The New York Times

December 14, 1997, Sunday
Group Show

Wainscott Gallery, 354 Montauk Highway, Wainscott. To Dec. 31. 537-7750.

It is the time of year when a gallery is likely to mount a show that reviews its interests and perhaps jumps ahead with additional artists and meaty new work. At the Wainscott Gallery, a 20-artist presentation includes large scale pieces, offers several works that are particularly engaging and gives the appearance of considerable breadth.

Two vibrant wall pieces and an oddly sensory installation of totemic-like columns wrapped in schematically painted canvas provide a rewarding view of Alan Shields's original blending of exuberance with well-defined minimalist shapes and non-traditional materials used for expressive purposes. Everything combines in surface schemes that seem to be searching for a visual pace. There are loose threads, jarring colors and patterns, and an emphasis on the kind of detail within detail that allows control to be an additional component.

Mounds of dried leaves, flowers and grasses have a role in the show's other massive floor piece, Christa Maiwald's ''Hide and Seek,'' which evokes the dark side of childhood games. The action of materials is important, too, in several high-impact pieces. Zigi Ben-Haim uses varied soft, irregular brush markings and textures on tough, reflective aluminum to create energetic wall pieces that take part of their punch from the way they handle emblematic forms. More intimate in scale, Mike Solomon's ''Corn,'' in beeswax and ink, also works effectively with the way we perceive familiar shapes.

Royce Howes and Gerard Verdijk stand out for the way their loose, sketchy definitions makes their scant imagery seem to belong to some suspended time-space zone. There is also some smart, resonant abstraction by Christine Olsavsky and Nancy Steinson and a notable monotype by John Chamberlain that turns boxer shorts into a shape with a totally new character and texture.

Jane Johnson's synthesized abstractions of tree studies made in Italy warrant attention in the gallery's second exhibition space. But the star in this section is easily Ellen Frank, who is showing gemlike examples in gold leaf, copper and egg tempera from her ''Persian Studies'' series along with the massive ''Language of Women,'' a particularly memorable piece. This major comment on archaic styles and on the continuity of potent expression features a 7-foot-high gold form that blends the lushness of blurred, metallic colors with the commanding presence of a devotional object.

Published: 12 - 14 - 1997 , Late Edition - Final , Section 14LI , Column 1 , Page 26