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ART REVIEW : A Thinking Experience on Hollywood Boulevard


Getting someone's attention on Hollywood Boulevard isn't easy. The three artists who have installed window displays in the vacant Newberry School of Beauty meet this challenge with considerable skill. Amid the hustle and bustle of the seedy street, their works function like well-placed booby traps.

When you first see them, the storefront installations by Carol Ashley, Judie Bamber and Andrea Bowers make you wonder what they could possibly be advertising. As you continue to walk down the street and their images reverberate in your memory, you realize that the artists have sabotaged your capacity to filter out the overwhelming visual bombardment of our urban environment.

All of its billboards, advertisements and eye-grabbing displays suddenly seem especially strange, as if they too might be tricks to get you to think rather than to simply buy things.

Selected by artist Lauren Lesko for Nomadic Site's yearlong series of roving exhibitions, the window displays in the building that may soon be LACE's new home run the grunginess of the street together with the false perfection of commercial advertisements. Titled "Private and Public Pleasures," they also mix the personal attention we usually reserve for art in galleries with the quick glances we usually use to read outdoor ads.

Bowers' contribution consists of a tub of pink cotton candy that has been splattered all over the inside of the entrance to the Beauty School. Like a 3-D Expressionist painting made from sugar and artificial coloring, "Sweet Tooth" is a subversive temper tantrum. Its nastiness captures the desperate, dreams-gone-bad aura of many of Hollywood's derelict shops.

Bamber's "Tunnel of Love" delivers exactly what most ads only implicitly promise. Her solitary, vibrating sex toy on a pedestal strips advertising down to its hardly subliminal bottom line. Ashley's "Look the Other Way" begins to sketch a picture of lesbian desire, but its chalkboard story takes too long to read and its miniature TV screen gets lost in the glare of the sun and the motion of the street.

As a group, however, the three displays are greater than the sum of their parts. Lesko's selection provocatively uses the anonymity of advertisements to sneak inside the minds of unsuspecting passersby.

"Private and Public Pleasures," Storefront Installations at 6522 Hollywood Blvd., (213) 850-7518. Through March 31. Fabricated 'Nature': Jean Lowe's two-room installation at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions is a low-tech, high-energy send-up of late 18th-Century French interior decoration. It is also a playful commentary on our contemporary inability to distinguish between nature and culture. Titled "Real Nature: Accomplishments of Man," the San Diego-based artist's elaborately theatrical work ranks among the best exhibitions LACE has organized in the past few years.

Walking into the lavishly altered gallery is like entering a slice of history. Lowe's piece of the past, however, is more stage set than reality. At once comfortingly familiar and troublingly alien, you feel as if you've stumbled into a cheesy--and deadly accurate--rendition of the present.

Lowe has fabricated this warp in time by painting cardboard chairs, papier-mache vases, canvas rugs, faux-marble busts, cheap curtains and fake frames with excessive decorative flourishes and pictures of modern science and industry. Paintings of a massive dam, an endless cattle yard, irrigated crops that reach to the horizon, tract housing marching over hills and a freeway that leads into the sunset highlight her tongue-in-cheek celebration of our increasingly artificial world.

Her installation is engaging because it refuses to romanticize the idea that nature is whatever culture doesn't touch. Rather than preaching to its viewers about how unnatural society often seems, Lowe's life-size piece of theater makes us feel as if we're tourists in our own cities, never exactly sure where we are, and always curious to find out more about what everything means.

"Real Nature: Accomplishments of Man," at LACE, 1804 Industrial St., (213) 624-5650, through March 28.

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