If the Museum of Contemporary Art's Temporary Contemporary facility is Los Angeles' Big Top, its new batch of shows is a nine-ring circus--actually 10, if you count the continuing exhibition of the Panza collection.
Not that "Summer 1985: Nine Artists"--opening today to museum founders and Sunday to members--is geared to entertainment. There are no dancing bears or tightrope walkers, just nine separate art shows installed as simultaneous attractions.
"We wanted to show strong, original work," Julia Brown said, explaining the rationale for selecting the nine artists among a plethora of contenders. As senior curator, she and Assistant Curator Jacqueline Crist organized the exhibitions.
"We were interested in artists who had not had major museum exposure, and we narrowed the field to those who are in Los Angeles, not Santa Barbara or San Diego. We also looked for artists from different parts of the city.
"One thing I was interested in was art that has grown up on the street. New York has people like Keith Haring. I wanted to find out what was going on here. After looking at a lot of work, Gronk (Gluglio Gronk Nicandro) and Willie Herron seemed strongest in that arena. We thought it was important to show their work not as part of an exhibition of muralists but as artists who work in the city."
Gronk has painted three enormous narrative murals, stretching as high as 30 feet and running around 400 feet of the museum walls. One in black and white, two in vivid color, they are impacted with a Latino-flavored smorgasbord of people and objects drawn from popular culture.
Herron has taken to the ceiling to suspend a series of painted panels from the TC's metal rafters. These rows of banners, printed in black on bright-colored fabric, repeatedly depict enlargements of the artist's face and a male torso.
Gronk's and Herron's works are installed in what exhibition designer Tim Vreeland calls "outside" spaces or "streets" and "vestibules" of the museum. The other seven artists' works are displayed in more conventional "inside" spaces; they have rooms of their own, entered through doorways and sometimes seen through "windows."
Mary Corse's formal wall pieces hold forth serenely in one gallery, whose floor plan seems to echo the notched, rectangular shapes of her iridescent, glazed clay works. In contrast, Jill Giegerich's sprightly constructions of a faceted figure, a big white teapot and other objects bounce around another gallery so energetically that one piece has catapulted itself onto the ceiling.
Back on the ground, Suzanne Caporeal shows dark, expressionistic oils that merge human forms, landscapes and numerical symbols in conceptual puzzles. Steve Galloway's meticulously detailed figurative drawings often focus on human losses incurred through industrialization. Photographer Jo Ann Callis shows 16 black-and-white prints of ordinary objects combined in jarring juxtapositions, as well as 15 new images in color.
Bill Viola's video work has its own screening room for regular presentations of his videotapes from 1977 to 1983, along with two recent video-sound installations. And the late Guy de Cointet has a performance salon where sets and props are installed on stages and actual performances will be given during the course of the exhibition.
De Cointet's "Five Sisters" will be staged July 25, 26 and 27; "Tell Me" on Aug. 1 and 2; "Espahor ledet ko uluner!" (featuring Billy Barty as Qui No Mysxdod) on Aug. 9. "At Sunrise . . . A Cry Was Heard," "Going to the Market," "My Father's Diary" and "Two Drawings" will be presented on Sept. 6 and 7.
Among other live events planned in conjunction with the summer show are Gronk's premiere performance of "Morning Becomes Electricity" on July 19, Aug. 16 and Sept. 13. On Aug. 23, Herron's band, Los Illegals, will join a double bill with a performance of "Asco" by Gronk, Marisela Norte and Patssi Valadez. All events are scheduled at 8:30 p.m.
"We wanted a coherent mix of people who work in different media," Brown said, surveying the eclectic assortment of art being readied for the weekend opening. "But essentially, these are substantial exhibitions for each person.
"One thing we didn't want was a theme show," she continued. "The thrust of the museum has been toward individuals. We feel that, over time, you touch a lot of people that way and give each one a chance to be seen in depth."
"Summer 1985: Nine Artists" opens to the public Wednesday and continues through Sept. 26. Hours: Wednesdays through Mondays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursdays, to 8 p.m.