Along Came Carlos Amorales' 'Discarded Spider' at OCMA

Along Came Carlos Amorales
The monster talent weaves an intriguing web out of paint, video, aluminum, canvas, paper, pixels and anything else he can get his hands on

Arachnophobes beware.

If even the thought of spiders gives you the willies, avoid the Orange County Museum of Art’s current exhibition, “Carlos Amorales: Discarded Spider,” at all costs.

However, if you co-exist with the little beasties or dig Amorales’ previous work—particularly his wondrous installations of black-paper butterflies coating gallery walls like mold—then the 26 sculptures, videos, collages and prints on display will be more wet dream than anxiety-inducing, multilegged nightmare.

There are no giant spiders nesting in the artist’s vast cobwebs molded from aluminum and covered with black-plastic coating, but Amorales’ short video Discarded Spider evokes Vincent Price’s The Fly. It shows him adding texture to the otherwise flat, perfect-for-snaring-humans sculptures, crimping and crumpling them by hand. His dark silhouette against the netting makes it look as though the artist is trapped in the gossamer.

Transformable Web 02 rises up from the gallery floor, its silky almost-legs lifting it up, the buckles and ridges a suggestion of spider preparing to scuttle forward. In Transformable Web 03, a huge hand has grabbed the web, crushed it and thrown it against the wall, where it droops in waves and folds. The massive Transformable Web 08 hangs from the ceiling and reaches to the floor, a few strands loose, trying to gain traction, the sort of thing that, in miniature, would have you immediately batting at your face and hair.

Presenting the pieces in bright museum light allows us to see the lattice sharply, and that may have been the way Amorales and curator Sarah Bancroft preferred them to be shown. But a chiaroscuro lighting design—with its play of shadows, instead of just light—would have enhanced the textures and angles and underlined their intrinsic horror aesthetic. As it is, the art just looks overlit.

Amorales has spent years accumulating and scanning found and created images, putting them into what he calls his “Liquid Archive” database. He digitally removes all of the images’ information within their borders so they’re just bare outlines, prints them, and then carefully arranges and glues them to paper. In Selected Ghosts(Composition), many of the outlines are used and re-used to occasional startling effect—they’re a collision of humanity and nature, with nature deliriously kicking ass at every turn—but there are too many so-so efforts on display here that would have been better left in the studio. Still, not all of the stark beauty of his minimalist collages gets lost in the shuffle: Selected Ghosts (Composition) 08’s variation on Little Red Riding Hood, with a naked woman on her knees, stalked by a wolf in the forest behind her; death and decay visiting two women in Selected Ghosts (Composition) 13 as onestands with a raven perched on her head, linked to another woman whose insides are constructed of cobweb; Selected Ghosts (Composition) 06 feels like something out of a Poe laudanum fantasy, with itstwo skulls, naked woman in webbing and a raven with a human skull for a head. Even Hitchcock would have nightmares from the visceral Selected Ghosts (Composition) 01,as several figures cower on their hands and knees, the tip of a bird’s wing stabbing into the rise of their backs.

Web imagery of a less malevolent kind continues in the artist’s two oil-on-canvas paintings: In Fireworks III, Fourth of July displays are stripped of their color and flash, the rocketing white sparks reminiscent of a spider’s lair or the long, tapered legs of a harvestman. A moment later, in Fireworks IV, the joyful blast folds in on itself, becomes a black hole and begins to disappear.

Closing the exhibit is Psicofonias, a two-screen video installation Amorales created with musician Julián Lede and digital programmer André Pahl. Patterned after a player-piano roll, outlines built of white dots against a black background—think a used Lite-Brite sheet held up to the light—scroll slowly from the top to the bottom of the screens. As the dots hit bottom, musical notes are heard, creating an appropriately discordant, yet not unpleasant, soundtrack throughout the gallery.

Amorales is proficient in so many media—including photography, installations, performance art and narrative animation—that this is far from a thorough overview of his work. A simple Googling will do the trick to get you ensnared in his minimalist black-and-white creepshows. Here’s hoping someone down the road has the sense to do a bigger retrospective with even more of his work. A monster talent like this is too big to be contained in just four galleries.

“Carlos Amorales: Discarded Spider” at the Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 759-1122; www.ocma.net. Open Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Through March 14, 2010. $10-$12; children under 12, free.

 
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