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Wicked Humor In 'Toying Around' Exhibit

January 03, 1986|KRISTINE McKENNA

"Toying Around," a holiday exhibition at Barnsdall Park's Junior Arts Center (to Jan. 31), leads one to presume that this is an event for children, but such is not the case.

Showcasing work by nine assemblagists, the exhibition includes numerous pieces that require a fairly sophisticated frame of reference to be understood. Dave Quick's and Glenn Close's "Pullus Galactus," for instance, is a tongue-in-cheek plan to send a rubber chicken into space. It's a very funny piece, but unless you've read the extensive documentation posted well above the eye level of a 5-year-old, it's hard to get the joke.

Jim Jenkins' "Tapping and Stirring Cups," consisting of two motorized cups and spoons, is another case in point. A cheap metal spoon stirs loudly and incessantly in one cup, while the second is continuously tapped by a spoon that sits beside it. One must be of voting age to understand what an exquisitely subtle form of torture this is.

Other pieces are just plain scary. Push the button that triggers Bill Lundby's "School Bus" into action and a small toy school bus plummets to hell, accompanied by the sound of children screaming in terror. John Hanor's wooden "Man in a Boat" looks more like a Day of the Dead corpse in a coffin, and standing guard at the entrance to the exhibition is "Con Fron," two massive, clanking wooden robots by Jim Jenkins--one of these mechanized giants is screwing the head either on or off his buddy. Bill Lundby and Joyce Hesselgrave's "Cat Toy" is a combination shrine assemblage complete with votive candles. At the center of the shrine is the image of a white mouse dangling by the scruff of the neck, poor li'l thing.

None of this wicked humor seems to faze the children in attendance, most of whom race from one piece to the next in gleeful high spirits. No doubt they've all seen "Miami Vice" and have become a bit blase about violence. The real crowd pleaser of the show is neither violent nor sappy; it's simply gross. Bill Lundby's "Sailing Buicks" features a toilet with a porthole in the tank, which is filled with pretty blue water. Push a button and the sound of some sick soul wretching his guts out booms from a connecting speaker.

Not all the work in the show trades on aggression or toilet humor. Jim Jenkins' "Tower of Bubel," a mechanical whirligig that spews soap bubbles, is a simple and charming piece, and Gordon Wagner's "Phantom Ship" seems magical and mysterious; peer through a peephole and see a tiny ship disappear before your very eyes.

Also included are assemblages by Janice Lowry, three elegant and strange toys by Cindy Evans, a tiny environment that you crawl into by Penelope Fenger Cornwall, and three works by Philip Garner, one of Los Angeles' most imaginative and prolific artists. He specializes in visual puns and nonsensical contraptions--included here are a pair of toy cars fashioned from clothing irons and an amazingly cherried-out, nonfunctional dragster made of wood. It's a beautiful piece of sculpture but, like most of the work on view here, certainly not a toy. A toy requires some input on the part of the user--this dazzling exhibition does all the work for you.

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