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Art review: 'Installations Inside/Out' at Pasadena's Armory Center for the Arts

October 5, 2009 | 12:15 pm

Pae White 1

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Pasadena's Armory Center for the Arts has invited 20 artists it has worked with in the past to create site-specific art and installations for a new exhibition. Armory gallery director Jay Belloli and curator Sinead Finnerty-Pyne assembled the show as a tribute to the venue's exhibition history.

Some works, such as Bruce Nauman's recent execution of a never-realized 1969 plan to skywrite over the city, were temporal events. Others, including Matthew Moore’s organic vegetable sculpture and Jane Mulfinger's interactive piece, in which stationary bicycles create electrical power to light up a chandelier, are located elsewhere in Pasadena. (Moore's work is in a deserted lot at 733 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Mulfinger's in a YWCA at 78 N. Marengo Ave., near City Hall.) A dozen artists' pieces are on view inside the Armory's gallery.

The gallery show is a mixed bag. A word-and-image painting by Edward Ruscha and a large wall relief composed from electronic personal-computer boards by Carl Cheng, for example, don't exactly qualify as either site-specific or installation art.

They are good pieces, though. Ruscha's painting is a typically witty pairing, this time of parking instructions for Sunset Strip nightclubs against the backdrop of a challenging, perhaps unscalable mountain peak. (Saturday night can be the loneliest night of the week.) Cheng's large relief, displayed within a slate-gray room, configures a smart aerial map of L.A. assembled from disassembled bits of communications hardware — a vast urban wasteland, torqued at the center, awaiting its human-powered software to provide personal connection.

Indeed, the two knockout works in “Installations Inside/Out” don't really fit the thematic plan, either. Pae White's gorgeous pair of enormous woven tapestries do face off against each other across the main room, creating a charged space between them. But finally they seem like portable, independent wall works.

“Colored Crinkle,” 10 feet high and 21 feet wide, is a dazzling rainbow of red, yellow, brown and silvery white hues, which creates the illusion of a vast, light-reflective piece of crumpled Mylar. “Smoke Knows,” only slightly smaller, shows a limpid swirl of drifting cigarette fumes in threads of white, black, brown, gray and blue. Like the other tapestry, this one slowly yields an unexpected panoply of sensuous colors upon closer examination.

White's fashioning of these ethereal images is powerful. At first, each one looks like a complete abstraction, which only then begins to coalesce into a fixed image of something evanescent and transitory. Perhaps White's surprising materials -- tightly woven cotton and polyester, which aren't exactly the silk and silver threads of tapestry's glory days in Renaissance and Baroque Europe -- are the reason for the magical visual effect. Whatever the case, this bit of “smoke and mirrors” is an invitation to marvel.

Mario Ybarra Jr. has made a “wall of fame” and a gift shop in honor of Reggie, the famous 7½ -foot-long, 114-pound alligator that eluded capture for two years in Harbor City's 56-acre Machado Lake. A local resident (reportedly a former LAPD officer) had allegedly illegally raised him as a pet, then dumped him in the lake when he got too big; futile (and expensive) efforts to capture Reggie a while back gained the wild animal an enthusiastic local following.

Ybarra's vinyl mural, easel paintings, news clippings, alligator-themed furniture and souvenirs – including the usual key chains, plush toys and jewelry, but topped off by a crispy “portrait” of Reggie made from deep-fried chicharrón – are remnants of a mythical fan club for a dangerous-but-lovable outlaw. Art is wittily positioned as a similar cultural marker for compelling fantasies of the contemporary social role held by artists. Reggie ended up in the Los Angeles Zoo, Ybarra's art in a museum.

Michael C. McMillen brings his well-known skills at crafting environments as phony perfect as a movie set to a dank, bunker-like room draped in military camouflage and stacked with suitcases, cartons and assorted dust-covered junk. Reminiscent of a 1950s bomb shelter, the set is a stage for the projection of a looped montage of apparently found movie footage.

War-time newsreels intersect with aerial views of swimsuit-clad bathers idly wading at the ocean's edge  — a sort of “On the Beach” motif of pervasive doom and quiet yearning, which today feels right on target (you should pardon the expression). Titled “Quotidian Man,” the theatrical installation evokes the commonplace hum of anxiety lurking beneath the glossy surface of modern American life, which periodically erupts into an irrational  paroxysm of violence.

Upstairs, Deborah Aschheim's suspended tangles of plastic tubing dimly illuminated by light-emitting diodes comprise the show's final compelling work. Surrounding architectural models vaguely familiar in their science-fiction trappings, the glowing lights of “Nostalgia for the Future” speak of failed Utopias, here  reduced to a level approaching nightclub party décor. Like McMillen, Aschheim fabricates a pungent environment at once fragile, beautiful and bereft.

Additional gallery works by Seth Kaufman, Carlos Mollura, Sarah Perry, Betye Saar, John Trevino and the team of Kim Abeles and Ken Marchionno are also on view. A catalog to document the commissioned installations is currently in the works.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Pae White, "Colored Crinkle." Credit: Fredrik Nilson


 
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