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An Artistic Playground

'Seeing' uses pieces from LACMA's permanent collection to create a show with kids in mind.


Good free family entertainment is hard to come by, so there's glad news in "Seeing" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Boone Children's Gallery. The exhibition features work by 10 Los Angeles-based artists and architects who were given simple instructions: Choose any piece from LACMA's permanent collection and build an installation around it that will appeal to children and adults alike.

Judging from the excited squeals of kids and parents attending an exhibition preview, the result is a veritable fun house of interactive exhibits that offers fresh appeal to anyone burned out by glowing screens. John Baldessari, Delia Brown and Nicole Cohen, Judy Fiskin, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Michael C. McMillen, Willie Robert Middlebrook, Eric Owen Moss, Jennifer Nelson and Kenny Scharf must have had a real romp creating installations that challenge the way we look at objects and space. Architecture firm Graft designed the exhibition space, using the color red as a unifying device.

At the entrance, Graft enclosed Jean-Jacques Freuchere's 1936 bronze sculpture "Satan" in a plexiglass film that makes it impossible to view the sculpture without moving around it.

Once inside the main exhibition room, visitors are confronted by architect Eric Owen Moss' 36-foot honeycomb cardboard "Caterpillar," which incorporates Middle Eastern cylinder seals from the museum's collection. Onlookers at the preview commented on the movement of the piece caused by the walking legs of those who move through the interior walkway. Inside, the sturdiness of the structure is offset by the airiness of the delicate materials, giving the false impression that one person could pick it up and carry it off. Moss' installation invites trepidation until you get to the other side.

Los Angeles Times Saturday December 1, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
LACMA show--A story in Thursday's Calendar Weekend on the "Seeing" exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art contained two errors. The "Satan" sculpture is from 1836. Also, the spelling of the name of the painter of "Brig Off the Maine Coast" is FitzHugh Lane.

Michael C. McMillen's "Hidden Eye" leads the visitor down a black hallway into a dark room. The sounds of a quiet summer day are heard, and two upside-down camera obscura images are projected of the real-time traffic and people on 6th Street behind the museum. A 16th century Sri Lankan Buddha appears right-side up in the projected image, however, which is at first confusing to the eye. (McMillen had a large upside-down image of the Buddha mounted out on the museum lawn.) The sound effects and the scenes of cars and pedestrians that appear to float languidly from the top of the light-drenched projections must be as calming as a Buddhist retreat, because the rambunctious kids at the preview quieted down considerably when they entered the exhibit.

The installations by Moss and McMillen invite intellectual as well as visual involvement. "Let Them Eat Cake and Eat It Too" positions painted fanciful modern-day figures in rococo poses on the outside of a tall, round room. Inside, the artists have used "Winter," an oil painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard (circa 1755), as part of a video installation that places ghostly projections of visitors in a lovely French salon.

"I am interested in the way desire for inaccessible experiences/ lifestyles can be supplanted by the artificial creation of circumstances which temporarily realize these desires," Brown said in her project proposal. "Being able to incorporate dramatic play and interactive activity in art has always been a great interest of mine," Cohen said. "In my work I project people into interior designed spaces, which allows for the fantasy of being in one space

Judy Fiskin also uses one of LACMA's oils, "Brig off the Maine Coast" (1851) by Fritz Hugh Lang, in "What We Think About When We Think About Ships." Deceived into believing that you are entering a rough sailors' bar, you instead find yourself in a re-creation of an 1800s-era gallery with peepholes at various heights. A look inside a peephole reveals teeny videos of bathtub ships, birthday cake boats and other nautical nonsense.

Not only does artist Jennifer Nelson place you in a different environment with "Super Conveyor," she adds a physical element to the installation. An image of Katsushika Hokusai's woodblock print "Amida Falls on the Kiso Highway" (circa 1833) is mounted at the end of a long treadmill moving away from the image. A video camera captures the visitor struggling up the treadmill trying to get to the image, digitalizes and miniaturizes the visitor and inserts the visitor into the painting--so in addition to seeing yourself at the falls, you feel the physical exertion of the actual hike up to them.

Works by Ed Kienholz, Knud Merrild and Andy Warhol can be found in Kenny Scharf's "Closet #19." Rock music, a disco ball, fluorescent painted surfaces and silver beanbag chairs are used to create an offbeat living space that includes a yard and closets.

The installation also serves as a studio, allowing visitors to add their own art.

"Seeing" was produced by LACMALab, a research and development unit that is searching for new ways to introduce and educate people of all ages to art through creative interaction. The word "play" appears in LACMALab's manifesto. At the "Seeing" exhibit, playing is believing.

"Seeing," Boone Children's Gallery, LACMA West, 6067 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000. Hours: Mon., Tues., Thurs., noon-8 p.m.; Friday, noon-9 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Free.

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