Illuminating Work


Neon art has had a rough go in the search for respect in the art world, partly because of its extensive use in the commercial and industrial fields. Somehow, the presence of neon in an art gallery setting is disorienting, even though the art world has co-opted ideas and materials from anywhere and everywhere.

The show aptly dubbed "Up in Lights" at Burbank's Creative Arts Center Gallery brings together a variety of artists who use neon and other light elements in their work. The quality in the group show is too varied to make true believers of neon skeptics, but there's plenty to admire.

Kunio Ohashi's impressive, minimalist work plays up the friction of seemingly contrary materials, from natural and technological realms. A cubic stone is wrapped in a thin red band of neon, like ribbon on a gift. In another piece, a mystical blue cube, lit from within, is placed next to a thicket of twigs.

A similar nature versus culture tension occurs in the large, shrine-like "Obelisk and Circle," the most dramatic piece here, made by Jan Sanchez and Paul Swenson. A tall obelisk is covered with peeling copper flakes, mimicking bark and leaves, with spare lines and shapes in neon generating a plugged-in sizzle effect.

Michael Flechtner, an especially skilled craftsman, actually draws with the tubing where others sprinkle its effect on their work. But for Karl X. Hauser, neon and light effects are just part of a strange and personalized palette, as he creates charmingly funky tableaux with fairy-tale houses and vignettes.

Several artists, including Richard Rozinski, Michael Young and Vince Koloski, are sculptors dealing with geometric abstractions and relief sculptures, in conjunction with the fine art of lighting and backlighting. Lorenzo Deck's deceptively simple "Yellow X" is what the title suggests, but it cleverly explores the kinship of lighting, object and color.

Then there are artists such as Mark Riley, whose kinetic display in a black box radiates light in twisted circles, as if demonstrating the behavior of an electron in a science fair.

With these artists, a certain inventor's instinct comes to the surface. These could be Erector set graduates, intrigued by the notion of art that plugs in and performs.

But that's just one conceptual thread in the exhibit. Even if it's hard to glean any sense of curatorial purpose, this is a bona fide "show," in both the descriptive and active definitions. Suffice to say, light and color are having a field day in Burbank.

* "Up in Lights," through Oct. 30 at Creative Arts Center Gallery, 1100 W. Clark Ave., Burbank. Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday; (818) 238-5397.

Temptations: Despite art-watcher etiquette drummed into our heads from childhood, some art just demands to be touched or otherwise interacted with on a tactile level. The work in the exhibit at College of the Canyons begs sitting on.

Well, that's not entirely true: Some of the pieces in this small but impressive survey, "Calculated Risks: Chair Design in the 20th Century," appear to be less than user-friendly in design--ill suited, as they are, to the structural specifics of the human body. Other examples seem intimidating as functional objects because of our intrinsic awe for such names as Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe. These are icons of modern architectural history; how can we dare apply our lowly duffs to their handiwork?

The show, resourcefully assembled, is an inherently limited but surprisingly illuminating study. It depicts the evolution of fashion and the whims of architect-designers dealing with the day-to-day stuff of furniture.

The connections are not always expected. L.A. hero Frank Gehry, whose buildings often seem to defy gravity and patrons' patience, puts creativity in the service of functionality with his "Crisscross Chair," woven from bent, laminated strips of wood--like wicker, revisited and revised.

One of the most outlandish and imaginative pieces in this show is Fabrizio Ballardini's "Sunsiro Chair," consisting of a large rubber ball for the seat and an arcing red slab for a back, connected to a metal frame. While it could represent a thumbing of the nose at establishment values, it may be that it's ingeniously comfortable. (Note: The columnist did not investigate said comfort factor).

Frank Lloyd Wright's chair on view here is a fairly austere design, despite the glaring fact of its mustard yellow padding. Harking from the turn of the century, representing design ethics that paved the way for modernism, we find Greene and Greene's "Slipper Chair" and Gustav Stickley's memorably elegant "Morris Chair."

The Eames brothers' 1950s-era lounge chair and footstool, aggressively cozy with its black leather attitude, evokes Cold War-era machismo. Eero Saarinen's "Womb Chair" from 1948 looks like a puffy brown sack, intended to envelop the sitter, while Van der Rohe's "Barcelona Chair" is basically two black leather rectangles, pitched at odd angles to keep the human body in its clutches. Le Corbusier's 1928 chaise lounge is an odd-looking, adjustable contraption that is, reportedly, ergonomically sound.

Throughout this compact survey of chair design in our century, we see the balance of form and function continually tip back and forth, reminding us that, while the basic goal of a chair may be obvious, the application of its design is an imperfect science, and a never-ending quest.

* "Calculated Risks: Chair Design in the 20th Century," through Oct. 18 at College of the Canyons, 28488 Rockwell Canyon Road, Santa Clarita. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday; (805) 259-7800, Ext. 3613.

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