A New York State of Mind at Rohrer Fine Art in Laguna Beach

Oozing class out the ass
Courtesy Rohrer Fine Art

If they can make it here . . .
A New York state of mind at Rohrer Fine Art

There are approximately 9 gazillion art galleries in Laguna Beach, but we usually focus our critical attention on other OC cities because the Laguna Beach galleries tend to be just a little too . . . tasteful. Challenging, exciting art can be beautiful, but it's usually not something you want to look at every night of the week. Many of Laguna's galleries specialize in art that exists mostly to class up your house and not distract you while you're trying to eat dinner, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that. But reviewing that stuff is like reviewing a Neiman Marcus catalog.

Rohrer Fine Art is a Laguna Beach gallery that oozes class out the ass. (You're free to use that for a blurb in your PR material, guys.) You feel like you should put on some fancy duds before you visit the place. The building is elegant in an almost sinister way, like a Frank Lloyd Wright fortress that serves as the secret headquarters for a James Bond villain. All by itself, one of those wall sconces probably cost more than your first car.

The Rohrer does the classy-Laguna-Beach-gallery thing far better than most, and the current show, "New York School: Art Under the Influence," is full of genuinely beautiful work. But the exhibit takes its name from the hugely influential American art movement of the '50s that included such trailblazers as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollack, and that sets up an unfortunate comparison for the artists featured here. "New York School" displays five young talents who have recently graduated from New York City MFA programs, and while their work is very pretty indeed, none of them seems to be trying to kick you in the brain the way Pollack did.

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Peter Gerakaris is arguably the standout. His work features trippy visions of flowers and undersea creatures and Lord only knows what else, all rendered in glowing colors and meticulous detail. Plus, he paints big enough to cover up even the most yawning blank spot on your dining-room wall. His Cosmos looks like an extremely vivid hallucination documented for posterity, with planets spinning out of control as alien life forms commune in the heavens. It also looks just a little too much like the cover of a Time-Life collection of the greatest songs of 1968. (Looking at it, you can almost hear the drum solo from "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.")

Alyssa Pheobus does stuff with embroidery and also scritches around with graphite on paper, performing typographical experiments with Bruce Springsteen lyrics. Her work looks dark and obsessive, like it actually means something. But—not unlike Springsteen's lyrics themselves—it's really more about a mood than any deep statement. Jessica Mein does choppy collages with paper and on video, creating work that jangles and pops. But it also kind of looks like the stuff you scribble in your notebook during a long phone argument, when your mind is busy thinking about what you're going to say next and your pen is swirling and slashing across the page by itself, until you finally hang up and are surprised to discover this crazy thing you made.

Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline seems to specialize in semi-realistic portraits that he smears or abandons at strategic moments, leaving them looking like they're waiting for him to come back to finish the job. Samuel T. Adams' abstractions feature vaguely unwholesome splashes of color and shapes that keep threatening to turn into Ralph Steadman-esque nightmare creatures without ever quite getting there (or anywhere else). His work would've scandalized people back in de Kooning's day, but in the here-and-now, it's nothing you couldn't hang next to your fish tank.

All of this perhaps sounds more cruel or dismissive than I mean it to be. The show looks great, and these are promising young talents. But their work feels young—not in the sense of being reckless and experimental, but in the sense of being cute and underdeveloped. It's too soon to say who these artists will grow into. Maybe with time, they'll become a new New York School, creating art that's worthy of hanging beside Pollack, instead of appearing on page 14 of a glossy catalog, right next to the console tables.

"New York School: Art Under the Influence" at Rohrer Fine Art, 346 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (800) 949-5211; www.rohrerfineart.com. Call for hours. Through Sept. 6.

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