THEY'LL BE WHEELING 'EM OUT : Sunday's the Last Day for the Crowd-Pleasing 'Automobile and Culture' Exhibition at Downtown Museum of Contemporary Art

Dubin is a Times intern from USC

The "Automobile and Culture" exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art rolls confidently across the finish line Sunday.

The display of about 30 cars, from classics to Pop art creations, and 200 associated works of art, including examples of major movements and schools throughout the 20th Century, will drive on by leaving Los Angeles behind--Detroit next stop.

Since its opening last July 21, the exhibit has been a successful endeavor for MOCA's Temporary Contemporary, opened 13 months ago in a warehouse in Little Tokyo. Attendance during "Automobile and Culture's" 5 1/2-month run was nearly double that of previous events at the Temporary Contemporary.

Museum Director Richard Koshalek reported Thursday that about 172,000 people saw the auto/art show and that by Sunday's closing he expects the figure to approach 175,000.

"I think those statistics for an industrial-district warehouse museum in Downtown L.A. are remarkable," Koshalek said.

Attendance at TC's premiere exhibit, "The First Show," which opened in November, 1983, was about 100,000 visitors during a 3 1/2-month run, Koshalek said.

Explaining the "Automobile and Culture's" success, he continued, "The exhibit had a wide community interest. . . . It appealed to a much broader audience and reached those interested in car design and automobile artifacts as well as painting, photography and sculpture."

Thursday afternoon a handful of last-minute visitors milled about the expansive TC gallery, unfettered and unrushed by crowds. Chrome and glass glistened beneath the theatrical spotlights hung from iron gratings.

Andy Scheer of North Hollywood drives a Camaro Z-28. He was glad to finally see the show.

"I've been trying to get down here for months," he said. "I finally got off work early. This was my last opportunity. They've picked some great pieces; they really roll on the road."

"It's a shame it's closing," said Lydia Kukoff of West Los Angeles. "I'm going to go home and recruit my friends and neighbors to make sure they get down here before Sunday." Kukoff, who brought her two children and husband on Thursday, classified her clan as a three-car family: an Audi, Volvo and a Jaguar.

"I think this is an interesting premise for an (art) show, and well suited to L.A. It's lovely to see these cars as works of art," she said.

Charlotte Ford of Santa Monica drives a Volvo.

"I'm so mad at myself for not coming here sooner," Ford said. "At least I made it. But I would have come again several times. There's so much to take in. The old-time cars are just beautiful."

Cars and art in "Automobile and Culture" are grouped chronologically into seven sections roughly corresponding to the decades of the 20th Century. A jaunty 1913 Mercer Raceabout Model Type 35-J holds its own against an ultra-sleek black Model S 1981 Lamborghini Countach with V-12 engine and dual overhead camshaft. A facsimile drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of a "scythed vehicle or war machine," circa 1483, provides proper historic and aesthetic contrast to a Toulouse-Lautrec-esque color lithograph poster by P. Montanya, done in 1909.

In addition, outdoor extensions of the exhibit throughout its run helped boost its popularity. Koshalek said the six "Street Shows," in which 40 to 60 cars of one type were displayed under the TC's exterior canopy, brought in 3,500 visitors per weekend. That figure Koshalek compared to a usual Saturday and Sunday crowd of 2,500. And the three-day Labor Day collaboration between MOCA and the Mark Taper Forum, "Carplays," brought a daily attendance of 4,000, museum administrator Sherry Geldin reported.

"Carplays" mixed visual art, poetry, music, dance, theater and performance art in a 10-event festival. An artist/sculptor team performed a monster-like automobile make-over, a participatory piece encouraged players to imitate car noises by mouthing a variety of mechanically musical sounds--wearing Sony Walkmans and shades--and another performer climbed atop a makeshift gymnasium to deliver an auto-oratory to the accompaniment of screeching car stunts executed by a precision driving team.

The "Automobile and Culture" show will move next to Detroit, where a scaled-down exhibit will open June 9 at the city's Institute of Arts. Koshalek said it will be funded by Time magazine in Detroit and will involve the participation of major car companies there. He is optimistic about the exhibit's success in its second location.

Upcoming at the TC are three exhibitions opening simultaneously Feb. 13. The Panza Acquisition, with 80 paintings from the collection of Count Panza di Biumo of Milan, Italy, was recently acquired by the museum for $11 million. It will probably draw the largest crowd of the three new exhibits, Koshalek said. This will be the first time the works will be shown together in the United States, he added. Examples from the Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art periods will be represented. Artists included are Rothko, Kline and Rauschenberg, among others.

As part of its ongoing "In Context" series, the museum will also show the second part of a sculpture exhibit by Los Angeles artist Mark Lere. Lere's works, made with concrete, steel and plaster, were displayed in numerous outdoor sites throughout the city in part one. Part two will use only the interior of the TC.

The work of Los Angeles artist Allen Ruppersberg, 1969-1984, will complete the upcoming trio of exhibits. Using a multimedia approach, Ruppersberg's work incorporates both the processes and materials of painting, sculpture, photography and literature.

"Ten Photographers: Olympic Images," a TC exhibit of photographs of last summer's Olympic Games, will also close tomorrow.

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