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October 30, 1986|CHRIS MOORE

Looking at a photograph of a sculpture shaped like a slice of white watermelon, lawyer Jim O'Brien said, "I have that piece in my office." Someone said, "You have that in your office ?" O'Brien laughed, accustomed to reactions of that sort, and simply said, "I love contemporary art."

O'Brien and his wife, Mavis, were attending a UC Irvine benefit that raised $8,000 for the university's Fine Arts Gallery. The gallery focuses on contemporary art, such as O'Brien's sculpture (which was once displayed in the gallery), and usually features living artists.

Last Saturday's fund-raiser, "An Evening With the Spirits," was attended by some 80 people and featured fabulous food (Somerset Caterers) as well as magic performed with flash and aplomb by some of the best magicians around: Earl Nelson, John Carney and Ron Wilson.

The hors d'oeuvres and dinner were nothing short of culinary triumphs. Canapes included miniature blini--Russian buckwheat pancakes with sour cream, black lumpfish caviar and smoked salmon; mussels dipped in a light batter and deep-fried, and savory shrimp encrusted in coconut. Main dinner courses were salmon (cooked with dill) presented in a phyllopastry and lamb with a currant sauce. It was, at the very least, a gourmet's nirvana.

Meanwhile, professors, deans, wives and guests queued up for palm reading and handwriting analysis.

Maybe the paranormal holds glimmers of fascination for us all, but some are certainly more captivated than others. One enthusiast dazzled the handwriting expert by analyzing her handwriting. Impressed, the expert said, "he told me more about myself than I ever knew."

Is there a magical subsurface quality lurking about within all of us waiting to be uncovered by the sensitive observer? Investigations into fellow guests' psyches took the forms of diagnosing auras. Auras? "You have a violet aura, but you have a green aura," a local authority announced.

Another guest wondered, "A violet aura? I guess I'd rather have a violet aura than a green one, which has overtones of jealousy. And a red aura sounds sort of pushy and overdone. On the other hand, yellow sounds a little sneaky, but it could be bright or sunny."

With guests saturated with food, fun, magic and auras, the evening drew to a close--but one and all looked forward to next year's festivities at UCI.

Melinda Wortz, director of the Fine Arts Gallery; Phyllis Lutjeans, assistant director, and Tony DeLap, professor of studio art and amateur magician, were organizers of the fund-raising event. Also making things come together perfectly, were Linda Young, Cathy DeLap, Joan and George Friou, Irmeli Desenberg, Barbara White and Cathy Jones.

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