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John Sanford, News Service: (650) 736-2151,

"Signed Design" exhibition on view through May 4 in Art Gallery

Where somnolence slides into dreamland and the reality weighing on your thoughts suddenly becomes light and unpredictable -- that is what "Signed Design," an exhibition of work by students in visual design courses, feels like.

Organized by Matthew Kahn, a professor of art who has taught at Stanford for more than half a century, the show contains a "joie de vivre," to borrow his description, that lifts it up.

"The arts, including my own, may at times become quite critical and depressed -- stressed -- and I think it's wonderful, in gathering these things together, to have found that there are so many examples of people who are trying to keep the fragile things alive," Kahn said.

Design is often accused of being decorative or commercial, but these works, on view at the Stanford Art Gallery through May 4, are not content to be either of those, Kahn asserted.

"There's a strong philosophical content in design," Kahn added. "It isn't décor and it isn't commerce; it has more to do with civilization. These things are about that, and about the best things about us in a very bad time, a very tragic time."

There are three creatively tailored coats by Alexis Oakland. One is made of interlocking balloons -- black, purple, baby blue and yellow -- and recalls a harlequin. Another is made of carpet foam and looks like what the Michelin Man would take off at the end of a hard day. A third is made entirely of dried glue.

There are gauzy textiles and colorful prints. There are bowls and jewelry. There are several intriguing items by graduate student Mandana MacPherson, including Marble River, Marble Rain Game and Winter Hammock -- a hammock made of wool felt that would be soothing to snuggle in on a snowy day.

There are somewhat abstract, wooden stools that, according to the designer, "provide an opportunity for animated seating." There are colorful kites. "We go to the beach to fly them," Kahn explained.

There is a wall hanging titled Rebirth by Colter Leys, a graduate student in the School of Engineering. According to Leys, the piece "celebrates the return from darkness, the coming of spring and the cyclic repeat of nature." Thirty wire egg holders are attached to a maple board. The one on the far left is empty. The one next to it holds the bottom section of an egg shell, surgically sliced open so that the ovoid shape is still recognizable. The subsequent egg shells "grow" in length. Almost all are dyed a kind of metallic purple. The last egg, however, is dyed green, and the hole on its top is jagged, as if something has broken free from the inside.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and open to the public.


By John Sanford

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