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Behind the Scenes / Orange County

Anything Goes

March 20, 1997

It's wasn't the Lincoln Bedroom, but then, James Iansiti was only charging $8 for people to spend quality time at his place.

We're talking about his Costa Mesa Studio Gallery--where he built a life-size replica of his Costa Mesa apartment and put on a play.

What's this all about?

Art, Iansiti says.

Faced with a 27% rent increase at his gallery, Iansiti pondered these questions: Is there art in Orange County? And if so, can a small, egalitarian gallery make it here?

For two weeks this month, he invited friends, supporters and people off the street into his art studio for a play that explored these questions as well as: What if Iansiti didn't renew the lease on his 2,000-square-foot work space wedged into an industrial complex, but instead reopened his gallery in his living room? Would it be viable? Would people come?

The setting for the play was a re-creation of his Costa Mesa apartment--down to the bar stools and stained carpet.

In the end, Iansiti, 33, has decided to stay put at the gallery. And he'll continue to invite every artist he meets to show work or perform there.

"We've been breaking the convention of a traditional gallery," says Iansiti, who also sells his own paintings and creates installations for theater groups.

"I never am in the position of approving an artist. Everyone's pre-approved. Artists, filmmakers, musicians and theater companies can show their work."

He says group shows usually inspire frowns--"Everyone wants a solo show"--but not at his gallery. "The shows are a celebration of art, and the theme of the show is that everyone can join the celebration."

Iansiti adds that anyone who turns up may end up in the next exhibit. "If you do art, you're in the next show," he says.

Here's a favorite example: Iansiti bummed a cigarette off a guy on New Year's Eve 1996. He then watched as Kenn Copland handed him his last cigarette, tore the pack apart and wrote something on the paper packaging. He told Iansiti that he'd written something on each pack he'd smoked over the past year.

"I said, 'Bring those packs in, and they will be featured in the next show,' [which has since closed]," Iansiti says. "It happens that quick. He'd received two rejection notices from other galleries that day."

* On view at the gallery is a play, "Floating Rhoda and the Glue Man," a comedy about contemporary relationships and communication between the sexes. Today through Sunday; 8 p.m. $12. Costa Mesa Studio Gallery, (714) 650-5481.

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