Photo by William WegmanYou can always count on Santa Ana's Grand Central Art Center for a wicked good time. For the opening of "100 Artists See Satan," coinciding with the Artists Village's 10th anniversary, that good time meant some rocking girl rappers, a dude who spun fire and the fairly lame exorcism of a sheet cake.
You can also count on Grand Central to prize zip and dash and worldly panache over anything smacking of hard work. On the plus side: Grand Central never gets turgid or offers plodding works by dull artists who claim to expose universal truths via their intrepid use of monochrome. On the other hand: all their fun works, so zippy and dashing and panacherous, cohese to little more lasting than the thrills of a carnival ride. All that holiday while Cambodia burns.
And so it is: Lucifer gets the beauty treatment.
"100 Artists See Satan" is the sly knockoff of "100 Artists See God" next month at the Laguna Art Museum. It's very sly and clever, indeed. Also, many, many of the works taken by themselves are delightful, or sly, or shameful, or sobering. But then many, many of the works are portraits of imps with giant, dripping schlongs, and one imp with a giant dripping schlong is usually enough to get the idea. Some pieces are cute but utterly empty, like Paul Frank's just adorable Julius-as-Satan, stitched from a lipstick-red PVC, and Shag's Satan barbecuing in a "Kiss the Cook" apron—while others are just embarrassing, like a poster (reminiscent of those Corvette or Lamborghini posters of your big brother's youth) of a bent-double chick in a red-latex Satanella costume and stripper shoes, her pointed tail pointing at her gape-mouthed face.
Hey, you know what else there's a lot of?
Hitler. 'Cause he's evil.
You will perhaps be shocked to learn Satan is a woman. Peter Alexander's Stephanie glows white like the old posters for Starman. She is pert-breasted and composed, seductive and utterly alien. Boyd Rice's Lust. Pride. Deceit. Temptation. (Woman, Thy Name Is Satan.) is a found painting based on the velvet wet dreams of Edgar Leteeg. Her nipples and cheekbones are equally sharp, and her bouffant could have come off a young Jane Fonda or the nudie boudoir portraits at the cherry-walled Fling. Enzia Farrell's Tiki Party shows two wide-eyed (but empty-gazed) women in the foreground, ripe for evil's advances or inured to them.
Naida Osline gives us a color photo of a monstrously deformed foot—nobody does monstrous like Naida and her creature shop—while Victoria Reynolds' Satan in the Flesh (Bad Meat) is a nontet of color photos. They look like fetuses, vulvas, demons and big-breasted fertility idols. I have no idea what she actually shot, but they're terrifying and familiar. Long Beach retro guy The Pizz offers very Robert Williamsy scenes of Bukowski-ish drunken degradation, all in candy-colored cartoon. Robert Williams does the same.
These are beautiful, successful pieces in the exhibit—works that somehow at least attempt to embody evil (to show its human seductions or its wreck of an aftermath) instead of showing us a pitchfork and calling it a day.
There are also hilarious pieces in the show: Diana Kunce presents a taped snippet of Mel Gibson talking to Diane Sawyer about Satan, while Sawyer looks at him as if he's a street crazy, and William Wegman gives us Fay the Weimaraner in Halloween garb. Cute but empty? Come on. Nobody can resist Fay the Weimaraner.
And Tony De Lap presents a hat. I've looked for all kinds of hidden figures in the hat. They are not, so far as I can tell, present. I've also considered the empty hat as a symbol of everything from Dehumanizing Big Business to the sucking away of Everyman's Soul la Death of a Salesman,but I can't really see that, either. Fucking Tony De Lap.
And there's more and more and more. Some take stabs at politics, like a multilimbed Latina Kali armed with U.S. weaponry, hooded figures out of Abu Ghraib but predating the prison scandal by years, a bunch of McDonalds, and, of course, the Hitlers. 'Cause he's evil.
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But what there isn't is a sense of fear, of foreboding, of wrong that dogs can smell and to which your skin and gorge respond. Something like Marcus Harvey's portraits of a serial killer, which rocked London. The worst in news photos of Rwandan genocides. Even odious Damien Hirst—if ever his repugnant works of rotting flesh actually were called for, it's now.
Instead, we get cute old Satan and his gross old pig dick. Satan as bacchanal. Satan as fun.
Fun is fine; what we need is true terror.
"100 Artists See Satan" at the Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233. Open Tues., Wed., & Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Through Sept. 19.