Franco Angeloni is asking me if I know any philanthropists. I lie and tell him I know tons of philanthropists. I don't know why I'm lying—I very rarely do—except that maybe I want Angeloni to like me. I want him to think I can be of assistance.
Franco Angeloni, artist-in-residence at Cal State Fullerton's Artists Village satellite, seems like a nice person. I could be wrong. Perhaps he can out-diva Catherine Zeta-Jones, a woman who holds the distinction of being the single most entitled person in my experience—and I've been to Newport Beach "charity" galas.
But I don't think I've got Angeloni wrong. He needs philanthropists to underwrite his conceptual works. His latest involves choosing a person—more than one if he can get funding—and sending them on a trip to their choice of Rome or Amsterdam, the two cities in which he lives. (In Amsterdam, he is supported as an artist by the enlightened Dutch government. God bless the Dutch!) There have been many, many applicants.
As far as I can tell, that's pretty much the whole project. Yes, he's been visiting people in their homes to determine who the lucky winner(s) will be. Yes, he'll document the choosing process with photos. And that's it. No Fox TV-style ambush or any sinister, people-as-lab-rats machinations—just Angeloni, playing benevolent Willy Wonka and sending people on a fabulous trip, minus (hopefully) the taffy-pulling machines.
How is it art? That's an excellent question—one I've been putting off answering for weeks. The closest I can come is that it's akin to Laguna Art Museum curator Tyler Stallings' vision for an Invisible Museum. In that grand scheme, art would spontaneously occur all around us, uncaged by sterile museum walls.
Cruelty is a common medium for Conceptual art, whether directed at the artist himself or at his audience. Perhaps it's the extreme intellectualization and lack of emotion inherent in the art form. It's also a zero-sum game, wherein the cruelty must become ever more pronounced in order to provoke any kind of reaction. OC's own Chris Burden started the mess by having himself shot. The late GG Allin stuck all kinds of nasty things in his bum. Supermasochist Bob Flanagan regularly nailed his wee to boards before his death from cystic fibrosis. And now peeps like LA Weekly's Ron Athey have that much more to live up to with their S/M performances. It's a nihilist's world, one of constant and ever-escalating pain.
Franco Angeloni isn't into that. He's a gentle clown (though not a buffoon) whose gossamer-light projects don't go in for heavy psychological or cultural exploration but merely set a chain of events in motion. One project touted the benefits of aloe vera and . . . . Let's just say it was very gentle.
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"I distract you. You distract me. What a pleasure!" Angeloni announces in his thick Italian accent, after asking if I know any philanthropists and before explaining that there actually is a cultural exploration in his current project. "I am interested in how people relate to places; also, my interest is in trying to get people together. I want to give them the idea you can integrate with a society, even for a short time." The shortcoming of this explanation is that Angeloni will not in fact be documenting the trip but only the choosing process. He lofts the idea into the air and leaves its germination in the hands of the winners, to realize (or not) as they please.
"I also make objects and make drawings," Angeloni says. "I enjoy doing that." Angeloni is a former graphic artist, and his companion exhibit to the project shows it. "I don't have much time, so the objects you will see will be the things I have assembled in these days." There's little to see in Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central venue. It's spare and streamlined. The only distraction on one wall is a giant pink doughnut. On another wall, there is only a small hole drilled through it at roughly crotch level; its circumference should be greater. In two other places, boxes are stacked neatly. One set promises that inside are special surprises: flags for China, Italy, Mars and Israel, among others. They are all stamped with Angeloni's name. There is a large digital coliseum on canvas, under a hot-pink Venusian sky. There are Mafia Instruction Manuals, also boxed. Angeloni will not let you peek inside. As a graphic artist, it's certainly more about perfectly neat packaging than the things that come inside boxes.
But Janice Lowry's lovely assemblages—showing in the Grand Central Projects Room—are all about what's inside her pretty boxes. As battered and decrepit as a long-vacant amusement park, Lowry's "Days of Janice Lowry" incorporates doll eyeballs in laurel-wreath frames; beheaded dolls with tiny porcelain hands; and small chairs that might as well be electric for all the gloom about them. Undoubtedly personal and oozing symbolism (if one that has been seen a time or two before), the exhibit evokes the feeling that we've entered in the middle of a play. The rough, painted boxes in which her dolls cavort frame the characters like dioramic stage sets for a Brechtian farce. But the action is frozen, and the actors are broken and maimed.
"Franco Angeloni: recent work" and "Days of Janice Lowry" through June 24. Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233. Open Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. & 6-10 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Lowry speaks June 2, 7 p.m.