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Moon's 'Facility' Is Built on Invention, Participation

July 28, 2000|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

So complete is Jennifer Moon's transformation of China Art Objects Galleries that when you walk through the front door you might think you've gone to the wrong address. In the far corner of the two-story-tall space is a practice rock-climbing wall, with old mattresses laid out to break one's fall. On your left stands the base of a treehouse-like loft, from which hangs a large hammock and a knotted rope. Emerging from a round hole cut in the loft's floor, the rope passes a rack of carved batons (used in one-on-one sparring contests) and disappears into a similar hole cut into the gallery's floor.

The strange, multipurpose place feels like a synthesis of Romper Room, the Bat Cave, a private gym and a community center. Even a modest amount of curiosity will have you clambering down the rope, where you pass through a shadowy antechamber before entering a cool subterranean hangout that's part rec room, arts-and-crafts studio and video screening room.

From there, a narrow corridor takes you to an inner sanctum, which, like everything else in Moon's delightfully hybridized space, is many things to many people. A combination DJ booth, sauna, cactus garden, meeting room and meditation chamber, this underground retreat recalls the secret hide-outs kids build to make a space for themselves apart from the boring rationality of the adult world. Moon's version also has the presence of a restaurant's dimly lit back room, where Mafiosos, politicos and Masters of the Universe take behind-the-scenes meetings (at least in the movies).

A rear stairway returns you to the main floor, where three large bulletin boards, covered with sign-up sheets and schedules, present information about available activities, classes, seminars and field trips. Cardiovascular exercise regimens, reading and writing workshops and such practical skills as woodworking and draftsmanship are listed.

Participants are invited to invent their own programs, join scheduled events or combine both types of activity. Open sparring night is Monday at 10. Wednesdays at 8 have been set aside for seminars "On Ways to Help the World." Card-counting field trips to Las Vegas are among the most popular outings. On Aug. 12, a musical documentary titled "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" will be screened.

By the time you've scanned the bulletin boards and read the fine print on the Accident Waiver and Release of Liability forms stacked nearby, you'll know that you're at the right address and that Moon's installation is a clever meditation on the ways contemporary art functions--when it actually does something. Titled "The Facility," her exhibition physically demonstrates that art viewing is not a spectator sport: You have to put something into it to get something out of it.

Both entertaining and edifying, Moon's do-it-yourself activities center provides an open framework in which visitors with different interests, backgrounds and skills can do their own thing, with as much seriousness and dedication as suits them. That's exactly what art does, drawing together interested parties whose commitments and convictions make us stand out from one crowd by fitting into another.

* China Art Objects Galleries, 933 Chung King Road, (213) 613-0384, through Aug. 12. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.

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Pushing Paint: "Luminous" is a group show whose visual pleasures are infinitely more complex than the simple idea on which it is based. At Ikon Ltd./Kay Richards Contemporary Art, guest curators Leo Bravo and Christopher Miles have brought together the work of 12 artists to answer the question: What are some of the ways paint can be applied to a surface?

Just inside the entrance, Linda Besemer's 2-inch-thick slab of accumulated layers of acrylic paint complicates things immediately. Never applying paint to anything but another rubbery layer of paint, Besemer creates a delicious experience of vertigo. By eliminating the neutral ground of panel or canvas, she pulls the rug out from under your feet, demonstrating that paint, handled deftly, needs no support whatsoever.

Other artists bring an equally light touch to their crisp, hands-off abstractions. Roland Reiss uses a squeegee to pull translucent swaths of candy-colored acrylics across pristine white grounds. Scot Heywood paints solid fields of saturated color by layering vertically applied coats atop horizontal ones, resulting in interwoven surfaces of remarkable density. Lies Kraal completely hides her hand in a pair of quietly dazzling monochromes, a chocolaty brown one that reflects light and a deep blue one whose powdery surface absorbs light like a hungry sponge.

Made with the precision of a surgeon and the exuberance of a cake decorator, Dennis Hollingsworth's synthetic confections combine elements of collage with aspects of relief sculpture. So do Jeremy Kidd's clunky paintings on Nova prints and Simon Periton's gigantic paper cutout, although much less effectively.

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