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Museum of Neon Art Will Light Up Downtown Again

Art: 'Electric Muse' exhibition, open to the public Tuesday, will inaugurate MONA's Grand Hope Park space.

February 23, 1996|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

The Museum of Neon Art is back downtown. No, it hasn't returned to the run-down industrial zone where it operated from 1981 to 1992. Neither has the museum abandoned its glitzy outpost at Universal CityWalk. The news is that MONA has moved into a brand spanking new space on the ground floor of a pristine high-rise in Grand Hope Park.

The latest incarnation of the museum will open to the public Tuesday with "Electric Muse," an exhibition of 60 neon, electric and kinetic sculptures by 25 artists. Museum members and invited guests will preview the show Saturday night.

On view is an eye-popping array of objects that glow, move, make noise or react to human touch. Visitors can walk through Candice Gawne's multicolored neon doorway and create their own lightning storms by stroking the plasma-filled glass sphere and cylinder in Larry Albright's sculptures.

"I wanted to show as wide a range of work as possible," said Mary Carter, MONA's executive director and curator of the exhibition. The museum's local presence has been limited to its display of vintage neon signs at CityWalk for the past three years, so she thought it was time to survey current work in neon and related media.

Although the exhibition is devoted to contemporary art, a few selections from the museum's 50-piece collection of historic neon signs provide a bit of nostalgia in an adjacent classroom. And for visitors who want to buy a T-shirt, book, souvenir or neon object, there are shopping opportunities in the museum's shop.

Centrally located at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Hope Street, yet buffered by the park, MONA has settled into an attractive development that also houses the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, apartments and retail space. Thanks to subsidized rent and a $250,000 construction grant from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, the nonprofit museum has leased the space for five years with renewal options.

Artist Lili Lakich founded the museum in 1981 and designed a neon Mona Lisa as its logo and sign. MONA has always been a labor of love for its supporters, but during its 15-year history it has shown the work of more than 400 artists in dozens of exhibitions and offered introductory classes in neon design and techniques.

Carter hopes the new space will widen MONA's audience and that neon displays in windows along Olympic Boulevard will attract commuters. But the 7,500-square-foot facility is not an ideal permanent home for the museum, she said. Her ultimate goal is to find a building large enough to show the collection, present changing exhibitions and offer educational programs under one roof.

Still, the move to Grand Hope Park is an important step, she said. "We're very excited to have a place of our own again. CityWalk gives us an opportunity to show our collection, but the audience there has an attention span of three seconds. That's no way to look at art."

* "Electric Muse," Museum of Neon Art, 501 W. Olympic Blvd., (213) 489-9918. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Adult admission: $3.50. Ends May 26.

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