Not Just Another Pretty Space

The four artist live-and-work studios at Laguna Beach's Seven Degrees are a gleaming testament to Good Living. The floors are gorgeous koa wood—harvested from naturally fallen trees! As yet, they remain unscratched. The furniture is hip and boxy, a throwback to '50s Space Age Bachelor Pad. Even the blenders in the lofts—perfect for a refreshing post-painting margarita—are sleek and good-looking. So what if the artists in their studios behind glass walls seem to be specimens in a human zoo? They live and work there for free.

Seven Degrees bills itself as an idea laboratory. But ideas—and art—may be less important than the buckets of lovely money the, um, laboratory charges corporations like Glaxo and Nordstrom to host events in its multimedia space, a large room with "intelligent lighting" and positively bug-eyed with flat-screen TVs. (Nothing says luxury like a flat-screen TV.)

But without the art, it would be just another perfectly beautiful, extremely plush events venue, and there are plenty of those that can't fill their booking calendars. The people behind Seven Degrees seem to understand this. Hence the art. The space offers a kind of packaged "culture" that's neither stodgy nor fringe, and Seven Degrees offers it with orchid-strewn tables on hillside terraces out back. The steps must be hell on the waitstaff.

Of course it's despicably bourgeois. It's also perfect. In contrast with most playpens for the very, very rich—have you looked at the design issue of Orange Coast lately?—Seven Degrees has unbounded style and unstifled elegance. If you hadn't noticed, the rich usually have as much taste as a flock of magpies; by contrast, Seven Degrees curves here and flows there like a baby Gehry. Perfectly coiled, hidden cables light the place like it's the Mothership. And don't forget the koa wood, which never felt the bite of an ax; they checked personally. It's the kind of space the Millennium should have already spawned like spores—lazy Millennium—and it's as seductive as powdered rhinoceros horn.

Donnie Molls' "Motion in the Desert" is a perfect background for the delicious dinners served to the moneyed. It's all about today, featuring as it does digitally manipulated images beaming from those flat monitors in saturated blues. And yet it makes no reference to online porn. Not even obliquely! It's not political, and yet it's not apolitical either; you could read environmental issues into the works, if you chose, or explorations in semiotics. Or not.

Molls' desert scenes are spare, with Joshua trees and an occasional flat-roofed house dwarfed by vast vistas of sand. There are rocks and yellow skies. There is an occasional rusted car. There is no hint of the strip malls and crowds edging into the once-forsaken desert in places like Palmdale and the Moreno Valley. Instead, his platforms are as empty as Jim Silva's brain.

Molls' process involves burning silver gelatin prints into old slabs of maple—sadly, there's no decoupage here to cherish—and then painting over his photos in flat ochers and blues. Some incorporate rusted metal found out in the desert; others show off found things like plates from old printing presses with headlines warning about water and electricity. His chunks of painted wood shine with a thick coat of lacquer—as glistening as the gallery around them.

Ocotillo, a sculpture towering 10 and a half feet in Seven Degrees' front gallery, is fashioned from solid steel pipe. The cactus's many arms, painted flat Plymouth Fury green, twist toward the sky. It's gorgeous, like all his works. And it won't piss anyone off—ever.

Art doesn't have to piss people off, of course—and that which only serves to piss people off is as ridiculous as any foofy Laguna watercolor scene. Seven Degrees, with Molls' work, has found the perfect note for its corporate dinners and cocktail parties. It's pretty. It's new. It's inoffensive without being offensively inoffensive. And some of it's narrowcast on flat-screen TVs that practically scream "class."

Donnie Molls' "Motion in the Desert" at Seven Degrees, 891 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-1555. Open Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 1-5 p.m. Through Sept. 2. To apply for a stint in the artists' studios, call (949) 376-0075. To book an event, call (949) 376-1555.


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