Photo by Jack GouldThe fine folks in Long Beach are trying with all their sweet little hearts to kick start their East Village art scene into the next Soho—or even the next Santora. Having actually been to the latest Santora opening (they're held the first Saturday of every month), I can only wonder why they'd bother.
For the past five years, the Santa Ana Artists Village has ebbed and flowed; sometimes the village's energy is palpable —notably when there are really big parties that bring all the pretty people out for their midnight prowlings. Local provocateur Max Presneill and Cal State Fullerton art honcho Mike McGee, for instance, organized the sexiest one-night stands in giant empty office buildings we've seen in this county ever. But most of the time, the work is dismal and the parties nonexistent. It's Podunk, surrounded by a marketing effort designed to sell you on the notion that shallow is deep, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. Double-plus ungood!
Some of the works at the Santa Ana colony are quite charming, in a Hallmark Cards way. (Sentimentality—and other stereotypically feminine attributes—has been getting a bad rap for decades now.) Cute paintings of women in hats don't pretend to be anything more than they are; they don't posit that they're tearing down the old order and breathing new life into a moribund art scene. They're perfectly content with being pretty, unprepossessing pictures made by people who enjoy painting and hope that perhaps you'll like their work. Please help yourself to some chips. Won't you come again?
It's women who have the most to say in the Artists Village this month, and they're not getting very good press. The prevalent arts theme—communicated throughout the Republic for the past several years—has been confessional (most of us have been guilty of it), though women gave up navel-gazing some time ago in favor of vagina-gazing (I'm thinking of Judy Chicago), which is only half as universal but twice as fun.
The new RAID Projects Gallery (formerly Giardina Fine Art) shows large, lovely photos saturated in lime sequins and glittery eye makeup. Alternately showering and wearing nipple tassels, her mouth alluringly open for cock, is Susan Choy. Is she commenting on the objectification of Asian women as little more than meek three-holed fuck dolls? The porn industry, in which so many Asian women are slicked down with so many scrotums' worth of splooge? Or is she just showing off that she has a really hot bod? She'd probably say one of the first two. Meanwhile, in the back room, gallerygoers made shadow puppets before the light from a projector —far more interesting than the film itself. Laguna Art Museum curator Tyler Stallings wiggled a finger between his thighs, proclaiming his shadow creation a snake. I've never seen him in higher spirits.
Over at Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central building, Corey Stein's "Phenobarbiedoll" explores her seemingly endless pain with half-life-size satin dolls slit up the middle, a satin doctor's hand reaching through the puss all the way up to her faceless, split-open satin head. Stein, an epileptic (and judging by the dolls that pull out their own vaginas with strings, either a victim of incest or a uterine-cancer survivor), has some issues. A recent LA Times review skewered Stein's work like so many pieces of tri-tip steak; the reviewer apparently wanted something a little less self-obsessed. And sometimes Stein's work is laughably self-important. A wall panel next to Hot Dog on a Stick/Hair in a Bun explains that the red, blue and yellow silhouette includes "insider references to Judaism." Very inside, apparently. I cornered a Jewish friend and asked her if she could figure it out. "I don't know," she said. "Is her hair in the shape of Israel?"
Some mutilated doll heads on one wall were, in fact, less clichéd: the dolls have magazine eyes sewn into their noggins with grotesque, Frankenstein-like stitchery. And large mannequins, sitting with their legs thrown open and all manner of items springing from their loins—i.e., bushes where their bushes would be—might not be subtle, but subtlety's overrated. I just wish Stein had included one with pussy willows growing from her fertile garden.
Susan Choy shows at RAID projects gallery, 206 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 541-9774. Indefinite; "THE ADVENTURES OF PHENOBARBIEDOLL AND MORE" AT GRAND CENTRAL ART CENTER, 125 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 278-2011. THROUGH OCT. 29.