`Garden' Of Taboos -- Coca Exhibit Explores Gay Lust And Desire In Dark, Cartoony Style

----------------------------------------------------------------- Art review

"The Garden of Virtue and Vice," by Timothy Siciliano, at the Center on Contemporary Art, 65 Cedar St. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, until 9 p.m. Thursdays. Admission is $2. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Warning: Timothy Siciliano's installation at the Center on Contemporary Art is a show you'll want to preview before dragging along the kids.

It is, in a nutshell, a gallery of two- and three-dimensional naked, anatomically correct men, boys and fat, pink Buddhas, all drawn and painted in a cartoony style that is at once cheerful and violent. Like giant cardboard characters from X-rated comic books - or the hedonistic characters in 19th-century erotic art from Japan and India - these oversized guys are energetically putting their all into some fairly acrobatic maneuvers. The motif of leaping flames, red-hot matches and flame-shaped trees adds heat to the tone of ungirdled lust and desire.

Called "The Garden of Virtue and Vice," Siciliano's installation is about sex. It's about the delight of sex, sex as a forbidden fruit, and sexual appetites - including violence - considered perverse not only by the Jesse Helms' crowd but plenty of other people who think of themselves as liberal-minded.

Birdbaths, Buddha and incense

Siciliano, a 30-something Seattle artist, identifies himself as a gay man and has therefore made all the couplings in his "garden" between men. Clearly this is one of the "taboos" he wants to discuss in his art, and many of his past projects have been about male sexuality and gay culture.

To construct his "garden," Siciliano has rounded up some plastic birdbaths, into which he plops cartoon swans and a fulsome Buddha, and a lawn sprinkler system set up for water follies.

There are also flame trees cut out of wood and painted with energetic couples. Burning incense and some recorded Indian-style music in a minor key help set the stage for his garden of delight, and, in some cases perversions - such as a few dismembered body parts and bodies that look as though they've been sutured together again.

Still, although a little more faux vegetation and a few hanging vines might have been nice, it's hard not to like Siciliano's garden, which vacillates between being uncomfortably edgy and endearingly kitsch.

At a quick glance the style of the installation is humorous, full of cartoonlike figures and silly garden gewgaws. It could be an adults-only putt-putt golf course. Longer looks, however, reveal the taboo nature of some of the imagery.

This is a far cry from Robert Mapplethorpe's graphic photographs of sexual fetishes. But you'll want to check your kids, and maybe your parents, too, at the door.

Other art events

If you like "The Garden of Virtue and Vice," you may get a chuckle out of the gentler but still entertaining performance art event at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at CoCA. Local performance artist Stokeley Towles will perform his humorous piece "An Archeology of Manhood: A Dig into the Male Mind." Tickets are $7, and reservations are suggested. Call CoCA at 728-1980.

More interested in Christmas shopping? Two of the local art scene's best Christmas shops open this weekend and next. The Pratt Fine Arts Center Holiday Sale, featuring art and crafts priced from $2 to $300, opens this weekend. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 9 and 10. Pratt is at 1902 S. Main St. For more information, call 328-2200.

CoCA's Christmas Shop will be set up from Dec. 9 to 24, at CoCA. The shop will be open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.