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BODY LANGUAGE : 'Figure It Out' offers several ways of looking at the human form.

June 04, 1993|MARY HELEN BERG

Traditionally, artists have sketched the human figure as a classic exercise in form. In "Figure It Out," an exhibit opening Saturday at the South Bay Contemporary Museum of Art, the figure is sketched, painted and molded in traditional--and decidedly untraditional--ways.

The show is part of a two-gallery exhibit scheduled to run through July 31 at the museum's primary location at 5029 Pacific Coast Highway and at a new gallery in Long Beach, in a former factory warehouse.

Featuring 26 artists from the South Bay and from as far away as Paris, "Figure It Out" is a "celebration of figurative art," said Peggy Sivert, museum art director. The 60 works explore the figure through realistic, primitive, whimsical and abstract interpretations.

The show gives contemporary artists a much-needed opportunity to exhibit their experiments with a classical subject, Sivert said.

"In contemporary art we are into installation and performance now," Sivert said. "Contemporary art has pulled us into many new realms and away from figure painting, but a lot of artists still are doing it and many people still want to see it."

The first part of the show at the South Bay Contemporary Museum features charcoal and pastel drawings created by professional artists who participated in the museum's figurative drawing workshop. These images, drawn from nude models, help to illustrate the beginning of the creative process that leads artists to works such as the exhibit's more abstract and complex paintings, sculpture and mixed-media pieces, Sivert said.

Other works range from the fresco-inspired abstract paintings of Harrison Storms to computer generated figures by Parisian Guy Jeanclaude and the naive paintings of folk artist Beverly Perkins.

The second part of "Figure It Out" is displayed at SBC II, the museum's new satellite located at 1969 Obispo Ave. in Long Beach. SBC II will showcase larger scale works and installations, said Joseph Harris, an artist and SBC II's new art director. But Harris is vague about the show's details, preferring to leave his part of the exhibit "a mystery."

"I shouldn't give away the range because it should be a surprise," he said.

A few things are certain. SBC II will feature 20 works by four artists including a large-scale, multilayered painting by Harris and Sivert's free-standing works painted on folding closet doors. Also featured will be paintings by San Francisco-based Lisa Esherick, known for large, sometimes surreal acrylic works based on her international travels, and controversial, anatomical pieces by M'Liz O'Keefe of Taos, New Mexico. And the SBC II exhibit will expand a bit on the show's figurative theme, Harris said.

"It echoes L.A. life, rather than just the human body," he said.

SBC II was launched after Harris proposed that the museum share his 3,500-square-foot studio. The industrial building, with its skylight and 20-foot walls, is situated between a noodle factory and a furniture shop. Harris will continue his painting in the former factory building while managing it as a gallery.

Harris said he is "looking for the extreme avant-garde" to exhibit in the new space. Eventually, he hopes SBC II will become the most offbeat arm of the museum and a Southland center for large-scale contemporary art, performance and installations.

"Hopefully, this will be a way to energize the whole community," he said.

The free opening event for "Figure It Out" is scheduled so that visitors can take in both parts of the exhibit and explore SBC II for the first time. The public receptions will be Saturday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the South Bay Contemporary Museum in Torrance and from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. at SBC II in Long Beach. Museum hours in Torrance are Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In Long Beach, the hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information: (310) 375-3775.

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