Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went through something of a public sea change after the debut of the 2010 film The Social Network. While heavily fictionalized, the movie portrayed him as a misogynistic, greedy, back-stabbing, black-hearted pig. Beginning with a 60 Minutes interview following the opening of the film—in which he tried to look more human(e)—his publicists have gone into overdrive to make him more accessible to the press, he's stood up for progressive political issues, gotten married, had a child, and promised to donate much of his money to charity. While photographs now portray him as laughing and jovial, a closer look at those unblinking dead eyes suggests he's still a coding robot transfigured by a computer screen and that much of the change is media manipulation, as opposed to any Damascus-style conversion.
That cynical view seems to be consistent with the bulk of the imagery in curator David Michael Lee's "Like MARK" at Coastline Art Gallery. F. Scott Hess' Down the Rabbit Hole is the most visually provocative painting, picturing Zuckerberg's wife, Priscilla, in the nude, complete with realistically dimpled cottage-cheese thighs. Standing in front of a stone circle that's part Art Deco, part MRI machine, an unmade bed in the background that has clearly been fucked in, Mrs. Z has a large, bloodless rabbit's head slung over her shoulder, her eyes aimed toward something to the left, off canvas. Her husband sits on the floor, looking in the same direction, a computer screen emitting a wash of cathode green over their two bodies. Fertility, Moon Goddesses, an unsubtle vagina joke, the draw of electronic media interrupting intimacy . . . The piece draws on any number of interpretations, with Hess' unsightly imagery a dense, intellectual, often-impregnable read.
There's an equal hint of the backhand in the splash of color obliterating Zuckerberg's face in Marinus Welman's Harnessing the Energy MZ, the mottling of half the picture suggesting a bullet had splattered his brains across the canvas. Bradford J. Salamon's monochromatic gouache-and-oil-on-canvas portrait Visage #32 looks as if the artist knocked it out in a couple of hours, but the resemblance is dead-on, with Zuckerberg looking directly at the viewer, his mouth open and upper teeth exposed in a joyful, lunatic jeer. The whitewash and drip effect Salamon uses elongates an incisor to a fang; Zuckerberg's face is pale, his black lips drooling blood, making him resemble a vampire on an old, ruined billboard, faded by the sun and shit on by birds.
Bill Amundson routinely features himself—or at least his severed head—in many of his drawings, so it's no surprise he's in Self Portrait w/ Mark. The Facebook CEO wears a T-shirt with the words "U are my brand" on it, a lowercase F tattooed on his arm, circuits dangling from his head and ear, a leering brainiac Hamlet Yorick-ing the artist's grumpy-faced head in his hand. William Wray's WTF is the funniest piece: a gangly figure wearing an ill-fitting Spiderman outfit sits on a bike staring at his phone, with "14 Likes? WTF" in a dialogue bubble, as another guy in a Superman costume walks away in the distance. It's the only large piece in the show that doesn't feature Zuckerberg's face.
The exhilarating Like MARK by Kerri Sabine-Wolf qualifies as the most fascinating work, as well as the most generous, with her richly painted Zuckerberg illuminated by the light of his cellphone in a night scene, a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering around him. It works perfectly on several different levels: as a warning about missing the beauty around you; as a bit of magic realism worthy of Gabriel García Márquez; and, lastly, as poetic tribute to the mini-miracle of Zuckerberg's creation.
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It's the more than 50 paintings on square panels that Lee solicited from other artists, set on a grid covering one wall of the gallery, recalling the uniformity of boxy Facebook profile pics that becomes something more transcendent than the face of the billionaire media giant. April Williams' The Creeper is a portly gentleman wearing Pogo the Clown makeup, destined to be blocked numerous times before he goes on a mass shooting spree. You can smell the burnt, blackened-wood surface on which the face would be amid the cruddy silver spray paint in Katie Stubblefield's sculpture/painting Unfriend, the perfect symbol of the current scorched-earth politics affecting many online conversations. In Mike Coffey's Sauce Portrait, you are what you eat, with the face painted, but the clothes and background made from empty, carefully cut-up Del Taco sauce packets.
Lee's press release suggests that data mining, an obsession with collecting friends and the tracking of popularity in numbers are the concerns of the show, but this exhibition at Coastline Community College isn't really about any of that. Instead, it's about taking down Zuckerberg a few notches, and while that works well enough to make the show worth seeing, one wishes there had been less focus on the man behind the curtain and more on what the wizard of Facebook has wrought.
"Like MARK" at Coastline Art Gallery, 1515 Monrovia Ave., Newport Beach, (714) 963-8475; www.coastline.edu/community/art-gallery. Open Tues.-Thurs., noon-4 p.m. Through Sept. 30. Free.