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Boca on Kenton Parker

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Words by John Thomason

The strongest compliment I can pay to Kenton Parker’s exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is that I forgot, if only for a few fleeting moments, that I was standing in an art museum. Parker specializes in walkable human-sized structures—experiential art projects that invite visitors inside. In spite of their self-reflexive flourishes, they transport museumgoers to other places—of warmth, of regret, of teenage community—far removed from the often-academic sterility of a gallery space.

The centerpiece of the exhibition, in terms of its visual, aural and tactile significance, is “My First Kiss,” an intimate treehouse with room for three or four temporary residents at a time. It comes across as a place of escape and refuge, fortified on all sides by planks of wood, giant fronds and foliage, suggesting an ideal hideaway for the exchange of furtive kisses, potent weed and off-key karaoke to the music your parents hate (some of it, from the likes of AC/DC and Nilsson, plays on a loop from somewhere in the structure). Inside, butterflies painted directly onto the wood walls complement chrysalides gestating in jars. And if you lay on your back, you can lose yourself in “Space,” a mesmerizing seven-minute video of the cosmos beaming from a flat-screen—a dash of the universal attained through an edifice that couldn’t be more personal.

If you never want to leave this enclave, that’s probably the point. Some visitors may long for treehouse experiences gone by, but the piece arguably works better for the treehouse-deprived majority, the city dwellers who never grew up with such structures, and who get to experience nostalgia by osmosis. “My First Kiss” feels like a lost memory newly recovered, even if it never existed to begin with.

The treehouse shares the main gallery floor with “Always Sorry,” a mock flower shop whose canny name is a commentary on the boneheaded, inevitably male mistakes that keep florists in business. It’s even more lifelike than “My First Kiss,” because it’s a full 360-degree effort: Behind the shop, chipped pots and crates contain logs, tree branches and watering cans, and there’s a wheelbarrow and open bag of Miracle Gro scattered among the detritus, waiting for their next project.

At the front of the shop, live flowers imprint aromas in the air that will signify different emotions for different people. Cacti and aloe sprout from a rooftop mini garden, and the inside of the cramped store is littered with arrangements (fake ones this time), seed packets, spray bottles and the occasional gewgaw. I’ve never seen a flower shop like that outside of “The Little Shop of Horrors,” but perhaps that, too, is the point: “Always Sorry” is a hyperreal evocation of a theoretical business.

Works in acrylic, oil, graphite and crayon hang on the surrounding walls, offering mostly abstract imagery that harmonizes with the centerpieces thanks to vivid, childlike, explorative strokes. Existential profundity imbues the deceptively simple “Infinity Clock,” Parker’s refurbished wall clock with the hands removed, which reinforces the outside-of-time ambience of the show.

By contrast, the need to recognize and catalog the passing of time colors the deliberate banality of “Traffic,” an hour-long montage of Parker’s work commute in L.A., filmed with a mounted camera and scored with whatever music he was listening to on his car stereo at the time. I appreciate the artistic sentiment involved, but it doesn’t make “Traffic” any more exciting to watch—especially when the sights, smells, sounds and false memories of “My First Kiss” continue to beckon, just a few steps away.

“Kenton Parker: Everything Counts in Small Amounts” runs through Aug. 21 at Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Tickets cost $7 for adults and $4 for students, seniors and children ages 17 or under. Call 954/921-3274 or visit artandculturecenter.org.

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