals of colour in a black void.

We discover that the anonymous crossroads in another of the prints is where the artist almost crashed his car. Each 'neutral' scene is personalised, linked to Opie's life, while still leaving room for the viewer's own associations.

Perhaps his work is becoming less trite.

This show is rather numbing nonetheless.

Art should return you to the world outside the gallery with sharper eyes and mind, but it does so here largely by default.You want to seek the substance and subtlety that Opie so conscientiously denies.

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