So complete is Jennifer Moon's transformation of China Art Objects Galleries that when you walk through the front door you might think you've gone to the wrong address. In the far corner of the two-story-tall space is a practice rock-climbing wall, with old mattresses laid out to break one's fall. On your left stands the base of a treehouse-like loft, from which hangs a large hammock and a knotted rope. Emerging from a round hole cut in the loft's floor, the rope passes a rack of carved batons (used in one-on-one sparring contests) and disappears into a similar hole cut into the gallery's floor.
The strange, multipurpose place feels like a synthesis of Romper Room, the Bat Cave, a private gym and a community center. Even a modest amount of curiosity will have you clambering down the rope, where you pass through a shadowy antechamber before entering a cool subterranean hangout that's part rec room, arts-and-crafts studio and video screening room.
From there, a narrow corridor takes you to an inner sanctum, which, like everything else in Moon's delightfully hybridized space, is many things to many people. A combination DJ booth, sauna, cactus garden, meeting room and meditation chamber, this underground retreat recalls the secret hide-outs kids build to make a space for themselves apart from the boring rationality of the adult world. Moon's version also has the presence of a restaurant's dimly lit back room, where Mafiosos, politicos and Masters of the Universe take behind-the-scenes meetings (at least in the movies).
A rear stairway returns you to the main floor, where three large bulletin boards, covered with sign-up sheets and schedules, present information about available activities, classes, seminars and field trips. Cardiovascular exercise regimens, reading and writing workshops and such practical skills as woodworking and draftsmanship are listed.
Participants are invited to invent their own programs, join scheduled events or combine both types of activity. Open sparring night is Monday at 10. Wednesdays at 8 have been set aside for seminars "On Ways to Help the World." Card-counting field trips to Las Vegas are among the most popular outings. On Aug. 12, a musical documentary titled "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" will be screened.
By the time you've scanned the bulletin boards and read the fine print on the Accident Waiver and Release of Liability forms stacked nearby, you'll know that you're at the right address and that Moon's installation is a clever meditation on the ways contemporary art functions--when it actually does something. Titled "The Facility," her exhibition physically demonstrates that art viewing is not a spectator sport: You have to put something into it to get something out of it.
Both entertaining and edifying, Moon's do-it-yourself activities center provides an open framework in which visitors with different interests, backgrounds and skills can do their own thing, with as much seriousness and dedication as suits them. That's exactly what art does, drawing together interested parties whose commitments and convictions make us stand out from one crowd by fitting into another.
* China Art Objects Galleries, 933 Chung King Road, (213) 613-0384, through Aug. 12. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.
Pushing Paint: "Luminous" is a group show whose visual pleasures are infinitely more complex than the simple idea on which it is based. At Ikon Ltd./Kay Richards Contemporary Art, guest curators Leo Bravo and Christopher Miles have brought together the work of 12 artists to answer the question: What are some of the ways paint can be applied to a surface?
Just inside the entrance, Linda Besemer's 2-inch-thick slab of accumulated layers of acrylic paint complicates things immediately. Never applying paint to anything but another rubbery layer of paint, Besemer creates a delicious experience of vertigo. By eliminating the neutral ground of panel or canvas, she pulls the rug out from under your feet, demonstrating that paint, handled deftly, needs no support whatsoever.
Other artists bring an equally light touch to their crisp, hands-off abstractions. Roland Reiss uses a squeegee to pull translucent swaths of candy-colored acrylics across pristine white grounds. Scot Heywood paints solid fields of saturated color by layering vertically applied coats atop horizontal ones, resulting in interwoven surfaces of remarkable density. Lies Kraal completely hides her hand in a pair of quietly dazzling monochromes, a chocolaty brown one that reflects light and a deep blue one whose powdery surface absorbs light like a hungry sponge.
