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MOCA visitors can plunge into Latin American light and space--and Oiticica/D'Almeida swimming pool

December 8, 2010 |  9:00 am

The swimming pool is a common sight in contemporary art, thanks in large part to the dazzling blue depths--or surfaces--of David Hockney. But a swimming pool as art?

During the run of "Suprasensorial," MOCA's new show on Latin American light and space art that opens Sunday at its Geffen Contemporary location, a lifeguard will be in attendance. Towels will be handed out. And disposable bathing suits will be sold at the bookstore. All so that visitors can see and experience for themselves what looks like a psychedelic swimming pool.

The highly immersive artwork was conceived by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica and filmmaker Neville D'Almeida in 1973, as part of a larger series they called Cosmococas. (It was not realized until after Oiticica's death in 1980.) Coca, as in cocaine, helped fuel the artists' visions and also figured into some of their installations directly. In the case of the swimming pool, a projection on the wall of the pool room features images from John Cage's book "Notations," on which  D'Almeida traced lines of cocaine for a minimal, white-on-white composition.

Splashier are the blue rope lights lining the edge of the pool, and a green light projected onto the surface of the pool. MOCA curator Alma Ruiz says the idea behind this piece, which the museum re-created based on original drawings with input from D'Almeida, was "to bridge the language of art and cinema."

The work also reveals a difference between Latin American artists using light as a medium and their California counterparts, like James Turrell and Robert Irwin.

Turrell and Irwin focused more on an individual's experience -- "whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual," Ruiz says. "For the Latin American artists there was much more of an attempt to create a social experience.

"There was also a political undertone," she says, "in the sense that these artists were trying to make art more democratic and less elitist. Oiticica talked a lot about pushing the viewer to become an active participant, with the hope that that transformation would happen not just in the arts but in everyday life."

--Jori Finkel

"Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space." The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles; Sunday-Feb. 27. Museum hours: 11a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays and Fridays; to 8 p.m. Thursdays and to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. $10.

Image: Hélio Oiticica and Neville D'Almeida's "CC4 Nocagions" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo by Genaro Molino / Los Angeles Times


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