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Setting the Stage for a California Scene

In its ongoing effort to develop a market for the region's art, Christie's expects at least $2.5 million at a May sale.

April 15, 2001|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

May is on the way, and so is the peak of the spring auction season. But before gavels start to fall in New York's big sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, Christie's will stage an auction of California, Western and American paintings, drawings and sculpture at its West Coast headquarters in Beverly Hills.

Scheduled for May 2 at 6 p.m., the sale is the seventh in a semiannual series, launched three years ago with a surprisingly successful, $2.9-million auction. Subsequent auctions of similar material have produced totals of $2 million to last fall's peak of $3.4 million-commanding record prices for paintings by William Wendt ($530,000) and Granville Redmond ($424,000), among other California artists.

This time around, Christie's expects to rack up $2.5 million to $3.8 million with a sale of 138 works. Consignments, offering something for nearly every budget, range from Clyde Forsythe's painting "Golden Hills," valued at $3,000 to $5,000, to Guy Rose's Impressionistic view of a rocky shore, "Incoming Fog, La Jolla," which is expected to bring $300,000 to $400,000.

Each segment of the art market has its own following. Those who lust after a Cezanne, a Beckman or a Bacon will have their eyes on New York in early May. Collectors of big-name American art will be watching New York sales of works by their favorite artists later in the month.

But even if the Christie's auction in Beverly Hills covers some of the same territory as typical American art auctions in New York, the emphasis is different. What's happening on the local auction front is an attempt to develop a market for regional art, most of which portrays idyllic scenes of California and themes from the Old West.

"Legend of Woksis" ($30,000 to $50,000) is an interpretation of the Algonquian Indians' legendary discovery of maple syrup by California illustrator Clark Fay, thought to have been commissioned by Log Cabin Products Co. "Sherman-Halleck Adobe, Monterey" ($40,000 to $60,000) is a sun-drenched portrait of a historic house by M. Evelyn McCormick, an Impressionist who spent much of her career painting adobes and missions.

The artworks will go on public view at 360 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills. Dates: April 27-28, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; April 29, noon-5 p.m.; April 30-May 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; May 2, 10 a.m.-noon. For more information, call (310) 385-2600. TOWER OF INDEPENDENT POWER: The ancient Egyptians made granite obelisks and inscribed them with hieroglyphics to commune with sun gods, celebrate kings and commemorate the dead. Los Angeles-based artist Lisa Adams had something different in mind when she dreamed up a new version of the historic towers. It's an obelisk of discarded artworks and ordinary objects, to be constructed this week by 18 artists and other creative spirits at the 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica.

Sponsored by Crazy Space, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering experimental, noncommercial art, the project is a wild idea that might "fall flat as a pancake," Adams says. But she got it going as part of a continuing attempt to break down boundaries that tend to isolate artists and circumscribe their lives.

Having worked in Los Angeles for the past 20 years, Adams has compiled a lengthy resume of exhibitions and teaching gigs. But, like many other artists, she still longs for an alternative to the accepted way of making it in the art world-'going to graduate school, getting a gallery and trying to be an art star," as she puts it.

In search of a different approach, she recently participated in several artist residency programs in the U.S., Europe and Japan. "It really turned my head around," she says. The experience also inspired her to try something new at home.

After going through her Rolodex of artists, former students and other associates-most of whom do not know each other-she enlisted a group that agreed to show up with meaningful castoffs. Artists Phyllis Green and Michael McMillen, filmmaker Steven Grynberg, theatrical lighting designer Jeff Cain and woodworker Richard Hastings are among participants in the project, which Adams describes as a sort of barn raising.

The results of their work will be unveiled at a free public reception Saturday, 7 to 9 p.m. The obelisk will remain in place through May 26, but the gallery, at 1629 18th St., is only open on Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Information: (323) 666-7993.

CHAPTER TWO: Bay Area artist Mark Stock unveiled "Enrapture: Scene 1," the first part of a mysterious, three-part narrative mural, a year ago. The two-panel mural is on adjacent outdoor walls of the Los Angeles Center Studios, a complex of sound stages in downtown Los Angeles. One of the paintings depicts a woman holding a drinking glass to her ear and pressing the glass to a wall as she attempts to hear what's going on in the next room. The other panel portrays a vase of flowers that has fallen to the floor and broken.

Stock is a film buff with a passion for Hitchcock cliffhangers. He isn't inclined to explain his work and hasn't divulged the meaning of the first installment of his mural mystery-much less offered clues to the rest of the story. But one thing is certain: The plot will thicken Friday, when two new panels will replace the first ones. "Enrapture: Scene 2" can be glimpsed from various downtown vantage points, but it can been seen most clearly at the corner of 4th and Boylston streets.

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