Los Angeles

Luciano Perna

Bennett Roberts Fine Art

A member of the Toy Train Operating Society, Luciano Perna hung his framed certificate over a setup guaranteed to make fellow model-train enthusiasts either swoon or vomit. While most hobbyists yearn for an ordered miniature world, Perna, with the help of 72 artist friends, prefers the chaotic. His recent installation, Occupato, 1995, mapped a nightmarish terrain that was full of clever asides and images of urban blight.

Three horizontal surfaces of varying heights—including a ping-pong table, a glass basketball backboard, and a circa 1956 Saarinen-designed, tulip-style pedestal table—sprawled across the gallery. 0-scale train tracks linked the disparate supports, ran along the floor, and on an elevated dead-end segment of track. The train itself took different routes each day. When I visited, it chugged only on the central level, bypassing many of the works and leaving them strangely inactivated.

The list of artists who collaborated on this project read like a who’s who of the Los Angeles art world. Old-school heavy hitters made the cut alongside fresh young pups. Perna curated the show, but the assignments were open-ended. The only restrictions placed on the artists were practical ones: no bombs, and nothing too big. The end result was (no surprise) a potluck of styles, sizes, and approaches. Bridges, tunnels, billboards, shantytowns, and plenty of art museums and galleries approximated a cityscape. There were also to-scale plants, a model of an explosion, Godzilla, a Prozac tower, a grove of Fresh-as-a-breeze little trees, and plenty of items that looked like nonrepresentational, or what might be termed “conceptual,” artworks.

In the spirit of group shows, the participating artists seemed to engage in a lively competition, holding up their end of the bargain. On the other hand, Perna, who had made no definite promises, shafted many of the participants by overcrowding the work. Most everything got lost in the mayhem. A train traveling throughout the setup may have provided a much needed visual anchor, but the existing Lionel did not cruise through the entire space and trackside property was at a sad minimum.

The most successful works stood out on account of their meekness—the quiet and unscented stole the show. The coolest surprise and the only the piece to elicit any giggles was a two-foot strip of cast plaster by Alex Slade. Running alongside the track, it functioned as a sound barrier, shielding the noisy locomotive from the quiet residential world. It’s charm was as multileveled as the beast it attempted to silence, but its petite stature embodied the futility of this attempt. Practically speaking, its basic form provided a much needed visual break, a place for the eye to retreat for a blink or two.

Michael Gonzales’ freight car summarized the nature of Perna’s installation. It carried a Lucite block with the word “wonder” from a bread wrapper glued onto it, touring the wacky landscape again and again. It was childhood innocence being squashed by overexposure to the avantgarde. It explained why children hate their parents, why roller-coaster rides are limited to a few per year, why desserts are rationed, and why artists are never invited to design cities.

Lisa Anne Auerbach