Curatorial Cage Match In Irvine
Having seen my share of meh in local galleries, many is the time I've pondered how grand it would be to watch a WWE-style cage fight between curators. I'm not a fan, mind you, but watching the narrow vision, lack of inspiration and questionable taste get a beatdown, as hundreds of continually disappointed art patrons scream for blood . . . I'd like to see that. Exhibition coordinator Carl Berg's "Curatorial Exchange" at Irvine Fine Arts Center is far more civil than that, however, with 12 curators each given a wall or floor (but sometimes more) for his or her own small exhibition.
On your first left, Michael Hanson and Micol Hebron's slight grouping isn't much to speak of, heavy on bios and quotes, but light on content, with Finishing School the badass winner with its droll WWFSD: **** Art and WWFSD: Let's Dance pieces. At right, former LA Weekly art critic Doug Harvey wins hands down for most eclectic variety of medium. Focused on the work of UC Irvine students and faculty, the paintings, mixed media, photographs, sculptures and installations displayed have no overt theme, except that some of the best work is unified by the use of the color black, such as Flora Kao's abused canvas City of Angels and Shelby Roberts' coolly elegiac black-and-white photos. In contrast, Cassie Riger's triptych of colorfully lit junk shot in close-up, Sterile Chamber, is otherworldly in its splendor, and Elan Greenwald's butterfly display cases, with 1s and 0s on folded papers pinned inside, is conceptually brilliant. However, the less said about HK Zamani's curation of Mira Schnedler's wretched oil canvases of vaginas, banana splashes of yellow on black backgrounds, or clumsy painted wooden blocks, cardboard and paint sticks, the better. Directly behind these monstrosities, Paul Paiement wastes our time with Ernest Velardi's warmed-over Dali, but he scores points with Bob Alderette's politically driven immigration paintings.
In the gallery's crash-pad area—complete with comfy couch and a flat-screen TV—Devon Tsuno curates an eye-catching, mixed bag of conceptual/installation art: Macha Suzuki's Between the Lines is a life-sized Occupy figure with three fingers raised in the air; a long paper octagon replacing the head—reminding me of the pixilation done to brand names—catches your eye and never lets go. I admired Molly Schulps' labor-intensive Beaver and Travis Novak's black deer baying at the moon, but I'd rather see this kitsch in a Disney souvenir shop than a gallery.
On the left wall opposite, David McDonald curates a single artist (David Kelley), but the idea behind the plastic envelopes warehousing various components of the art hanging next to it is far more interesting than the art itself. Farther down, on the left and right, the entire body of video work curated by Rudy Vega is excellent, but there are two standouts: I only saw seconds of Elan Greenwald's four-video-screen film This Hand Is Your Hand before the computers running it took a dump, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the other 19 minutes are just as brilliant, based on his installation on Harvey's wall. I was completely enraptured by Alexandra Pacheco's three exquisitely poetic, perfect elemental shorts.
Way too much space is wasted on Roger Herman's curated portraits; the paintings look as though they were cobbled from garage sales. There are exceptions, but the biggest surprise (and my favorite piece in the show) isn't a painting but Marcus Herse's mesmerizing video Way to go—Galleria, a disquieting, floating capture of ennui that makes shopping resemble Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining.
In Gallery 1, Inmo Yuon curates the curators at left, with the most intriguing being Hanson/Hebron's hilarious video I LOVE YOU/I HATE YOU, a bundle of weirdness that had me laughing out loud, its absurdity a neat contrast to Vega's serene black-framed shots of the sea rising and falling installed nearby. Laurie Steelink's devotion to dog-themed art on the back wall set my kitsch bells a-ringing, its saving grace being four snarky Robbie Conal prints of political figures pictured next to (with their faces mimicking) canines. Christopher Pate's curation celebrates a diversity of forms, most with dark overtones: Seth Kaufman's creepy sculpture of a cracked and broken bust breaking out in an acne of razor blades made me think of Hellraiser, and I chuckled at Jason David's irreverent Hubris Cream #1, #2 and #3, with its painted images of Greek philosophers covered in splotches that look like bird shit. I got lost in John Trevino's remarkable underwater photo Sunken City-Rodney, its subject fully dressed, face planted at the bottom of the pool, the entire body floating on the tips of his toes.
Under Berg's expert gaze, the bulk of the chosen acquit themselves admirably, at the very least delivering something for everyone. Perhaps not as populist (or bruising) as my aforementioned cage match, it'll do until some daring curator proposes something a little . . . riskier.
This review appeared in print as "Curatorial Cage Match! Irvine Fine Arts Center show makes art geeks go mano a mano."
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