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ART : Looking for Art That's Literally All Over the Map? : 'inSITE94' features 109 artists, artworks made from tens of thousands of pieces (if you count the animal bones) and covers 37 sites all over San Diego and Tijuana. Big enough for you?

September 18, 1994|Suzanne Muchnic | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer.

What art exhibition claims 78 works by 109 artists, 37 sites in two countries, 79 sponsors and two grandchildren? "inSITE94," a multifaceted extravaganza that's opening next weekend in Tijuana and San Diego County.

"inSITE94" is not the American version of Germany's Documenta or Italy's Venice Biennale, the art world's two biggest international productions. But the show--which features large, multipart artworks created for specific locations and often loaded with political commentary--is such an organizational feat that any description of it tends to boil down to numbers.

Two years in the making!

Hundreds of trips across the Mexico/United States border!

Artworks composed of tens of thousands of pieces!

As for the grandchildren--they were added to families of two of the artists, Mildred Howard of San Francisco and Terry Allen of Santa Fe, while the exhibition was in process.

"This project has been so complicated and it has gone on for so long that we have become involved with intimate details of the artists' lives," says "inSITE94" director Lynda Forsha.

No kidding. Nothing about "inSITE94" is simple. Even the opening weekend, which is designed to give shape to the sprawling affair by focusing on three major hubs of activity, is something of a marathon. It begins on Friday at 5 p.m. in downtown San Diego with the unveiling of, count 'em, 15 artworks at three institutions.

Visitors at the grand old Santa Fe Depot will see such wonders as Yolanda Gutierrez's cloud-like masses, made of 70,000 chunks of animal bones, wired to metal branches that are suspended from the ceiling of the waiting room. Across the street at the downtown branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Nancy Rubins' conglomeration of airplane parts will fill a ground-floor gallery and spill onto the sidewalk from a second-floor walkway.

About six blocks away, at the Children's Museum of San Diego, the museum's entire building has been brightly painted in a scheme designed by Patricia Patterson, as her "inSITE94" project. Inside the cavernous space, Ernest Silva has built a metal house as a video/reading room for kids, while Chris Burden has re-created "A Tale of Two Cities," the third incarnation of his war-toys portrayal of a battle between two imaginary city-states.

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On Saturday at 1 p.m., the spotlight will shift to Tijuana, where art will go on view at cultural centers, historic buildings, the beach and obscure border outposts. Among works at the Centro Cultural Tijuana is John Outterbridge's poetry-covered steel wall, which appears to pierce a garden window. At Centro Escolar Aqua Caliente, a school built near the crumbling remains of a gambling resort, Allan Kaprow is installing fog machines and a recording of barking dogs around a minaret that once served as an exhaust exit for the resort's kitchen and laundry. Nearby, Anya Gallaccio is using imitation gold leaf to decorate broken areas of a tiled swimming pool and fountain.

Visitors who venture out to the beach near the border fence will discover Helen Escobedo's boat-like structures, fashioned of junk metal, and a mural by Oscar Ortega, painted on one side of a building that has fallen over in the sand. Those who are lucky may even catch up with Terry Allen's pair of vans, which will be moving in tandem on either side of the border throughout the exhibition. The idea is to climb a ladder on one of the vans, stand on a platform and communicate through loudspeakers with riders in the other vehicle.

In another border location, Sylvia Gruner is installing plaster figures of women in childbirth along a corrugated metal fence that cordons off a densely populated section of Tijuana from the U.S. desert. A few blocks away, on a plot of sand, Ulf Rollof is building a circular "railway" that invites viewers to sit in a chair at the center of the track and contemplate a screen of fir trees that serves as a metaphor for cultural barriers.

Then on Sunday at 10 a.m., it's back to San Diego, where five museums in Balboa Park will launch exhibitions. Additional events, including lectures, per formances, bus tours and openings in outlying locations on both sides of the border, will continue to Oct. 30, when the show closes.

No wonder this project has been dubbed "the mother of collaborations."

Appearances to the contrary, the goal of "inSITE94" is not to confuse the public or to install art on every stairwell, sandpile, fence, hospital or school, as well as in the usual places. Indeed, a handbook has been published to provide visitors with maps, photographs of sites, project descriptions and artist biographies. (It's on sale for $5 at participating institutions.) In addition, a comprehensive catalogue is in the works.

But the aspirations of "inSITE94" organizers are as big as the geographical sweep of the project. They want nothing less than to put the San Diego/Tijuana region on the contemporary art map while forging partnerships across the border.

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