Giving Mixed Messages : * The Woodbury University show mingles the work of 15 artists inspired by ideas and elements as varied as feminism, furniture and landscaping.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

The centuries-old question, "What is art?," gets a challenging contemporary response at Woodbury University in the exhibit "Interdisciplinary."

Curated by Los Angeles gallery owner Sue Spaid, the show presents the work of 15 Los Angeles-area artists who have been inspired by ideas and elements from such diverse fields as women's studies and architecture, anthropology and furniture design.

Spaid said her inspiration for the show came from a Woodbury recruitment brochure, which stresses the interdisciplinary nature of the university's bachelor degree programs in business, design and architecture. "At Woodbury, business majors discuss marketing strategy with graphic designers. . . . Fashion marketing majors turn psychology and the social sciences into business tools," the brochure states, among other examples of the thesis.

With the university's philosophical approach to education as a backdrop, Spaid organized the exhibit in the Burbank campus' art gallery to spotlight her view "that artists are no longer looking to art school techniques. They go out into the world and bring back information and put that into their work," she said.

The show also fits nicely into art gallery Director Carolee Toon-Parker's goal to "bring really current contemporary art" to the university, she said, "especially art being seen in Los Angeles for the first time or by artists just starting to exhibit. The artists in the show investigate design or philosophy or science, addressing (these disciplines) as art forms. (Their studies) may evolve as commentary or visual or conceptual possibilities."

Laura Howe's monumental charcoal drawing, "Emma Goldman," is based on a photograph of the anarchist, free-speech advocate and feminist making a speech before a crowd in the street. It covers a wall area from floor to ceiling. One can't help but feel the power of Goldman through the sheer size of the work, the strength illustrated in her face and, behind her, the forthright image of the open palm of a hand, which lends her support. Additionally, the attentive audience looks upward.

Howe has been moved to depict heroic women in our history in part, she said, as "a response to Mt. Rushmore."

On a wall nearby Howe's drawing hangs Jim Iserman's intricate, hand-stitched quilt. Spaid said Iserman made it from material he found in thrift shops and that it took him about 200 hours to complete. "How many paintings have that kind of intensity?" she asked.

Not far away from the quilt is David Perry's not so functional, but finely formed chair(s). What looks like two Shaker-style chairs have metamorphosed into one art object. A small person could sit on the front chair form, but Perry said it is up to the viewer to decide "whether or not it is functional."

With the drawing of Goldman, the quilt and Perry's Shaker forms, Spaid said this corner of the gallery "reads like American history."

Lunna Menoh applies the art of costume design in her three-dimensional, wearable "Linear Skirt." Designed somewhat like a carousel, it goes on over the head. An inner tube-like center of images relating to fashion from different eras and realms revolves underneath a black, textile exterior, which has openings so viewers can see the images. When the wearer walks, the inner layer rotates. Menoh said she wanted to explore "the relationship between society and the body."

Richard Hawkins incorporates ideas from landscape design in his "Orientalist Geranium." The flower is elegantly arranged in a fine pot, taking in the gallery's indirect sunlight.

Laura Stein has been grafting different forms of cactus together, using pantyhose and rubber bands to bind and then grow them together. A large color photograph of one of her new life forms documents her efforts. Two inventive drawings--one of a cabbage that sprouts a sunflower and then other flower species--have been created from botanical prints.

Carol Szymanski concerns herself with phonemes, basic units of sound. Her two sculptures represent visually the "i" and the "u." Because both pieces are drums, they allow viewers to experience how those characters sound.

The interdisciplinary approach "is not new, it's just a way of thinking," Spaid said. "All of the artists (in the show) take different kinds of subject matter into consideration. There is a way to make art without even studying it."

Other artists represented in the show are Lynn Aldrich, Sally Elesby, Kenneth Goldsmith, Michael Miller, Jorge Pardo, John Souza and Kevin Sullivan / Jan Tumlir.


What: "Interdisciplinary."

Location: Woodbury University Art Gallery, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank.

Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Ends June 3. Also: Artists panel discussion, 4 to 6 p.m. May 16.

Call: (818) 767-0888, Ext. 337.

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