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Art Review : Moon Takes Stage With 2 San Diego Art Displays

July 30, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

SAN DIEGO — Few artists have solo exhibits. Even fewer have two solo exhibits at the same time in the same city. But La Jolla-based artist Jill Moon is now enjoying that distinction.

True, one of the exhibition venues is not a gallery. It's the stage of the Warren Theatre at UC San Diego, where the La Jolla Playhouse is presenting "The Three Cuckolds" through Aug. 9.

It was Moon's responsibility to provide a set as background and support for the activities of three married couples (inhabiting neighboring houses) and two single men in Leon Katz's contemporary adaptation of a commedia dell'arte scenario about infidelity.

The physicality of the bawdy humor integrates the set in the action and places heavy stress on it. Moon's solution was sophisticated simplicity. She represented the houses with sturdy but attractive facades and stairs. Minimal detailing, bright colors and stylized cypress tree cut-outs bridge the traditional architecture and landscape of Southern Italy and the post-modern style of La Jolla. A false marble floor, also alluding to Italian tradition, sets the limit for the stage in the minimal theater, while its border of brightly colored rectangles pulls the background colors across the acting space.

It's a successful background for the action and visually memorable in its own right, especially for its triad of chartreuse, lavender and brick-red facades. It is a presence that complements the text and the actors.

Moon, who is a painter, came to stage design through the influence and example of Robert Israel, a UCSD drama professor who teaches stage design. Israel taught Moon that her artistic integrity need not be compromised in the theater because she would be responding to someone else's requirements rather than solely to her own inspiration. Collaboration with La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff, she feels, has extended, not limited, her work as a visual artist.

Moon also believes that it is appropriate for visual arts critics to devote attention to stage sets.

"It's frustrating for artists to receive little or no recognition for stage designs," she said. "Theater critics in America focus on the actors. But playwrights like Brecht worked with strong artists and composers and respected their expertise. It's frustrating to spend months working on an environment for the stage and then have it barely mentioned in one or two lines."

Moon's concurrent exhibition is at Installation, 447 5th Ave. Titled "The Morality Party" or "How Many Yellow Women Can One Hat Wear?" it is a work that developed out of her intellectual interests, her personal concerns, her aesthetic predilections and her interaction with her young daughter.

It is a successful installation because it involves visitors totally--visually, physically, emotionally and intellectually. Its bold forms and bright colors in a light-flooded white space create an environment like a child's playroom. The inspiration for the work and the meanings that viewers get out of their experience in it, however, are no more childlike than the game of chess.

Indeed, the floor is set out in a black-and-white chessboard pattern. Four erect, full-size yellow female forms replicate one another except for their distinctive coiffures. With extended arms, the yellow women hold blue hats that resemble bishops' miters. The sets of four red wheels on which they stand allow visitors to move them.

There is no special significance to the colors. Moon in her use of primaries simply reflects her interest in the aesthetics of de Stijl .

Engagement with the yellow women is pleasurable but spooky. There is satisfaction in participating in the creative act with the artist by moving the figures, but the relationships either deliberately or inadvertently established among them may inspire disturbing as well as playful thoughts, an effect enhanced by their scale.

The game continues in Installation's back room, which is occupied by a large, blue papier-mache mountain with a tiny pink chair on its summit. Nine other chairs wait on a shelf on the wall for their turn as "king of the mountain."

Beyond its visual and kinetic pleasures, Moon's installation is about choices presented to us, decisions we make and issues of power. What initially appears as child's play occasions some heavy thoughts.

Moon's show at Installation continues through Aug. 30.

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