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Design Loves Art program brings dealers, artists to the Pacific Design Center

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Design Loves Art. Say what?

For some L.A. art dealers, the contemporary art program opening Thursday at the Pacific Design Center is rent-free space in a different part of town. For those who have lost galleries to the recession, it's a chance to go public again.

For artists, it's an opportunity to do something big or be seen by a new audience at the enormous Melrose Avenue building known as the Blue Whale.

And for the PDC -- which started the whole thing as part of its new fine arts mission -- the six-month project is an attempt to forge connections between art and design while filling empty spaces intended for the interior design trade.

"There are always vacancies in the building," says Helen Varola, director and curator of the art project. And the economic downturn hasn't helped. "But we didn't want to just fill up vacant spaces. We wanted to create a dynamic between the design world and the art world. This is about creating community and keeping a spirit alive. The tide will turn again. We just have to be optimistic and think up new things."

Design Loves Art is the first of four related projects planned for the Cohen Design Centers, also located in New York, Houston and Dania Beach, Fla. The L.A. event, Varola says, is meant to offer "something special" to designers who shop at the PDC and increase public access to the center. "You have to be a designer to purchase something in the showrooms, but anyone can go in and buy some art," she says.

Contemporary art is not a new thing at the PDC. The Museum of Contemporary Art has had a satellite space there since 2001. But Design Loves Art will offer a different mix of events -- exhibitions, film and video screenings, multimedia presentations and lectures -- organized by galleries, curators, artists and collaborative associations. Participants get free space but give 10% of art sales to the design center.

"Perk," the opening show at See Line Gallery, brings a thrift shop aesthetic to the PDC. Artist Bari Ziperstein has filled much of the glass-walled showroom with gaudily glazed ceramic sculptures, cast from kitschy figurines and furnishings, including mirrors and table lamps. In a separate room at the rear, her dazzling environment of mirrors, photo murals and an oversize chandelier was inspired by the cluttered storage space of a lamp vendor at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

Sam Lee, who runs a gallery in Chinatown, is showing large watercolor paintings of unmade beds by Chris Doyle. Carl Berg, who closed his mid-Wilshire gallery and moved into two enormous PDC showrooms a few months ago, has installed a baroque extravaganza of Erin Dunn's work in one space and a group show, "Manifestations," in the other. The latter is a sort of maze beginning with Allen Tombello's scruffy tower of cardboard horses' heads and winding through an eclectic array of works by 25 other artists.

As the Design Loves Art handout map indicates, most of the exhibitions are on the second floor; others are scattered throughout the building. If you are looking for a painting by Merion Estes or Monique Prieto, check out a group show called “Rant.” Photographs by David Fokos? They are at Kopeikin Gallery’s PDC outpost. Sculptures by Lynn Aldrich? Head for the lobby.

A few days before the opening, some of the showcases are still dark and others are just beginning to shape up. Donna Enad Napper of d.e.n. contemporary, who has worked privately since closing her Culver City gallery, is setting up a group show of paintings and sculptures. Paul Young, a freelance writer and curator who contributes to The Times, is finalizing plans for "Remote Viewing: New Video Art," featuring works by 55 artists to be screened on monitors and walls of a deep, meandering space.

But Maude Winchester has settled in at the big, open room commandeered by Washington Adams, a collaborative curatorial project directed by her husband, artist Lucas Reiner, and his colleague, John Millei. "Strange Tide: Paintings by Theodora Allen and Drawings and Sculpture by Andre Cameron" is fully installed and plans have been made for the next two shows.

"It's a gift for us to get to do this for the artists," Winchester says.

suzanne.muchnic@latimes.com

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