The group show "Crossing Boundaries" is the first of three planned Year of Women In the Arts exhibitions at Huntington Beach Art Center. Encompassing basket weaving, painting, installation, mixed media and conceptual art, the work falls mainly into the category of female clichés: pretty, safe, gentle, hermetic, women as natural creatives, bringing forth life from nothing. They're all qualities admirable on their own, but dull as dishwater when you're expecting a few boundaries to be crossed.
Give Nancy Mooslin credit for biggest ovaries, using pastels and watercolors to marvelous effect on her 15-by-20 pigment prints of aspen groves and the Mekong River. Not only does she have the bravado to think she can improve Mother Nature, but she also succeeds: The images glow with a psychedelic intensity that is remarkable, peaceful and surprising, considering the garish chromatics. Her 6-foot-long watercolor and graphite-on-paper images of poplars and rivers have an Impressionist feel, reading like Monet, if he had been bold enough to use a brighter palette.
Hiromi Takizawa also plays God in her installations, though less successfully, re-creating aspects of nature by artificial means. Fauna is two subwoofers and two tweeters playing birdsongs recorded in Japan, Washington and New York, the speakers perched upon sectioned, recycled wood atop metal stands like a drummer's kit. Seed is scattered on the dust cover within each cone, a nurturing gesture aimed at the fowl we hear but don't see. Ultraviolet's construction of a rainbow—film-covered neon hanging from the museum ceiling—above several houseplants, would be better served with dimmer overhead lights and curator notes.
Sandy Abrams' baskets are sexualized rattan shapes, gaping openings accompanied by swollen, labial bodies, labor-intensive and designed to appeal as hipster feminist room accouterments. They're not utilitarian in any way, the designs made with paint, instead of liana of various colors, which feels like a bit of a cheat. Her sculptures and wall hangings are a different story: The figural Matilda evocatively suggests a woman in a dress and the bristles of a broom; the painted wood and rattan clitoris of Lima Bean as delicate and sublime as the real thing.
Nicola Lamb's minimalist acrylic on plexiglass paintings of abstracted gorges and waterways in China are only periodically eye-catching, the best ones looking more like happy accidents than intentional works of inspiration.
While I think that much of Carolyn Buck Vosburgh's mixed-media work on her website looks well-designed, her pieces here—white boughs bursting from panels like Alien's xenomorph, small painted canvases hanging from their tips—are unfocused, feeling half-heartedly thrown together. Without giving us a place for our eyes to land, they instead skitter across each sculpture in a chaotic eye spasm of clutter and ugliness. Her gouache and marker drawings of sea life (the "Sustaining Drifters Series") don't fare any better, even with the use of grids offering a more formal composition, the pictures of jellies and squids and shrimp look amateurishly drawn.
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Connie DK Lane's conceptual installations move in a completely different direction from the rest of the show, tackling the oppressiveness of modern architecture, and that may be the reason for its success. Moving away from a focus on nature that lends itself to sentimental tree-hugging, Lane's work is about what happens when those trees disappear and buildings take their place. Based on her experiences in Hong Kong, Vertical resembles a tenement building, clothing lines littered with garments attached to each corner. It's a tactile and visual experience, the clothing made of netting and latex that looks and feels like the scales of fish.
Walking inside, you push past the sharp edges of exposed film-strip negatives, the images on each framing people, but otherwise indiscernible, red yarn threaded through the sprockets like veins, memories left out on the sidewalk. Inside is cramped, stifling, a picture of clouds and sky glued to the ceiling, the installation "windows" sealed off, closed, opaque board Pollacked by splashed paint, hiding one from any potential beauty outside. That theme continues through her last two pieces, equally as poetic: Jammed is a crate of pillows wrapped tightly together, drawing allusions to boxed-in animals awaiting market slaughter; Within is the shrink-wrapped skeleton of a high rise, trapping and suffocating whoever is inside.
At the risk of repeating myself after my takedown of the Orange County Museum of Art's apolitical, post-feminist show back in January, a nod to art center director Kate Hoffman for putting these artists on the schedule, even if I'm disappointed with the wasted opportunity. I have great hopes for exhibition No. 2, but here's a plea amid the final comments: This is the perfect moment to embrace women's talent and passion, but it's also the time for less pretty and more insight, more danger and less safety. We need better than what's on display here.
"Crossing Boundaries" at Huntingtin Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-1650; www.huntingtonbeachartcenter.org. Open Tues.-Thurs., noon-8 p.m.; Fri., noon-6 p.m.; Sat., noon-5 p.m. Through July 1. Free.