In a brilliant curatorial decision (orremarkable serendipity), the large central gallery at LAM is given over to a survey of recent work by L.A. figurative painter F. Scott Hess, whose series The Seven Laughters of God—the centerpiece of the show—grapples with many of the same philosophical and historical issues as Pettibone's work, particularly the questions of originality and authenticity and the difficulty of finding one's place in contemporary art's chaotic historical landscape. Hess' approach is allegorical and ambiguously satirical, with the mythological potency of image-making seeming to drain away over the course of his artist-protagonist's successful navigation of the art world. The complexities of his metaphorical journey are too elaborate to unravel here—besides, Donald Kuspit and Hess himself do a fine job in the accompanying catalog. But keep your eye on the mockingbird, harbinger of creative grace and mimicry—its efforts to awaken the hero appear ultimately futile. In the final canvas, with the now-successful neo-Pop sellout glad-handing collectors and critics, the bird is glimpsed in a background painting, being shot from the sky. But on closer inspection, the smart-ass polyglot is pulling a Bugs Bunny, exclaiming, "Oh Supercop! You slay me! No, really, no kidding, it hurts. I'm dyin here, really!" Who exactly is getting the last laugh remains up in the air. As it should be.
"Richard Pettibone: A Retrospective" and "F. Scott Hess: The Seven Laughters of God and Other Paintings" at the Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971. Open daily, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Both run through May 28.