A&E

Joie de 'Play!'

Palo Alto Art Center celebrates the art of playfulness and the playfulness of art

"Play!," a vibrant and interactive art exhibition focused on the concept of playfulness, is on display at the Palo Alto Art Center through Dec. 29.

The exhibition, which strikes a balance between real and surreal, imaginativeness and inventiveness and light and dark, is full of nontraditional interactions with everyday objects.

"Play!" seeks to celebrate the mundane becoming the transformative, said Palo Alto Art Center Director Karen Kienzle during a walk-through. It also highlights the overall importance of play for health and well being.

"(Play!) is interested in the restorative power of play as an intellectual tool for the development of children ... it is critical for children's stress relief," she said.

Starting at the entrance, the entirety of the Palo Alto Art Center is decked out in whimsy, encouraging visitors not just to see and enjoy the art, but in many cases, to interact with it and ultimately create their own.

At "Play!," play can take the form of banging on Terry Berlier's musical pots and pans and frolicking in packing peanuts, or sitting in a quiet teepee for some time away from the inevitable ruckus.

A game of Twister is painted on the floor tiles of the waiting area, and interactive art pieces, such as Hero Design's "Everbright Mini" (a touch-sensitive illuminated surface reminiscent of the classic Lite-Brite toy), prompts viewers to "Please play!" Children are encouraged to touch and explore, and adults are encouraged to reflect on the times of simplicity when they, without restraint, would have done the same.

The entryway of the gallery, designed by Sofie Ramos, sets the stage for both the playfulness and the ambiguity of the exhibition as a whole. Ramos' brightly colored installation (made from contact paper, wood and found objects) called "round and round and round and," snakes up and around the walls of the entrance and spills over the entirety of the room without beginning or end. Ramos' work, like play, Kienzle said, "is a game, open-ended, and not just goal-oriented."

Nils Völker's "Bits and Pieces," a series of Hoberman spheres, hangs at left in the main gallery on a timer, with each piece opening and closing as they breathe in the air around them. Matthew Goldberg's "Whiffer Sniffer," a conglomerate sculpture of ceramic shaped into a giant nose, wiffle ball equipment, a joystick and machine claw, takes found objects into a new type of creative space, making a perplexingly playful scene. Tim Hawkinson's "Bosun's Bass," an amazing motion-censored machine built from bicycle parts and found objects, plays with sound, bellowing three octaves lower than the traditional a sailor's call.

Then there is Robert Xavier Burden's "Battle for the Arctic," a stained glass-like painting immortalizing an array of characters from cartoons, movies, games, and life. While the painting itself showcases the whimsical nature of imagination and fantasy worlds intertwining in an amazing arctic tundra, Kienzle also highlighted the more insightful side of the piece, linking its blue stained glass borders to the level of significance which we put upon characters and figures from contemporary imaginations. While in the past, stained glass was used to tell religious stories, "Our religion is now pop culture," Kienzle said.

Towering tall and proud (at least in the early days of the exhibition) at the center of the gallery was Hans Hemmert's "Luftschloss," a castle made of balloons. Kienzle pointed out that using balloons in the place of bricks to build something that was traditionally a permanent fortress is doubly playful, especially as the castle has slowly deflated.

"And that's the humor," she said, "How ephemeral it is."

What: "Play!"

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road.

When: Through Dec. 29, Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Info: Go to PA Art Center.

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