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Julian Trigo paints a disquieting never-never land of creepily eroticized, big-eyed children in twilight sylvan settings. A 33-year-old Argentinian who lives in New York, Mr. Trigo produces a canny simulation of old-fashioned academicism and kitschy illustration with muted palette, broad dry brush and vaguely classicizing draftsmanship.

In some pictures, three or four children, some partly unclothed, are strangely intertwined, glued together, it seems, by polymorphous desire, against green, woodsy backgrounds. An atmosphere of melancholic dread suffuses this world. Several pictures are explicitly violent, like one of a boy trying to overpower a girl in a white blouse and no pants, an image that could have been lifted from one of Balthus's naughtier pictures. One painting depicts only a pair of abandoned rubber sandals, eliciting thoughts of abduction or worse.

Mr. Trigo's implied pedophilia seems more self-consciously contrived than genuine, a calculatedly transgressive fiction comparable to that of Nabokov's ''Lolita.'' Like the writer, it may be that Mr. Trigo uses such provocative subject matter to engage us more intimately in the formal dimensions of his art. It also invites us into an imaginary space where we may safely contemplate the darker vagaries of fantasy and desire. But his pictures may be less about children per se, than about the terminal childishness of our developmentally arrested society. KEN JOHNSON



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