Whenever I hear a phrase such as "made in California," my thoughts immediately scatter like shrieking bats into the farthest corners of my mind to avoid any and all images of sunlight, surf culture, and, God forbid, oranges. Yes, I even hate the Beach Boys. A lot. Art shows that focus on this typical SoCal culture palette can really flatten your brain waves, so when an exhibit emerges that does not take all of that Golden State garbage literally, even though it's showing at a city-run gallery—which are notoriously conservative—my vulture eye begins to sparkle with hope once again.
In Brea Gallery's humdrumly titled "Made in California," the guest jurist, MOCA's Rebecca Morse, managed to select 82 works from roughly 600 entries for this annual exhibition with nary a beach or car culture scene to be found (a few managed to slip through, but one must feed the masses, after all.) Among these are almost a dozen exceptional standouts, none of which received a prize (first place through third, with an honorable mention and a juror's choice), and since I wasn't the one asked to give out the prizes, I will instead give out the props.
Marina del Rey's Flora Kao makes a tremendous impression with City of Angels, a 230-square-foot tar paper and acrylic abstraction that looks exactly like a nighttime aerial shot of the Los Angeles metropolis. Perhaps, just like finding Jesus' face in potato chip ridges, one can indeed "see" anything when told what to look for, but then, who was the genius who told Kao to look for LA in tar paper to begin with? (Exactly!) Hawthorne's Lucas Aardvark Novack also supplies a notable abstract, which is obviously not the only notable thing about him. Still, funky fake middle name not withstanding (and we totally hope it's real), October is a lush, amber-toned, palette knife-swathed oil in which one might find a dusky landscape of a forest, cabin and lake, but will certainly find an abundance of skill with color and form.
"Made in California" at the Brea Art Gallery, www.breagallery.com. Open Wed.-Sun., noon-5 p.m. Through May 4. $2.
It might take a moment to connect the title of Long Beacher Sallie-Anne Swift's Political Struggle with the pastel acrylic mess of tentacles to which it refers, but then again, you're probably just waiting to hear the usual sucking and swilling sounds. Michelle Rozic's Phaeolous Schweinitzii, look as if they might suck or swill, but in truth, these hand-felted and forged copper sculpture of branches containing the titled fungal pathogen are tricky two-facers that both kill trees and serve as the source for green, yellow, gold and brown dye, giving the phrase "beautiful but deadly" an additional associate over in Valley Village. Christopher Frisz makes an impression from El Sobrante with his sleek and swervy Solstice in stainless steel and marble, and Carpenteria resident (and Santa Barbara City College art professor) Edward Inks impresses with Basket Case, an orange-painted bronze merging of a typical woven basket made defunct by a stack of pop arty spheres emerging from the top of it.
Another sculpture, this time possessing a definite function, comes from Anaheim ceramist Kazem Arshi in Blue Moon Teapot, a beautifully rendered Zen-kettle that's sure to pour both inspiration and serenity. Cal State Long Beach graduate Ji Sun Park, meanwhile, shines with her exceptional linoleum, acrylic and canvas assemblage of colorful and idyllic Korean houses in Desire, just one of her many fascinating attempts to address perceptions of the American Dream filtered through culture.
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The most stinging submission comes from Santa Monica concept artist Abdul Mazid, with Colony Collapse, a slice of beehive under plexiglass wherein dried wax forms the shape of the United States with a dozen or more dead bees scattered around the bottom. It works on many levels, of course, from Aristotle's likening of the honey-bee community to human society and our country being founded by colonists, to the recent epidemic of honey-bee extinction that might be the result, once again, of our own ham-handed self-destructive behavior.
In addition to these conspicuously proficient entries, Annette Guerrero's abstract textiles deserve a nod, Claire Liu's silver gelatin print A Tale of Two Turnips is creative and clever, and Nancy Johnson's Whirlybird Takes Flight oil is so whimsical and sweet that I'm ashamed to admit its appeal. Still, at least it's not whirlybirding over sands dotted with castle-building, peach-faced toddlers. Thanks, Nancy.
This review appeared in print as "The Other Side of Sunny: 'Made in California' isn't the same old state gold."