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Valley Life | art review

Put It in Neon

Struggling art form plugs in and shines at CSUN's jewel of a new gallery.

March 02, 2001|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lili Lakich's neon show celebrates the opening of Cal State Northridge's new art gallery with a colorful and festive display of plugged-in art that digs deeper.

A founder of the Museum of Neon Art in downtown Los Angeles, Lakich is a prime advocate of the medium, which is struggling to gain wider respect and dodge associations with the commercial world.

With her current retrospective, Lakich demonstrates the flexibility and potential subtlety of the material. She doesn't pretend to ignore neon's kitschier persona, which appears in the centerpiece of this exhibit, "Sirens." The installation replicates a bar festooned with the gaudy gleam of neon beer signs, but amid the pool table, bar stools and other elements of saloon culture, art sneaks in.

The relief sculpture "Girlie Girl" cuts an image of a female form fashioned from car parts. More metallic seduction comes with "The Red Hot Mama," made from candy-apple red aluminum and a swipe of strategically placed red neon. Less subtle sexual politics are on display with "Sticks and Stones," in which a camera and monitor place the viewer above a litany of derogatory terms for gays and lesbians. All is not fun and games in this neighborhood bar.

Lakich's other works dazzle with diversity, showing an artist who has found ways to personalize a medium that deserves greater recognition. In the gregarious, two-part work "Mardi Gras," a large, lively concoction blends assorted metals with linear wisps of rainbow-colored neon.

In a back room, the huge neon-flecked relief sculpture called "Love in Vain" from 1977 appears like a huge shrine to unrequited romance. An enlarged photo of a ragged-looking woman is made to appear especially dingy in comparison with the sweep of neon lines that suggest an emptied-out living room.

Apart from the art, the new gallery is worth seeing in its own right.

Since the ravages of the Northridge earthquake, art on this campus has had to take refuge in Bedouin quarters. After more than five years of seeing art pass through a temporary gallery, the new one is a real jewel in the San Fernando Valley's art scene, a beautiful, generous space.

BE THERE

"Sirens and Other Neon Seductions" by Lili Lakich, through March 31 at the Cal State Northridge Art Gallery, 18111 Nordhoff St. Hours: Monday and Saturday, noon-4 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (818) 677-2262.

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