Paying Witness to the Aftermath of Vietnam

Terry Allen--painter, sculptor, composer, poet, pianist and country folk singer--has ambitious plans for the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum. When "Big Witness (Living in Wishes)" opens Saturday (with a reception for the artist from 5 to 7 p.m.), visitors will see a multi-media, sculptural installation based on the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Contacted at his studio in Fresno, Allen said he intends to nearly fill the gallery with "a large, screened house structure." Inside the house there will be "a giant couch-shape, also screened-in," he said. The couch will hold "a large lead figure that looks like a cross between a zombie and a kachina" and spouts music through a built-in sound system.

Allen typically develops ideas as he constructs his artworks, so details will be resolved as the piece shapes up in Santa Barbara. "The way I work, I may make a 360-degree turn once I get there," he joked. Wall paintings may be added, for example, but the main sculptural elements are set, he said.

So is the theme. "Big Witness" is the latest in Allen's 5-year-old series, called "Youth in Asia." Sculptural tableaux and related works in the series call attention to traumatic results of the Southeast Asian war.

Allen started the critical body of work after going to Thailand to do the sound track for the German film, "Amerasia." Released in Europe but not in the United States, the film deals with American veterans who remained in Asia after the war and with unwanted children who were parented by American military men and Asian women. He expects to end the series soon, showing final pieces from "Youth in Aisa" in the spring at L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice.

The artist, who is married to performance artist, singer and actress Jo Harvey Allen, grew up in Texas and bases most of his work on the American West. The La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art held a major exhibition of his art in 1983.

L.A. IN BOSTON: One encounter with Los Angeles contemporary art has led to another for a Boston-based curator. Dana Friis-Hansen, assistant curator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's List Visual Arts Center, had his first serious brush with Southland art last summer when he was invited to organize Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions' "Annuale" at the downtown gallery. Now he has expanded his new-found knowledge to produce what he calls "a more focused and coherent exhibition" of art made in Los Angeles.

"L.A. Hot and Cool" recently opened in two Boston-area locations. A portion of the show dealing with "Pioneers," 11 influential artists who came on the scene in the '60s and '70s, is at the Bank of Boston Art Gallery (to Jan. 15). "The Eighties" segment, featuring 23 younger artists, is at the List center in Cambridge (to Feb. 7).

According to a press release, both sections of the exhibition pursue "two distinct traditions and temperaments in Los Angeles and its art." The historical part places the "hot, passionate, personal and aggressive" work of Chris Burden, Edward Kienholz, Betye Saar and Asco (an East Los Angeles collaborative group) in counterpoint to the "more removed, intellectual or slyly ironic approach" of such artists as Michael Asher, John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman and Edward Ruscha.

"The Eighties," at MIT, contrasts the "hot" work of Barbara Carrasco, Nancy Evans and Mike Kelley and others with "cool" art produced by David Bunn, Christopher Williams and Stephen Prina. Jim Isermann has built an installation, called "Futura," for the occasion, mixing paintings and furniture inspired by Disneyland's "Mission to the Moon" attraction.

MUSEUM TALK: A panel discussion on "The Museum Now" will wind up a series of public programs, called "On the Artist in Society," Saturday from 2 to 5:30 p.m. in UCLA's Schoenberg Auditorium. Jointly sponsored by UCLA's College of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art, the series has featured lectures by distinguished art historians and critics.

Participants in the Saturday panel will discuss the recent "museum boom," how popularity has changed museums and if they can survive their success. Panelists are Marcia Tucker, director of the New Museum in New York; Douglas Crimp, writer and associate editor of October magazine; Mary Jane Jacob, chief curator at MOCA; John R. Lane, director of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and artist Daniel Buren.

Admission to the program is $5; $3 for students, MOCA members and senior citizens. Information: (213) 206-6465 or (213) 621-2766.

PUBLIC ART: "Billboard," a 20-foot-tall abstract artwork by Southern California artist Jay Willis, was recently temporarily installed in Beverly Hills for the inauguration of that city's Municipal Sculpture Garden. Willis' work is the first of several sculptures to be located throughout Beverly Gardens Park, located on Santa Monica Boulevard, between Rodeo and Beverly drives.

The new public art project, coordinated by the Beverly Hills Fine Art Committee, will place in the park for periods of 18-36 months sculptures loaned by Southern California artists. Among other artists who have been invited to participate in the project are Woods Davy, Michael Todd, Guy Dill and George Herms.

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