Laid Out in Hollywood

The come-on was seductive: "There is an assumption that patterns created by the stars carry an indisputable reality to them, and it is with this misapprehension that the viewer may become more vulnerable." The words are part of a flier for "Jay Oré: Skygarden," an installation of related works now on view at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, and they call into question the traditional interpretations of the constellations.

I set off with visions of, say, a reinvigorated Orion myth dancing in my head. What I found was another matter.

This little one-man show — call it a mini-exhibition — indeed challenges our assumptions about the widely accepted configurations of the heavens, passed down through the ages until they became etched into our collective consciousness.

Oré has fun with the concept, but, aside from its concept and execution, "Skygarden" poses some intriguing questions about what exactly the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is up to these days. The installation, which consists of just nine individual works linked by a common cosmic theme, is part of a new initiative by the center called the Project Room, designed to showcase emerging regional artists in a supportive venue, away from the pressures and constraints of a commercial gallery. The scale is intentionally small, as the name suggests — a pair of interlocking spaces that together make up one display space that can be configured in a variety of ways, contingent on the artist's ingenuity.

The space now given over to the Project Room was once either the beginning or the end of a full-scale exhibition, depending on how the curator had assembled the show. Often the room, just off the center's small lobby, was devoted to video installations, which always struck me as a particularly inventive use. My understanding is that the Art and Culture Center building itself once housed a funeral home, which implies that the space at that time might have been a viewing room of a very different sort.

That brings us, in a roundabout way, to the history of the Art and Culture Center, which has always occupied a somewhat unusual niche in the South Florida arts community. Newspaper calendar editors have never seemed quite sure how to categorize the place, sometimes listing it among the region's museums, other times lumping it in with the commercial galleries. In reality it's neither museum nor gallery but, as the name indicates, a center for art and culture of other sorts. There's a strong educational component, for instance, and concerts and dance have been part of regular programming for the past decade or so. I recall frequently finding a piano hiding out in a corner of the main gallery.

The center came into being in the mid-1970s as part of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, which might help to explain its neither-fish-nor-fowl status. Back then, it was a little beachfront gallery space. In 1991, it moved to its current digs, an architecturally interesting 1920s residence. (A few of the works included in a group exhibition a couple of years ago alluded to its funereal past.) These days the arts school is located on a site adjacent to the center, and performances take place at another Hollywood venue, leaving the Harrison Street complex as the home of the center's offices and museum.

Gone are the days, apparently, when the Art and Culture Center could host large-scale exhibitions that filled the display spaces on both floors, or even two separate exhibitions running concurrently on different floors. The second floor is now used primarily to show student work, which means that, with one gallery now designated as the Project Room, major exhibitions are left with the large main gallery and the two smaller side galleries downstairs.

 I can understand the impulse to diversify, but in this case it's the art that has suffered. The whole Project Room concept could stand some fine-tuning. Why, for example, do Project Room installations have their own schedule rather than running more or less in sync with shows in the rest of the museum? "Skygarden" is up from April 11 through May 11, while the larger "Exploding the Lotus" exhibition (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) runs February 29 through May 25. How likely are museumgoers to make a special visit (and pay regular admission) just to see what's going on in the Project Room?

The idea of having the Project Room bleed into the other shows on display also strikes me as diminishing the impact of its installations. As it is, you can wander directly from "Exploding the Lotus" into "Skygarden." If the Project Room is as big a deal as the Art and Culture Center seems to want it to be, why not seal off the space so that the art there really is its own separate experience? Let visitors enter straight from the lobby and immerse themselves, without the distraction of another show going on a few feet away. "Skygarden" would also benefit from having a darker viewing environment.

These are just a few suggestions — constructive ones, I hope — from someone who has visited the Project Room several times and has yet to be much impressed by the work as it has been presented there. Jay Oré's exhibition is no exception, despite its inclusion of work that cries out for more special treatment.

A couple of pieces come across as a bit too obvious. Star cluster consists of nothing more than a handful of Styrofoam balls of various sizes, painted bright colors and clumped together with caulking, to suggest the title conglomeration. It hangs from the ceiling, as does the rotating Superstar, for which maybe two dozen or so vinyl LPs have been softened and combined in a big, irregular sphere. Among the titles I was able to make out are the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead, James Brown's Dead on the Heavy Funk, Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume II, The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, and a Gershwin recording.

But Oré's lightboxes (there are four of them) actually deliver on his promise to rearrange the heavens. Birth of the Cosmos, for example, offers up an otherworldly welder — God? — at work, with face mask and glowing torch. Best intentions interprets a smattering of stars as the outline of a pair of canine-looking creatures kissing. And best of all, Why you don't hold a shark by its tail gives us an elaborate stellar rendering of a shark with a disembodied human hand clamped onto its tail.

While Oré has a clever concept that he gamely runs with, I'm not so sure it would sustain a full-scale one-man exhibition, which suggests that the Project Room idea of presenting emerging artists on a smaller scale is a solid one. The Art and Culture Center has come up with a worthy program and has proved it can find good artists to present. Now it just needs to work a little harder on the details of the presentation.

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Michael Mills