Nevermind

Forget what we said about hating abstract stuff

Photo by Jack GouldIt's a sad fact of the human psyche that we get bored with things we once professed to adore—and things that looked god-awful just a year or two before slowly gain favor. Think, for a moment, about knee-length skirts. Who would have predicted they would come back into fashion?

That said, aren't you getting kind of sick of figurative works, at least this month? Have you seen any that are new and snappy and concise, that really illuminate the human condition? Neither have I. But rising in my esteem are—shhh!—the hitherto much-despised Finish Fetish and Light and Space movements. And since neither the Times OC nor The Orange County Register sees fit to employ a full-time art critic these days, I guess that makes me the region's official tastemaker, and you're just going to have to get onboard with whatever I deem suitable. Oh, what a pickle you're in!

"Color, Form and Substance" at the Grand Central Building, Cal State Fullerton's Santa Ana satellite, is swimming in colors and textures as rich as Joe Goode's Color Field oceans or Peter Alexander's sunsets. It's entirely appropriate, since California's '60s heroes were accused by at least one East Coast critic of making "fancy baubles for the rich." The galleries at Grand Central are filled with pretty playthings by Frank Swann, Marc Cardinet, Janet Inez Adams and Robert W. Tartter.

And what fancy baubles they are! Swann's in particular are grand, bright creations that, unlike most surface paintings—which are generally sloppy and lazy, and which I refuse to reconsider—seem crafted with exacting care. Planetary Blossoms holds what looks like blooming cabbages as big as one's head, if one's head were very, very small. The asymmetrical pentagonal canvases shimmer in a Piscean sea green with an overlay of gold, while nubby planets are fashioned from wax so thick one longs to drag a thumbnail through it and carry a small bit of it home for considerably less than the price tag. Untitled 3-D 1and 2 look like crocheted ponchos from the '70s, but in fuchsia instead of avocado. Another looks like spongy brain matter but in lilac and aquamarine instead of icky brain-gray.

Swann's works are evocative of the 1970s—his textures also foray into Shrinky Dink and the plastic bubbling of the children's game Trouble, and his asymmetrical, "shaped" canvases are textbook post-Stella—but in a more pleasing palette, one that's so very pretty, so suggestive of springtime and juicy cherries, that it would cause an immediate diabetic reaction in all those lofty East Coast art types who decided in the late '60s to do away with sentimental Expressionist colors in favor of (in the words of Tom Wolfe) "Tool & Die Works red and Subway I-Beam green and Restaurant Fan Duct Lint gray." And Swann's organic, rounded, feminine shapes, built up with a texture so touchable you want to lie across them, would have infuriated the perpetrators of the hard flatness that was an end in itself in big, bad New York City.

But that's the great thing about postmodernism: you can synthesize away, mixing Frank Stella's disdain for the frame with the Color Fielders' fuzzy tones; you can borrow from a '70s poncho but rid it of its rust-and-avocado plaid, infusing it instead with '80s Miami Vice; you can adopt some tenets of the New York minimalists, who tried ferociously to alienate the land's commoners, but mix it up with cabbage flowers and a distinctly West Coast optimism. You can do all this and end up with a true '90s Art Product that's lacking only nouveau iconography and will probably go flying out of the galleries and into the homes of anyone who really likes the color green. Or fuchsia. They're smashing works. I like green. And fuchsia.

Tartter synthesizes, too, borrowing from Rauschenberg's transparencies and infusing them with a very expensive—dare I say it? Yes, I do—millennial glimmer. Some of his overlays feature immortal shapes like women's asses and lusciously fatty hips; he then moves into the world of rich '80s crystal sculpture with edges that shine the colors of the rainbow. Acrobat is a clear glass sculpture with such rainbow borders; the view from the front is impenetrably ambiguous, showing only a minimalist dome. You see only the purity of the materials. Luckily, it's placed on a mirror, which shows very clearly the back-bending gymnast you're supposed to see. It's a lovely bauble: Sharper Image mixed with Baccarat and The Wizard of Oz.

Cardinet's twisty iron sculptures seem orphaned amid so much color. Their movable parts showcase scrap-yard ingenuity on a level with the mauled playthings in the sadist neighbor kid's room in Toy Story, sans the humanity. Many people will like them, but I'm over Assemblage right now, too. Maybe next month, Marc.

Adams uses brushed copper not seen since 1989 and swirls it over a cobalt underlay that is dustily, sensually mineral. Her representations of desert-plateau silhouettes—somewhat Close Encounters but without the imposing threat of the Devil's Tower—are badly depicted, but I think that's on purpose. Like the aforementioned New York Minimalists, she doesn't seem to want the representation to detract from the contemplation of the work's burnished surface. Fair enough. Her Adam's Legend seems to be a wall of small paintings of the dangers outside Eden (or I may be reading a whole lot into it; it happens sometimes): a gaping shark's mouth, a spider with a huge sac of eggs, a reptile of some sort. They are also haphazardly painted; many of them never take shape. I figure she's eschewing feminine, delicately drafted pictures in favor of works that are masculinely fast, dripping and slathered. I have no problem with that whatsoever. And, therefore, neither do you. Ha-ha.

"Color, Form and Substance" at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7236. Reception Sat., 7-11 p.m. Through Feb. 27.
 
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