Made with the precision of a surgeon and the exuberance of a cake decorator, Dennis Hollingsworth's synthetic confections combine elements of collage with aspects of relief sculpture. So do Jeremy Kidd's clunky paintings on Nova prints and Simon Periton's gigantic paper cutout, although much less effectively.
Tam Van Tran treats his tiny paintbrushes as if they were drafting pens, making architectural drawings of fantastic intergalactic expanses. And Robert Greene pours paint directly on wood panels, where various colors mix in queasy chemical stews.
Three painters use brushes in a more traditional manner. Of these, Julie Sajtar's simple compositions, which balance a handful of vertical lines against flat, oddly tinted grounds, outdistance Robin Mitchell's and Linda Day's overwrought organic abstractions. Sometimes less is more, especially when it is so resolved that it belies the simplicity of the idea on which it is based.
* Ikon Ltd./Kay Richards Contemporary Art, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6629, through Saturday.
On the Edge: Although none of the paintings, sculptures and photographs in "Cosmic Dermis" looks like any of the others, this four-artist exhibition at Rosamund Felsen Gallery still makes loopy sense. Guest curator Gordon Haines compels viewers to make imaginative leaps, finding slippery links and quirky connections among the seemingly unrelated works he has assembled.
Pauline Stella Sanchez's uncategorizable constructions serve as models for the show as a whole. Combining elements of furniture design, abstract painting, book-making and board games, the artist's odd, interactive hybrids resemble handsome Formica pedestals that have been inset with wood strips, tipped on their sides and mounted on wheels.
Various shelves and drawers reveal useful interiors, out of which spill a tiny portrait of Louis XIV, a series of computer-manipulated floor plans of Versailles, 177 drawings made with a pink magic marker, 92 inkjet prints depicting trippy, mandala-like patterns and a circular swatch of fabric into which images of the planets have been woven. Sanchez's works have the presence of interactive play stations, easily transported installations capable of being arranged in myriad ways.
Equally futuristic are Wayne Littlejohn's wall-mounted and free-standing sculptures, some of which recall barnacle-encrusted treasures salvaged from shipwrecks and others that seem to be alien life-forms with an intelligence all their own. Made of cast fiberglass and painted with automobile lacquer, "Mata Hari" looks like a cross between an octopus and a souped-up V-8. Measuring more than 7 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter, "Atomic Jellyfish" is a whirling dervish with as many sinuous twists as tints of purplish pink glistening from its slick surfaces.
Allan deSouza's landscape photographs add a touch of fantasy-tinged realism to the show, and four well-chosen collage-paintings by Merion Estes emphasize the snappy graphics that sometimes get muddled over in her mix-and-match abstractions. Keeping things loose, "Cosmic Dermis" maintains its edge by embracing kinky idiosyncrasy.
* Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 829-8488, through Aug. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Weak Links: Group shows are not sewing baskets or tool kits, so I'm always surprised when a curator organizes an exhibition in the same way that my folks organized the paraphernalia of their favorite pastimes: putting similar things in adjoining compartments so they'd be able to find them easily. At Don O'Melveny Gallery, guest curator Carl Berg has brought together works by four abstract painters in such a ploddingly straightforward fashion that few sparks fly from their juxtaposition.
Based on the backgrounds of magazine advertisements, Max Presneill's bland canvases take the edge off of Merion Estes' collage-paintings, which include patches of commercially printed fabric, thick spills of acrylic and fake butterflies. Nancy Evans' generally symmetrical organic abstractions look unfinished, or half-baked. They add very little to Bert Herrington's promising yet unresolved paintings of pastel grids in which the silhouettes of cowboys and cattle can be glimpsed.
Titled "Intraconnection," this dull exhibition puts too much emphasis on obvious visual similarities and tedious conceptual links to generate unexpected ideas or satisfying insights. Curiosity may kill the cat, but excessive tidiness makes for a dog of a show.
* Dan O'Melveny Gallery, 9009 Melrose Ave., (310) 273-7868, through Aug. 19. Closed Sundays and Mondays.