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ART : Mosaics Pull Together the Pieces of Movie History : Artist's creations adorn the fence posts in front of the Motion Picture Assn. of America building in Encino

August 24, 1995|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ENCINO — Margaret Nielson can say her art has stopped traffic.

Or slowed it, at least. Not that cars ever move very quickly along Ventura Boulevard. But some motorists doing the stop-and-go dance just west of the San Diego Freeway have spotted Nielson's work: 21 mosaics inspired by movies.

The pieces, each on a wide fence post along the sidewalk, subtly indicate what's behind them. The large, signless building houses the MPAA--the Motion Picture Assn. of America. You know, the movie-rating people.

The MPAA maintains, deliberately, the lowest profile in the film industry. Ask about a disputed NC-17 rating, and you'll rarely get beyond "no comment." And they've put their headquarters in Encino, well out of any studio's shouting range.

In this day of video-game adaptation and action-figure spinoffs, the MPAA's mosaics hark back to a time when a movie was not just a movie: King Kong atop the Empire State Building; Kirk Douglas manning a steed in "Spartacus," and the spaceship's landing in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

The developers of the new MPAA building had to finance some type of public art under a city ordinance known as the "Private Percent for Art." The fee, calculated by the Building and Safety Department, totaled $85,000. Bethlyn Hand, the MPAA's senior vice president for administration, was put in charge of selecting artwork appropriate for the building and the association.

The obvious requirement: that the art--whatever it was--be movie-related. Once they decided on the multiple mosaics, Hand also wanted representation of films made by each of the eight studios that make up the MPAA.

Nielson, who had a 25-year-retrospective of her paintings displayed at the Santa Monica Museum of Art last winter, didn't have a shortage of source material. The hard part, she said, was narrowing the field of movies to pick from.

"During the process of this, I just fell in love with all those movies all over again," she said. But rather than make a personal artistic statement, Nielson knew her job was to appeal to the masses--much as the films did. "but when you use those images," she said, "everyone loves them anyway."

Once the films were chosen, Nielson painted each scene to scale, 1 foot wide by 2 feet high. Then the paintings were shipped to a town near Venice,Italy, to be made into the final mosaics. 1416127776 The choice of the mosaic as medium adds meaning to the work by reproducimg the movies--both individually and as an artnd an art form.

"They [the MPAA] were interested in having imagery that reflected the history of movie making and contained images from movies," said Neilson. "I was interested in not just doing movie s1952543347us--like 'Gone With the Wind,' or the house from 'Psycho."'

While taking pictures of the completed works, Nielson overheard many passersby try to guess the movie each represents. The stumper, apparently, is Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." Lots of people guess "Hello Dolly," which starred Barbara Striesand.

In keeping with the MPAA's demure nature, there was no grand unveiling when the mosaics finally were put in place last November. But Bethlyn Hand knew that the project of which she was so proud was being noticed. She could see the evidence from her office window.

"Cars were physically slowing down to look at the mosaics." Hand said. "It was thrilling to see that my feelings were being shared by the people who passed by."

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