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Cage's 'Circus' Delights Some, Baffles Others

September 10, 1993|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It wasn't a circus circus. But with many art items located inside chests of drawers (guests pull them out themselves) and other major pieces hung at knee level (guests squat), many well-seasoned culture vultures were having some difficulty grasping the concept of "Rolywholyover A Circus," an exhibit celebrating the work of composer/artist John Cage, who died last year.

Even Richard Koshalek, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, was tentative about enunciating the tongue-twisting exhibition name. "Rolywholyover," he said slowly at Wednesday night's opening reception, "if I can pronounce the title correctly."

Exhibit funders (AT&T was the major sponsor), lenders, museum trustees, artists and artists-to-be tried to make sense of it all, especially the part about paintings being hung randomly and rotated about every two hours. Nail marks were starting to appear on the walls.

The evening also included macrobiotic food such as Tibetan barley bread, all based on Cage's recipes, and violinist Janos Negyesy performing a Cage piece as ice dripped loudly over branches and piano wire into a pool of water on a stage in the museum's auditorium (an installation by artist Mineko Grimmer).

"No comment," was all one trustee said tersely of the entire experience.

"John Cage was a genius--there's no question--it's just that it's hard for many of us to understand what he was geniusing about," offered Bernard Greenberg, who is chairman of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Music Center Opera and whose wife Lenore is a MOCA trustee.

"Not everything is linear, it doesn't have a progression, it will change every day, so it's disconcerting," said Aviva Covitz, another trustee. "You need to interface with it and let it talk to you."

In contrast to some of the more traditional art connoisseurs, Cage associates and friends seemed unanimously thrilled with the goings-on.

"I think it's great," said Andrew Culver, who worked with Cage for 11 years. "The fluidity of the exhibition opens the doors like he wanted, for the real world to get into the museum."

"This place feels very much like John to me," said Mark Swed, Cage's official biographer. "I think he would have been very happy with the way there are so many things to discover."

Artist William Anastasi, Cage's former chess pal, was delighted, particularly with the placement (at least for the next hour or so) of three of his drawings at bird's-eye level. "I love it," he said. "It's never looked so grand. Being next to a Jasper Johns and a Barnett Newman, I couldn't ask for anything more."

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