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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Sculptor-Designer Gives Form to Inventive, Playful Spirit

May 23, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sculptor-designer Peter Shire is an artist of restless energy and childlike wonder, as evidenced by his flamboyantly entertaining exhibition at the Platt Gallery.

One look in the gallery window confirms that this is no dry art exhibit: It looks like the busy showroom of a mad toy maker under the influence of Rube Goldberg, Alexander Calder and Gepetto.

True to the show's title, "No Shortage of Angels," all manner of angels (and an Icarus) dangle from the ceiling. Two imposing, festive pillars stand sentry outside the gallery door, under the sly, winking title, "Academic Village."

In "Juggler," a large kinetic sculpture along the back wall, a mechanized Cubist-style acrobat bicycles on a tightrope.

This is one of those shows--informed as it is by a playful spirit and layers of meaning--that is quite suitable for the proverbial children-of-all-ages set. It's a charming visual cacophony.

A native made good, Shire was born in Los Angeles and lives with his family in Echo Park, where he grew up. He began making inventive and nearly impractical teapots in the mid-'70s, and was pressed into service to design props and settings for the 1984 Olympics.

The terms "Mexican Bauhaus" and "Cookie-Cutter Modern" have been bandied about his work, and his lively sense of design has been featured in the well-known Italian-based "Memphis Line" of furniture.

His zany teapots are a pleasure to behold, like castoffs from lab experiments, or designs rendered by an alien with no understanding of what a teapot is for in the first place. One beautiful example is spidery, with gangly limbs extending from the tiny central pot, and with pieces of a tree incorporated to offset the industrial nature of steel.

An unorthodox approach to furniture design is epitomized, in this show, by a piece called "March of Time," a table built from irregular wedges and tubes, pieced together in a seemingly precarious manner, but with a surprising solidity. There's the rub with Shire: his pieces are sturdy, despite the wild imagination behind it all.

"Aim" has a Rube Goldberg quality, in which a complex cause-and-effect design leads to little or no apparent end result. It blends creative energy, ingenuity and puzzle-solving.

This is not to say, however, that the work is frivolous or without a more serious subtext. At times, Shire's work suggests a cheeky embrace of futurism, the Italian art movement of the early 20th century that celebrated the rush and delirium of progress of the modern urban world. Of course, World Wars I and II put a more sobering spin on the futurist impulse.

In some of Shire's work, such as "Skyhook" and "Metrorail," he manages to touch on the belief of the cleansing power of the rational, technological world even as he satirizes it. "Elysian Park" is a labyrinth of lines, arcs, trusses, pulleys and scaffolds--impressive and functionless.

Shire's two-dimensional works are, fittingly, dense with color and imagery culled from every which way. "Industrial Alchemy" finds a man in a boat, engulfed by the grim, gray apparatus of industry on the shore, but inspired by rainbow-colored fantasy scenes bursting in the sky. Harsh reality is counterbalanced with the power of a dream, or a childhood memory of unfettered joy.

Overall, one gets the sense that Shire has used his aesthetic filter to reorder the world to his own quasi-naive liking. His is a world bursting with too much information and threatening to self-destruct, just like the one we live in.

But he's no doomsday poet. Rather, Shire harnesses the power of excess to create a cerebral circus, which comments on life's absurdity and aspires to pure delight.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Peter Shire's "No Shortage of Angels."

* WHEN: Through June 30.

* WHERE: Platt Gallery, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive.

* CALL: (310) 476-9777.

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