Pretty Girls

Ellen Rose and Nora Novak rock. Plus, the long-awaited final word on the whole stupid uproar at the Brooklyn Museum

Photo by Jack GouldEllen Rose and Nora Novak, showing in two different venues at Irvine Valley College, have very different ideas of glamour and beauty. Both are as loopy and riotously fun as an El Vez show, though without the references to the Zapatistas or the revolution.

Novak's paintings/collages of lanky models elongated like designers' sketches show as part of "Juxtaposing Reality: The Art of Collage" in a hallway in the Humanities building. Sure, they're blond and bored-looking, and I'm sure they don't get out of bed for less than a thousand dollars per day. But there's something subversive about them: they seem as if they could be transvestites, or Factory-educated, smack-between-their-toes-shooting socialites. For a bunch of models, they look kind of smart. Better than you, sure, but smart, too, which is either better or worse—I'm not sure which.

In the art gallery, Rose shows with Patrick Webster, Jerome Gastaldi and George Clinton—a different Clinton, but he's still painting the mother ship—in "The Figurative Spirit." While the exhibit is mostly the flat painted planes of '80s LA—and '80s New York, if the Basquiat-like graffiti-ish one-dimensional cartoon figures are any indication—Webster's dark, meat-flavored anatomical drawings and inscrutable cows and chairs are interesting in a puzzling, archaeological-dig kind of way: disparate elements floating through his canvases could be sedimented layers of time and consciousness. Oh, wait. Those are Max Presneil's lime-and-orange horizontal stripes.

It's Rose's works that are vital, sensual and unabashedly goofy—though her more risqué works have apparently been consigned to a closet somewhere. A "woman of a certain age" herself, Rose has the same enthusiasm for sexy, fat, beautiful women of any age that you find among the French. Her inevitably laughing figures—all buxom—are as secure, happy and jiggly as any teenager. Till the Fat Lady Sings has a middle-aged circus tramp grinning as widely as Monica Lewinsky, fevered strokes forming her extravagantly blue-shadowed eyes. Her Name Was Lola features a belly dancer with more than one chin waving her fingers above her head until they disappear into LSD trails. Most fun—and a departure from the Rose works I've seen before—are two small rabbis on paper. One's payos—those corkscrew curls that hang over the ears—look like those eyeball glasses in which the eyeball falls forward on a Slinky. See? Subversive!

I was going to let the whole Brooklyn Museum of Art hullabaloo slide by until I saw this editorial in the pages of the OC Metro. In its entirety, it reads:

"The flap between the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani hurts the cause of all the wonderful art that matters. Again, the problem centers around waste, in this case elephant dung. Keep the dung off the paintings and the piss away from the figures of Christ and you'll have a whole lot less mess. In other words, promote artists with real vision."

Far be it from me to correct the Metro (or the lukewarm editorials about freedom of expression in the LA Times), especially when you can just taste how thrilled they were to use the word "piss," but I'm awfully sick of people nattering on and passing pithy judgments on "waste" and "dung" when in fact I've seen the goddamn exhibit and it's marvelous.

"Sensation" spills through two sprawling floors, and only one of the 40 young British artists needs a punch in the throat. He may be an art star and the best-known British artist of his generation, but Damien Hirst is a sick fuck whose raison d'être is making your gorge rise with his formaldehyded cross sections of dead cow—liver and kidneys and stomachs all there, meaty and organy and extremely unpleasant and gray. Did I mention meaty?

Next to Hirst's obscenities—a noun I only throw around lightly when discussing Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle ForumChris Ofili's poo-encrusted Virgins (the scourge of Catholic cabbies throughout the city; they're mad as hell) seem positively sweet and childlike. And that's all the ink I'm giving to that because I'm bored with the whole thing.

Instead, I want to talk about the most amazing work I've ever seen: Ron Mueck's Dead Dad.

Dead Dad is laid out on a platform on the ground; he is tiny, perhaps 3 feet, and one can crouch down next to him and examine his teeny, uncircumcised penis and the hairs on his legs. Mueck has sculpted a death cast of his father that exposes Madame Tussaud for the fraud she was. Every hair is implanted perfectly, from Dead Dad's legs to his nostrils to the diminutive cloud around his dick. Death has sunken his cheeks; his soles are wrinkled, his toenails thick and grubby. A thatch of gray curls behind his ear, and every line of his palm has been delineated. I have never seen anything like it.

Despite a plethora of installations with girl mannequins with cocks for noses (some fun, like a bunch hiding in an Edenic garden; some not) and other shock-me yawners, there are wonders on display at the Brooklyn Museum, well-conceived and gloriously executed. And that's the last I want to hear about it.

"Juxtaposing Reality: The Art of Collage" at Irvine Valley College's A-300 Gallery Hall, 5500 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 451-5488. Through Nov. 19; "The Figurative Spirit" at IVC's Art Gallery. Through Dec. 10; "Sensation" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, 200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn, New York, (718) 638-5000. Through Jan. 9. $10 (airfare, hotel and terribly expensive meals not included).
 
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