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Sale-rental Plan Weighed : Plaza's Gallery May Stay Open

November 14, 1986|CHALON SMITH

The Laguna Art Museum's satellite gallery at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, tentatively scheduled to close in January because of high operating costs, may remain open next year if money can be generated from the sale or rental of paintings, prints and sculptures.

According to museum director William Otton, if the gallery does continue into 1987, it may also become a showcase for one of contemporary art's more experimental expressions: video art.

Both proposals will be evaluated by the museum's board of directors during a Nov. 24 meeting to discuss the gallery's fate, Otton said. The board is considering closing the gallery after its current exhibit, "Sculpture Forum: Illusion as Content," ends Jan. 4.

"From what I can tell, there's about a 60% chance (that the plan will be approved and) the site will remain open," Otton said. "We have to look at the proposal to see if it is complementary to the intent of the main museum. . . . I certainly hope it stays. We think it is a success and a valuable part of the museum."

The Laguna Art Museum's main facility, on a Laguna Beach bluff off Coast Highway, was reopened in September after a $1.6-million face lift, which included an exterior coat of brilliant pink paint. The 56-year-old museum is known for focusing on both traditional and more avant-garde California artists.

The storefront gallery, since its opening in October, l984, has housed several exhibits, ranging from a retrospective of early 20th-Century California impressionists to fashion designs by Zondra Rhodes. The site has been popular with strolling shoppers, said Otton, who noted that 65,000 visitors drop in each year.

But the upkeep has been troubling. Despite an indefinite rent-free arrangement (saving the museum $90,000 a year) with the mall's operator, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, the site has drained museum resources.

"It has been expensive, not cheap, and the bottom line now becomes the dollar," Otton said.

He hopes salvation can be found in the sale-rental plan. To cover at least part of the $100,000 needed for annual site expenses--staff, curating and utilities--various pieces by California artists would be offered, he said.

"They would be of a high quality, (but) they also wouldn't be too expensive or inaccessible (in theme or style). They would be more in line with the audience at the mall," Otton explained.

A rental formula still has to be worked out, but art might be leased for up to three months. The museum would probably receive a 10% to 15% commission on all sales and rentals, with the rest going to the artist, Otton said.

He said the gallery may also continue to mount other exhibits featuring pieces from the museum's permanent collection.

Above all, Otton views the showcasing of video art as an exciting step that would keep the gallery innovative and offer an art form not found at the main museum in Laguna Beach.

"It's really a nice way for us to move into that field, which we've been interested in for some time," Otton said. "We're very attracted to the experimental quality of it."

Museum officials, he added, are looking at other galleries and museums (including the Long Beach Museum of Art) that specialize in video art and artists to get ideas. Tentative plans have Southern California practitioners screening their mini-films at the gallery on a regular basis, Otton noted.

Maura Eggan, director of marketing for South Coast Plaza, says the mall operators are "receptive to the new ideas" being brought to their attention.

"It's entirely the museum's operation and they're a wonderful enhancement to the mall," she said. "We don't attract any money from that shop, but we've been delighted to have them at the plaza. It's something that differentiates us from the competition."

Otton hopes that some way can be found to keep the site operational, even if the proposals are rejected. The gallery, he said, initially regarded as an experiment, has been successful in introducing the mall crowd to art and has served as a "public relations tool" for the Laguna Art Museum.

"This is a perfect example of bringing the art closer to the public instead of expecting the public to go into a designated setting to see it," he said. "The mall is such a public place, which means a lot of people have access to the gallery."

Mike McGee, the museum's program coordinator and curator for the gallery's current exhibit, speculated that as many as 50% of site visitors probably do not frequent more traditional museums.

The "Sculpture Forum: Illusion as Content" show has been particularly successful in drawing in curious passers-by, McGee said, because the pieces--by David DeMichelle, Jake Gilson, Norman Grokowski, Richard Godfrey and Craig Cree Stone--are conceptually very tricky and prompt observers to question assumptions about gravity and mass.

The artists, he said, have tried to create a sense of mystery by suspending sculptures "so they seem to float and defy gravity," and by using materials that "present illusions of weight or volume."

"It's intriguing and attractive. I see kids and their parents walking by. Something catches their eye, and they have to come in," McGee said. "Sometimes they just look at the art from outside. The important thing is that they're seeing the art, which, of course, makes it worthwhile."

Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

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