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Documentary Takes Art Off Its Pedestal

October 05, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

The video documentary on the birth of a new museum begins predictably: a booming, authoritative male voice narrates scenes of construction from ground breaking to completion, using glowing phrases like "world-class art museum" and "state-of-the-art facility."

But then the narrator reveals that this glittering new art showcase is the "County of Orange Museum of Art," or "COMA," an institution whose motto is proclaimed by its director:

"When you're in a COMA, art is never far away."

County of Orange Museum of Art? No, it's not a documentary at all, but a satirical piece giddily lampooning such straight-faced documentaries--not to mention the kind of burgeoning arts awareness in suburban communities that is exemplified nowhere better than in Orange County.

The 20-minute "COMA" documentary, by Los Angeles video artist Susan Schwartz Braig, is now on view at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions as part of LACE's "Annuale" video program, which runs through Oct. 11.

The video is in two parts. The first is an eight-minute chronicle of "COMA's" creation, in which the narrator reverentially describes such points of interest as the statue that greets all newcomers to the museum. Entitled "Monument to the White Collar Worker" and purported to portray the headless figures of a man and a woman in business attire, the "statue" is really just a glitzy sports trophy with the heads removed.

The second portion of the video is a mock docent tour, with Braig sending up blatantly commercial museum efforts to persuade the middle class into high-ticket fine art purchases.

"Why waste time and money in the gift shop when you could be dabbling in the exciting world of art investing?" asks Braig, who at one point is seen lounging at poolside applying suntan lotion.

After commenting on the museum lobby's "aviary-like" ambiance (while we see a close-up shot of a real bird cage), Braig leads visitors through the various rooms, beginning with the gallery featuring ancient urns and idols.

The exhibit, Braig says, "includes some of the oldest examples of art ever seen in Orange County. After years of study by our crack team of historians, they have no idea where they came from or what they symbolize. But your donations will help us continue this important research."

The tour moves on to the Pop Art gallery, a collection of soup cans and fast-food products that Braig describes as "a nightmare for anorexics"; the Blue Chip Gallery, which Braig says proudly "includes not one or two but three examples of Gainesborough's masterpiece 'The Blue Boy,' " and the "Neo-Expressionism Gallery and Decorating Center," where artworks and home furnishings are pre-coordinated for potential buyers. ("Our knowledgeable curators will show you just how beautiful the Julian Schnabel looks over the Early American (sofa).")

The video also skewers crass attempts at attendance-boosting with such attractions as a "carved animal petting zoo" and the "Sunken Treasures" exhibit where guests can swim through a tank and glimpse such statues as the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo's David.

But COMA's piece de resistance is its "Sistine Chapel Re-Creation" exhibit. "Because the original Sistine Chapel in the Vatican is something that so few people ever get to see, COMA has created its own," Braig explains. "And what would a Sistine Chapel be without those beautiful Michelangelo frescoes? Unfortunately, the real Michelangelo is dead. So COMA has hired the second greatest religious artist the world has known--Salvador Dali--to create his own." The camera then pans over several surrealistic Dali works apparently attached to the chapel ceiling.

The "COMA" video, which was shown during the L.A. Arts Festival, has been "really popular, both with people who have come from Orange County and with those who have never been to Orange County," said LACE's video coordinator Anne Bray. "It's as much a comment on the art world and museum hype as it is on Orange County."

LACE, 1804 E. Industrial St., Los Angeles, is open Tues through Sat. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

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