The Year in Pictures

The art that kept our brains busy in 2007

They say that time moves slower whenyou're a kid because everything is new to you, and your little brain gets overstimulated from all the constant learning. As we get older, we become jaded, everything seems familiar, and entire years seem to pass by in a blur—you just catch a glimpse of yet another birthday before it's already in the rear-view mirror. So if you ever want to slow time down a little and appreciate life before you abruptly find yourself in a rest home and hooked up to a respirator, the secret is to force your brain to process lots of unfamiliar things. Like, say, interesting art.

We were thrilled in February, when the Orange County Museum of Art dug Chris Burden's A Tale of Two Cities out of its permanent collection and put it on display for a new generation to enjoy. This 1981 installation depicts a 25th-century war in miniature. Through a pair of binoculars, we took in the endless details of a pair of tiny metropolises, each composed of great piles of plastic toys and other pop-cultural castoffs—factories and castles, soldiers and spaceships, all mashed together with a playful disregard for anachronism and surrounded by houseplants that served as mighty jungles. This shrunken battlescape was both sobering and cute, and the exhibit was a nice tribute to the UC Irvine grad who went on to become an art-world superstar.

OCMA had a great year in general, with impressive shows such as Cao Fei's "Whose Utopia?" (examining the lives of Chinese factory workers with sometimes heartbreaking insight) and the "Birth of the Cool" show, a sprawling survey of the art and culture of the '50s and early '60s, featuring cartoons, album covers, even a vintage Porsche!

The Grand Central Art Center was even more impressive this year, offering one amazing show after another. This summer, the Center presented the debut exhibit of Myron Conan Dyal, a 63-year-old artist who sculpted wondrous, citrus-colored monsters in secret for decades, while toiling by day as vice president of Digital Communications Corp. No worries about this guy letting his mind get dull and sludgy as he gets older; his scuttling, crab-footed beauties are the product of a very busy brain indeed.

The Center also gifted us with a summertime restrospective of the work of legendary oddball Jeffrey Vallance. "Artist" somehow doesn't feel like quite the right word to describe what Vallance does for a living. He is a collector, a prankster, a traveler and a memoirist . . . not so much an "artist" in the sense of drawing or sculpting stuff (although he dabbles in that), but more in the sense of living an absolutely fascinating life, which he documents for our entertainment and education. This show offered a variety of artifacts from Vallance's collection, everything from a bloody blanket he kept following a horrific car crash, to a wad of bubblegum that looked like Richard Nixon, to an allegedly lifesized model of his wang, constructed when he was 20. It was exactly as creepy as it sounds, and all those who attended could only agree that whatever the hell it is that Vallance does, nobody does it better.

We were just getting to know and love the Office gallery in Huntington Beach, with fun shows such as the one featuring Matthew J. Price's ooky, spooky Gothic cuties, when the place upped and closed on us in October. But the gallery shuttered not with a whimper, but a bang: "Re-Perspectives" offered a host of delights, with the most attention-grabbing of the bunch being Gioj de Marco's geeky libido tickler WWII: Dog Fighting Mode. It featured Wonder Woman, as seen from below, piloting her invisible jet. So, basically, it was a giant photo looking up at Wonder Woman's butt in her little satin tights. When academics talk about art, they can get bogged down in endless debates about the ramifications of the dreaded "male gaze." Well, if going to a gallery to gaze at Wonder Woman's ass is wrong, we don't wanna be right.

Finally, one of our favorite shows all year was far outside the usual gallery circles, but rather buried deep within the bowels of the so-called Happiest Place on Earth. The Disneyland Gallery, up the stairs from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in New Orleans Square, presented art from Disney's Little Golden Books, wonderful space-age illustrations from Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and more. Maybe you don't remember having these books when you were little, but trust us: You did. The art was beautiful, modernistic and angular, yet as welcoming as a security blanket, and encountering it again was a lovely way to give your tired old brain a much-needed jolt.

 
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