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SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Fancy That : Flying fish, architectonics and thrift-store treasures mean art is where you find it.

February 07, 1991|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You'd have to be driving with blinders on not to notice the huge, newly opened North County Executive Center across the freeway from Wagon Wheel junction in Oxnard. Its dramatic architectural design freely mixes hard-angled geometry with curved, tinted glass, and cuts a bold figure on the landscape.

From the freeway, you may also notice tiny glints of light at the building's base. On close inspection, these come courtesy of Sally Weber's "Fish in Flight," a permanent sculpture in the structure's reflecting pool. Weber's work is the first of 23 public sculptures to be placed through Oxnard's art-in-public-places program.

With her piece, Weber has managed that delicate balance necessary where public sculpture is concerned. Thoughtful, interactive and blessed with a loony charm, "Fish in Flight" is as engaging as the viewer wants it to be.

In conceiving the piece, Weber, who moved here from Boston two years ago, was impressed with the schools of fish that navigate sudden synchronized movements, as if choreographed.

"Fish in Flight" consists of 50 metal fish figures suspended on poles of varying height. Light and motion play key roles in the function of the fish. A gust of wind sends the creatures pivoting, and their moving shadows on the pool floor evoke ghost fish schools in motion. The scale-like surfaces of the fish, made of holographic material, reflect light, shimmer, and cast iridescent pools of color in the water.

On a clear, windy day at noon, "Fish in Flight" can become a mysterious focus of meditation. It's a little oasis of whimsy amid the freeway hum. In other words, it's a piece that both adorns and abdicates from the hosting structure--a keen accomplishment for public sculpture.

If we didn't know better, it would be easy to assume that "Architectonics: Two Interpretations" at the Momentum Gallery was a one-person show, so strong are the correlations between the two artists. David Feiner and Eleanore Rembaum, both hailing from the San Fernando Valley and having spent academic time at Cal State Northridge, share an abiding interest in the ways and means of architecture.

They share a love of triangular shapes that jut and fold over each other--as in Cubism--and create graceful tensions. But there are also critical differences. Whereas Rembaum's print works refer visually to blueprints, building plans and to the overlapping geometrical forms of urban planning, Feiner's sculptures recycle actual construction materials from buildings slated for demolition.

Rembaum's art exists in the realm of the abstract. Feiner's is literally concrete--and metal, wood and glass.

One Feiner piece is extremely site-specific--a scaffolding-like form that wraps around a gallery rafter. Two other works evoke the human figure, one in the metaphorical form of a body and a window-related piece that suggests the human eye. The most imposing of his works fans out in the center of the gallery like a found-object shrine.

With his adept use of doomed discards, Feiner makes a certain environmental statement at a time when ecology is far more than a buzzword. He's doing his part to recycle, reduce, reuse and refine.

Up the Coast:

The Contemporary Arts Forum in Santa Barbara is presently crammed to the rafters with paintings that come without resumes, hype or pretensions. "Thrift Store Paintings" is a strange and highly affecting show, full of accidental pleasures and fundamental questions about the nature of curatorship, and the relationship between art and its public.

There's something deliciously "illegitimate" about the exhibition, right down to the methods by which curator-collector Jim Shaw has assembled it. In his statement, Shaw dwells on the "pure" aspect of the art, which he has culled from thrift stores, swap meets and wherever fine "low art" might be found. He then applies his own poetic license in the titling process.

With this work, normal rules of art-world order do not apply. Forget about art-historical savvy or market-wise calculations. Any similarity to art movements, current or past, is--or may be--purely coincidental. One corner of the gallery is devoted to surrealistic images, reeling with references to Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy and Rene Magritte. Upon closer inspection some painting seem to have less to do with surrealism and more with the wild free-associations of artists caught up in religious zeal or surfers' ecstasy.

The show is roughly organized into specific subject areas. The animal section includes an image of fighting dinosaurs. The portrait section includes a "Somber Jerry Lewis." On its own wall is the portrait series of "First Ladies," and the nude section includes a scene with Neptune and two nymphs riding blissfully on sea mammals. Oh yes, there are also the obligatory items you'd expect to see in a thrift store--a couple of paintings-on-velvet and a few clown images.

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