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Filaments hold the firmament

February 13, 2004|David Pagel | Special to The Times

The installation by Pae White in the lobby of the UCLA Hammer Museum transforms one of the most inhospitable places to see art in Los Angeles into an enchanting wonderland of visual delight and sensual savvy. "Oroscopo" marries the scrappiness of do-it-yourself projects and the sophistication of high-end design, creating a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Low-budget, low-tech and lovely to look at, White's multipart mobiles and make-believe birdcages are everything the entrance isn't. Originally designed to impress visitors to Occidental Petroleum Corp., the two-story foyer is broken into sterile slabs of space by super-sized columns and a stairway made of marble, glass and chrome. Its proportions make individuals feel puny. And it tends to swallow art whole, turning works into pathetic gestures or ineffective decor. White beats the building at its own game by visually pushing its walls into the background and hanging her works from the ceiling. She has painted all but one of the walls dark blue, like the sky at twilight, when the vastness of deep space seems to be just beyond your fingertips.

Each of her five biggest pieces consists of hundreds of threads that hang parallel to one another and run from the ceiling (where they're pinned) to an inch or so above the floor. Dozens of coin-size and coaster-scale shapes have been strung onto each thread. These circles, ovals and hexagons were all cut from colorful sheets of construction paper. Many have been glued atop one another, like eccentric targets.

Think of silent wind chimes for some Brobdingnagian lover of color's delicacies and you'll have an idea of the whimsical energy that flows through White's works. She has lighted each constellation so that its myriad shapes cast shadows on one another as they flutter on invisible currents of air.

Two cast starburst patterns on the floor. Another recalls a school of silvery fish. The two most breathtaking resemble sculptures that have been digitally dispersed, or Pointillist paintings translated into three dimensions.

White's three homemade birdcages add wire, melted plastic and old newspapers to the mix. They pay playful homage to the Hammer's last show -- an unforgettable survey of Lee Bontecou's un-categorizable mobiles and wall reliefs. Like Bontecou, White is not afraid to embrace corny craftsmanship, especially when it makes art snobs uncomfortable. Home Depot meets IKEA in her installation, which quickly leaves the inventories of both stores behind as it transforms cheap supplies into art that's accessible, joyous and energized by a rebellious kick.

UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood, (310) 443-7000, through July 13. Closed Mondays.


A general in the culture wars

Before you even cross the street to enter Joel Shapiro's exhibition at the L.A. Louver Gallery, it's clear that the veteran New York sculptor is out to get your attention -- and do something with it. The upper limbs of a bronze sculpture, which resemble geometric tree branches, are visible above the front patio's high fence.

Inside the gate, your mental picture of an abstract tree, complete with beam-shaped branches that diminish in length as they extend from a thick trunk, gives way to an image of a gigantic slingshot or streamlined catapult. Shapiro evokes these violent tools as a metaphor for the way his works function, and as a warning of the wild ride on which you're about to embark -- as if flung from such a weapon.

Art is war, his towering piece asserts, and viewers are its instruments.

Inside the gallery, comic relief displaces aggression. Four perky pieces bounce your eyes around the room. A 5-foot-tall golden bronze sculpture near the entrance is a 3-D stick figure that resembles a referee signaling an infraction, or a cartoon sleepwalker, arms extended as he blindly lumbers forward. A similarly configured work recalls a blocky diagram of a soccer player frozen in mid-kick.

The two other pieces, each made of about 10 wooden blocks and beams, have the presence of a kids' toy set. Supported by thin steel poles and precariously balanced on their edges, these rectangular forms create the impression that they're both tumbling and levitating.

In a side gallery, the fun and games end abruptly. A four-part, knee-high sculpture looks as if each of its components has been stabbed into the concrete. Its shape recalls prehistoric clubs or stout arrows catapulted from the other side of the wall. Its gunmetal patina makes it even more menacing.

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