Sucker Punched

Good art from a very bad day

Photo by Danny DoughertyIt took an hour for the Twin Towers to crumble on the morning of Sept. 11. It took something less than that for the first comments to surface that our world would never be the same again.

I had been waiting—and waiting—to see what the artists would say. Would they finally abandon the navels into which they'd been so tenderly and unceasingly probing? And would their reactions be any different from the half-chewed arguments I heard at the grocery store and the gala benefits? Would they be better-informed or worse? Surely not worse? But at the same time—and, oh, how unkind I am; why do I think most artists are subliterate fops?—surely not better?

It's a challenge artists haven't seen in decades—at least in our sunshiny part of the world. Our war comes courtesy of the TV, all safe and behind glass, with theme music and a theme (only The Daily Show's "America Freaks Out" gets at the truth) and with cheery commercial breaks for electrode gizmos that will do 6,000 sit-ups an hour for you as you eat Cheesy Poofs and watch TV, and death and dismemberment are the province only of spooky little Goths in dire need of Zoloft. And so we get a lot of lazy crap, most of which isn't even pretty, from art school grads with a lifestyle to live but absolutely nothin' to say, and we get a lot of Jerry Springer-induced, way-too-personal revelations about daddies who touched their little girls on their swimsuit areas.

Here, at last, was a chance for artists to grow up and be relevant, to be a part of the world they for the most part disdain.

Legacy Arts Gallery in Santa Ana's Artists Village is a space I tend to ignore out of kindness. It's generally stacked to the rafters with sweet, lame pictures by sweet, lame Santa Ana College students I don't want to trash. For a while, they even had a sign up seeking commissions to reproduce the masterwork of your choice. Yikes!

But a hastily curated show of works about Sept. 11 is a fine breath—and breadth—of reality, of feeling and emotion that's sometimes boosterish but more often railing against the Establishment. Though I personally support the war in Afghanistan, it's always nice to see snarling dissent.

T. Aloysious (better known to you and me as "Tommy") Dougherty III's America Sucker Punched on a Tuesdayis a surprisingly visceral, door-sized white slab crisscrossed with crude drawings and childish printing. Among the many thoughts inscribed on it are the words "My country has bombed and killed so often it sickens me."

Richard Littlefield's Blood of My Father, Blood of Your Son is an epic depiction of what looks like the Capitol, along with ancient cities built high on piles of stone. Dropping through the middle of the large canvas are the gilded names of Hebrew and Arabic heroes and forebears. Isaac and Ruth are there, as are Melchizedek and Anna and Hannah, and Shadrach and Abednego. It's a marvelous piece; it feels as ancient as the giant Buddhas the Taliban exploded last year to worldwide horror.

Some of the pieces are critical of the war; others try to plumb the depthless sadness of the attack itself. Several pieces depict the missing posters of New York City, including Robert Felthaus' Missing—a gray-suited, gray-faced man with his hand to his chin. Megan Zuliani's Ground Zero Iand II are simple royal-blue fields, their only texture some scratches across the surface. In the middle are bloody handprints. They're simple but evocative pieces; they remind me of Jasper Johns.

Among the best works in the exhibit (and most pieces in the exhibit are really pretty good) are Janice Lowry's journals, filled with notations like "Get cleaning; call mom; hair appt." while she also draws logos for CNN's endless "America Under Attack" and inserts prayer cards and sketches faces, their eyes circled like snipers' targets. Also exquisite is Rachel Maddalena's matted newspaper clipping, folded over so one can see that one side of the page is a photo of screaming, fist-pumping Afghans and the other is an ad for the Fur Salon—30 percent off selected mink coats. Art is where you find it.

Sept. 11 art at Legacy Arts Gallery, 207 N. Broadway, Ste. B7A, Santa Ana, (714) 558-0387. Open Sat., noon-3 p.m. Through Nov. 24. Free.
 
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