Death Becomes Us

Not yet in Depends, we moon after our youths

Photo by Jack GouldDeanna J. Reposa was looking for some publicity for her new Newport Beach art gallery, djr International Art. So she did what any smart Newport mama would do: she looked for a charity to fund through a party held in conjunction with her "Nude for Summer" show.

While "Nude for Summer" is a pretty terrible title (a lot of galleries and artists really need to work on their puns), the show itself is a perfectly nice if very commercial mix of 58 works in which the people are naked. Couples embrace. Women sprawl. In some cases, they're typical figure studies, like a portrait by "Michelle" of a clingy, sheer drape over a ripe-plum ass. It's hyperreal, like a Stephen Douglas but without anything creative going on in the background.

Things get a bit more risqué elsewhere. A large panel features three slightly abstracted ladies in odd shades of springy greens mixed with mauve; they are lying entwined and lethargic on a large feather bed. One wonders if the artist was working with remaindered house paint. Most charming of the lot are R. Gerardi's spattery ink portraits of round-faced women with lovely thunder thighs, protruding bellies and cartoonish square noses, trying unsuccessfully to cover themselves with their hands like Eve banished from the Garden.

But djr was in an odd position: they couldn't give money away. The first potential donee, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, declined. According to Reposa, the foundation thought it might be insensitive to show naked breasts to women who've undergone mastectomies. I never knew nonprofit administrators could have such an awesome sense of humor! (To be fair, perhaps that was just an excuse the foundation gave Reposa so as not to hurt her feelings; they might have just found the display tacky.)

Rebuffed by the Komen Foundation, Reposa did something that borders on bizarre: looking for someone to benefit, she approached a children's art foundation. They, too, declined.

You know what would be a wonderfully innocuous benefit for kids, one that's sentimental and heartfelt and appropriately schmaltzy? One that featured Margaret Keane's big-eyed waifs, currently dancing about in the Laguna Art Museum basement. There are even a couple of naked women in the exhibit, but they're not the focus. The focus is Keane's children, their faces small and pointed like aliens and anime, indelibly etched onto our cultural consciousness.

I don't even need to defend Keane anymore; the cultural elite who once reviled her have already reclaimed her from the schlubby, Reader's Digest-readin', Wal-Mart-shoppin', Princess Di-commemorative-plate-havin' masses. And they hug her to their bosoms.

Schmaltzy is back, and I'm all for it. Sure, sentimentality was a favorite ploy of Hitler and Goebbels, but the alternative is an Ayn Randish "reason" that has no place for anything but selfishness. Sentimentality is God's way of ensuring the survival of the species; we have compassion for those helpless little big-eyed babies, and so we protect them until they're grown up and not so cute.

What I don't understand is why Gen-Xers are so hung up on nostalgia; it's been a defining trait since Douglas Coupland published his slim novel, a trait also noticed by our generation's Big Chill: Reality Bites. We're in our twenties and thirties and we play with toys (many of which, like Little Miss No Name, were in fact based on Keane's images; and have you looked at the eyes of a Powerpuff Girl lately?) we bought on eBay for way too much bread—which reminds me of my much-missed Holly Hobbie Mini-Bake Oven.

We're not in Depends, and yet we moon after our childhoods as though we were already facing the Reaper. Some of us spend more time thinking about the upcoming Charlie's Angels movie than we do about the upcoming election. It's as though our generation's lives have been divided in two: Before and After the Big Divorce. Get some new toys. Find some new heroes. Margaret Keane is darling and good, but look at tomorrow instead of the past.

"NUDE FOR SUMMER" AT DJR INTERNATIONAL ART, 2431 W. COAST HWY, STE. 204, NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 548-6249. THROUGH SEPT. 1; "MARGARET KEANE AND KEANEABILIA" AT LAGUNA ART MUSEUM, 307 CLIFF DR., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 494-8971. THROUGH OCT. 15; CONTINUES NOV. 5-DEC. 31.

 
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