Wank

Lisa Adams Symbolism drives us insane

Lisa Adams' Symbolist wankery can make you nuts. Symbolists love making you nuts. It's what they live for. I mean, God forbid they should employ symbols that are universal and easily understood—I can spot purity in a vase of lilies from 20 paces, and you can, too. But no. For the Symbolists, it's all about keeping things obtuse. In other words, they want you to go insane while they cackle with glee.

"What Happened?"—or "Wha' happen!?" if you're channeling Fred Willard—at the terrific little Huntington Beach gallery the Office is a show that the more avant-garde among you will cream for (while stroking your soul patches) and the rest of you will want to punch. I, as an (ashamed) art reactionary, am firmly in the punching camp.

Let's use but one example. In Siesta Nonpareil, Adams paints a reclining penguin in a pink-and-blue but bee-like striped shell. Its tongue-like beak protrudes as another comes in from off-canvas to nuzzle it. Okay. I get that the penguin is having an unparalleled, most fabulous nap due to his unparalleled, most fabulous sex dream. But why's he dressed like a bee?

For god's sake, why?

It's like trying to read William Blake, but druggier.

Each of Adams' canvases has at least one element that's funny and/or delightful. But few have more than one, and Adams often falls into bad puns to make up what seems to be a deficit in ideas. Barbarella is an unforgivably un-Jane-Fonda-ish blue head (seen only from the back) with a delightful trepanning hole at the crown. It also has a bar code at the base of its skull. Get it? Bar code? Of course you do.

Hiroshima Cleansed Mehas nothing much to look at: its plucked eyeballs are ill-painted, and there are few other narrative elements. It does, though, in a lovely swirl, bear the words Hiroshima Macht Mich Rein (actually "Hiroshima makes me pure"). See, that's German. And there's probably some kind of warning in there about crime and punishment, and one could even start pondering the death penalty as a deterrent if one were so inclined, or weighing America's role as the world's foremost finger-wagger on weapons of mass destruction when in fact we're the only ones who've ever dropped a nuclear bomb on people. I usually am so inclined, but is the artist? Search me.

There are paintings of interplanetary travel for the wonky geeks to drool over and atomic seedlings and chocolate breasts with cherries on top. (Fun! And delightful!) But most typical of the problems with the small show is Nothing Is As It Appears. See, it doesn't appear to be anything. The bulbous, amphora-ish shape, if you squint and lie to yourself, could be interpreted as a drippy penis, or a worm, or a gourd, or an amphora. It's got the letters NY in a pretty script across its base.

And? And nothing. Not everybody needs to deploy the illusionist magic of Dalí, but if you're going to claim to fool the eye, one would hope the eye would be fooled into . . . something. And if you're going to root around in your own dreams and inflict them on the populace, well, take a page from Freud to keep the rest of us interested: include a lot more cigars and bananas. Nice job with the chocolate breasts, though.

The great thing about our dreams is this: whether they're good or bad, they're small movies about us. This is why I never wake up in the mornings. I want more small films about me, even if it's a deranged Sophie's Choice. But to others? They're generally not that interesting unless they're about sex with someone terribly inappropriate, like my own brother or a penguin bee.

Wha' happen!?

Lisa Adams' "What Happened?" shows at the Office, 5122 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 110, Huntington Beach, (714) 767-5861. Open Tues.-Fri., 1-5 p.m. Through May 21.
 
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