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Art Review

Exhibition Accents a Modern Masterpiece

Works placed in and around Rudolf Schindler's Kings Road House play on its bohemian nature.

March 24, 2001|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In 1922, at the age of 35, Rudolf M. Schindler designed and built an inexpensive house at 835 N. Kings Road. Made of poured concrete, planks straight from the lumberyard and hardware-store plumbing, the one-story structure combined studio space and living quarters the journeyman architect and his wife shared with another couple.

Today, Schindler's Kings Road House is known the world over as a masterpiece of Modern architecture. Its clean lines, stark profile and flawless floor plan give it a formal and austere atmosphere--especially in pictures.

In person, however, the house and its grounds--open to the public under the auspices of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture--are humble, funky and charming. With each visit, I'm reminded of the profound difference between reading about things in books and experiencing them in the flesh.

A modest exhibition that opened last week builds upon this difference. Running concurrently with the Museum of Contemporary Art's Schindler retrospective and organized by MAK Center deputy director LouAnne Greenwald, "In Between: Art and Architecture" pays thoughtful homage to the house as a hub of social activity and intellectual ferment.

Four of its eight artists have installed their works indoors, each in a room of his or her own. A large monochrome panel by Adrian Schiess lies flat on the floor in the middle of one. Playing off the idea that painting is dead, its position suggests that it's ready for the grave--as soon as visitors pay their last respects. A wink of the eye is all it takes to notice that its icy gray surface is anything but lifeless. Reflecting sunlight around the room, it adds to the daily drama Schindler initiated by placing a row of windows high overhead.

Three blurry photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto and 10 ink washes on rice paper by Julia Fish similarly emphasize the sensual atmosphere of Schindler's house.

Sam Durant's contribution takes viewers farther afield, to 49th and Compton, where another of Schindler's buildings stands. Six photographs and a four-channel video depict the Bethlehem Baptist Church, which was built in 1944 and is currently used by a Pentecostal congregation. Like the Kings Road House, it doesn't stand out from its mundane surroundings as much as it disappears into them. It's easy to drive by either structure without noticing it's there.

Additionally, on the exterior of the Kings Road House, Durant has hung a copy of an illuminated sign that hangs on the front of the church. Inviting passersby to "Adventure into Faith," its message (from Corinthians II) fits its new setting, a site visited by people whose belief in the power of architecture has led them on a secular pilgrimage.

The exhibition also includes a pair of billboards that display a familiar image by Felix Gonzalez-Torres: a slept-in double bed. Another billboard, by Sharon Lockhart, goes up in May, advertising Stephen Prina's musical performance to be held at the house August 24 and 25. On April 5 and 12, two evenings of short films selected by Chris Williams will be screened at the Pacific Design Center.

True to the spirit of Schindler's house, none of the works gets in the way of the architecture. Purists who visit will not be put off by blocked sight lines. And visitors who like their architecture impure and linked to its social context will have plenty to consider. It's easy to imagine that the highbrow bohemians who once lived here would be happy to see this deft exhibition.

* Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, (323) 651-1510, through Sept. 2. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. $5.

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