Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Mall Crawl Goes Avant-Garde


Video art from the 1970's is known for being difficult, if not deliberately monotonous. It tends to dispense with the niceties of character, plot and narrative. It's the opposite of blockbuster entertainment. And it's the last thing you'd expect to see at your local mall.

Unless you are heading to One Colorado, an outdoor shopping center in downtown Pasadena, not far from Los Angeles. Encouraged by the popularity of their free summer film series, which featured James Bond movies one year and Marilyn Monroe pictures another, managers of the mall have begun screening classic video art in their courtyard.

In one piece, Bruce Nauman shuffles around a square, marked out in masking tape on the floor, stepping to the beat of a metronome. In another, John Baldessari writes out the sentence "I will not make any more boring art" again and again, until he fills up many notebook pages and 32 minutes of tape. The full sequence, featuring seven artists, runs twice every night, through June 25.

"Many museums have video art in their archives but rarely show it," said Robin Faulk, marketing director of One Colorado. "So we started thinking, Why don't we liberate this art form and make it more visible and accessible?"

The videos were chosen by the Armory Center for the Arts, and the space is a cinema-size screen mounted on a brick wall of a Crate & Barrel store, above the company logo. Also ringing the courtyard are a movie theater and the restaurants with patios.

So what do the merchants think of the avant-garde program? So far, the reviews are mixed at best. While William Wegman scores points for teaching a Weimaraner how to spell, the other videos have not been so happily received.

Employees of the Gordon Biersch brewpub have the best view of the screen, but they sound especially skeptical. "The whole thing is pretty tedious," said a host, Joel Harrison. "It's like a documentary of psychology experiments. People are wondering why they aren't showing a normal movie."

A server near him called the Nauman perimeter piece painful. "The metronome sound was torture," the waiter, Daniel Collister, said. "They had to turn down the volume."

A couple sitting in the courtyard on a recent Friday night also had a strong reaction to the Nauman work or, more precisely, the artist's technique. "His weight transfers from one leg to another weren't clean, and his back wasn't extended," said the husband, Craig Clark, a local psychologist. "As a ballroom dancer myself, I was annoyed, but I couldn't stop watching, either."

Apparently, the Baldessari was not as mesmerizing. By the time the artist finished inscribing his third, the couple were ready to leave. They walked across the courtyard to catch the 7:15 showing of "Capote."

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