Art: For Dummies?

Artwork by Brittany Howard. Photo courtesy J Flynn Gallery

There really is an Art for Dummies—an entry in the for Dummies series that must come somewhere after Aardvark Husbandry and before Brain Surgery.This is not a comforting thought, particularly in the art world, a self-styled Smarter Set that has already made considerable sport of the notion that art and the dummy should be friends. Is art for dummies? Sympathy for the Record Industry owner Long Gone John pulled a funny, seeming to say "Ich bin ein dummy" when he—a noted lowbrow art collector—was photographed with a copy of the book several years ago. That didn't answer the question.

Kitsch Bar owner Jack Flynn is the latest to take a crack at it. The whole idea behind his eponymous gallery, which opened last month down the street from the Gods & Heroes hair salon, is exposing yourselves to art—if you are those entry-level someones. Does that make you dummies? Flynn would say no.

"Looking at art, it can be intimidating to some people," he says. "I don't want that to be the case. Not that I'm the savior. But I think the responsibility of this gallery is to ease people into art." And so the J Flynn Gallery tries to do just that with its first show—an Israel-Lebanon cease-fire of a trick that, in places, it nearly pulls off. Elsewhere, the artists in the show seem as green as their prospective patrons, and it falls as flat as some of the art on the walls.

This is not an exhibition for fans of subtlety or hidden meaning: the telephone number that appears throughout Brittany Howard's silkscreens on layered panels of plastic bolted together is her own. Call it. She wants you to. Similarly, Marco Almera's guy doing a burnout on a motorcycle (in a silkscreen on velvet) is . . . just a guy doing a burnout on a motorcycle. Even James Fish's acrylics on vinyl—huge, stenciled closeups of what look like palm fronds, seen from above over, perhaps, lawn furniture—don't exactly live up to their evocative titles, like Disaster Wide and VoulezVous. (Though this last did make me question everything I thought I knew about piling a chair atop a chair atop a chair.) They're instead reminiscent of Patrick Nagel, which of course leads us to Duran Duran; to pop culture; and inevitably to Juxtapoz magazine. Is everything Juxtapoz today? Probably. You have to get past that to enjoy this show: except for Jeff Gillette's paintings of bombed-out Disneyland and fast-food restaurants on skateboard decks and Rhea Ashcraft's canvases (her Ignite is as spare as you'll find), everything here is just what it looks like. Ryan Pratt's teeny canvases of creepy young knights (TheWindmill) and mysterious gardeners (The Pruning) try to be more. They're detailed to a fault and excellently off-kilter. Then he tackles a big piece (Delorean Staff) and it winds up stiff as a board: a shame.

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I'm no snob; I like things that look like the things they look like. But I also sometimes like things that look like things I haven't seen before—or things that make me think. (Almera gets a pass only because I'm obsessed with bikes, Plymouth Roadrunners and . . . er, busty Latinas in sombreros. Sorry.) And so, as much as I like Howard's drippy, scraggly scrawls and blurs of people and body parts on what looks like sheets of plexiglass, they immediately make me think of Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin's "Tank Girl" comics from 18 years ago. And Almera? A regular in that magazine we keep mentioning. Damn!


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