McMillen's Magic at L.A. Louver

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Oh, the pressure to be joyful during the holiday season: any wonder we end up stressed out? Boy, do I have a place for you to unwind; to stand still and listen to a mysterious quiet sound; to step from the glare of noisy, crowded Venice Beach into a sort of decompression chamber. Anyone for time traveling?

McMillen Michael McMillen, well-known Los Angeles artist, delivers his unique brand of magic in a new exhibition at the L.A. Louver. Have you ever fantasized or feared being stranded for a few days in the middle of nowhere, waiting for your car to be repaired? Bette Davis' famous sneer, "What a dump!" is too-kind praise for the three-room motel where you've landed. It looks like a garden shack, ready to fall apart.

That's precisely the kind of scenery greeting a visitor upon entering the large downstairs gallery at the L.A. Louver. The room is dark, and judging by a single dangling lamp struggling to illuminate the scene, it's probably 2 in the morning. The whole world is asleep while you are awake, looking in disbelief at the Red Trailer Motel. Are we in Kansas after the tornado swept Dorothy over the rainbow? The motel looks as if it was slapped together from the debris left in the tornado's trail.

McMillenIt's not clear if you're allowed on the gravel surrounding the motel, assembled in the far corner of the gallery, but I step on it anyway, half-expecting someone to reprimand me. Being a longtime admirer of Michael McMillen's art, I knew that each of the three motel rooms would hide quite a few surprises. I was not disappointed and believe me you won't be either.

Each door has a tiny peephole at eye level. Can anyone resist the temptation to become a Peeping Tom at 2 in the morning when no one will catch you? All three empty rooms exude a sense of enigma wrapped in a mystery. David Lynch might spin each scene into new installments of Twin Peaks. One room is especially quiet and banal until huge goldfish appear swimming outside the window. I swear I was not smoking anything. You ought to see it to believe it.

Almost everything is manufactured, crafted and painted by the artist himself. Even after you realize that nothing here is real, the poetic melancholy of the world imagined by Michael McMillen is still hugely appealing and utterly convincing.

In the small side gallery there is a miniature sculptural installation of another nighttime motel scene, this time attached to the wall and observed as if from the window of a slow, low-flying plane. A swaying light source casts long traveling shadows of trees, of a building and of a sign on it's roof. And each letter of the sign casts its own separate shadow that spells out the word "motel". Welcome to the enchanted world imagined and meticulously crafted by the artist and magician, Michael McMillen.

Michael C. McMillen
November 21, 2003 - January 3, 2004
L.A. Louver Gallery
45 North Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 822-4955