Photo by Jack GouldSo Cal State Fullerton has this gleaming new center, the Grand Central Building, across the promenade from Santa Ana's Santora Arts Complex, effectively mugging the Santora of its status as the Artists Village flagship. And the Santora—despite the hype about how Grand Central would infuse it with students and life—is in a dark funk, desperately presenting hack decorator art as if it were anything at all. Not to mention the telltale vacancies. In the circle of life, Santora is the lethargic, sick antelope at the back of the herd.
Not everything about the Santora blows: the Webster Gallery is showing funky, provocative works featuring boning lifeguards, and there are some sweet vanity galleries like Alfredo Pavon's that always have something colorful and sincere to sell. The Joseph Musil theater-diorama collection is still a little dollhouse wonderland, and Max Presneill's new incarnation of the British Lime Gallery has fun, electric party scenes that are somewhat reminiscent of Peter Max for their hippity-do.
But the Santora also features the most egregiously commercial works this side of Main Beach. Not-ready-for-prime-time college students await your specifications for a copy of a masterpiece. Portraits of Barbra Streisand abound, not quite mingling with the fancy baubles for those with much money but little taste. The Santora is very down-home, for better and for much, much worse. And next door to Grand Central, its provincial deficiencies are glaring and give OC art a venal rep.
So here comes Cal State Fullerton, with its $1-per-year lease from the city of Santa Ana. (Oooh, did that anger the much-indicted anti-art City Councilman Ted Moreno!) It has its fancy architecture, its student flats and art studios, its black-box theater. And it has its two art galleries. There is the sales gallery, which features abominations from the neighbors and a grim, Great Depression-y exhibition by "Morgan Carver," and the real gallery. You know it's real because the artists are from LA.
"Sig-alert 2" is an exhibition of nontraditional LA artists—ones thinking "outside the box," per the press release. Unable to navigate LA's snooty hierarchy, they made their own routes, showing in places like the DMV and grocery stores. But nothing lives in their installations: like all the other isolated angels, they have smart-bombed their canvases back to the future. Of the LA artists chosen, Tyler Stallings (late of the Huntington Beach Art Center, now curating for the Laguna Art Museum) comes closest to incorporating life. And even his are lives seen through the grime of years. Bleachers features barely visible shadows drowned in a thick soup of candy red. They sit with their knees spread comfortably. Down the middle of the canvas, a great yellow stain spreads, cracking and bubbling like corrosives on metal.
Liza Ryan's Displacement series are vertiginous photos of a plain bathroom windowsill juxtaposed with a human back. They're extremely lonely.
Seth Kaufman builds moldy-looking leaves into a chrysalis, high above a doorway, and also creates a magnificent ode to compulsion with a 6-foot-tall assemblage made entirely of broken eggshells stacked inside one another and covered in slick resin. Phyllis Green spins clay into Seussian penile knobules. In Irish Spring, Stephen Shackelford builds a perfect small island from wood that looks like Popsicle sticks. It's minimal and clean, and it holds a serene blue bar of the strong-scented soap.
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Some of the works are delightful: Maura Bendett's crowd-pleasing spring scenes are great jewel-like gobs of resin suspended from impossibly slender threads. They look like flowers, gems and fairies all at the same time, wrapped about one another in curlicues like ivy and falling gracefully toward the floor.
And some are incredibly self-indulgent. Martin Duazo's Los Amigos Invisibles (the title changes to whatever CD you throw down) is a huge assemblage of shelves and liter bottles of colored water and rolls of toilet paper stacked atop one another with a stereo in the middle, and you think, looking at it, that when you turn the stereo on, something will happen—the bottles will light up, or vibrate, or boil—but no. It just plays music—really good music, sure, but so does my stereo at home, minus all the bells and whistles.
When Grand Central wants art it feels like bragging about, it imports hip LA artists who wear proudly their Gen-X, children-of-divorce misery and can't-get-a-gig-outside-a-supermarket reputations. It relegates Orange County artists to its little commercial gallery, their work displayed there like Third World handicrafts. But, hey, if getting a gig in a supermarket is the new standard of great art, let's start the list with local artists: Skeith DeWine, who started his own gallery (The Smallest Art Gallery in California) in a closet under the Santora stairs. Or Dennis Lluy and Seth Wilder and their tagger friends at Koo's Art Cafe. But perhaps they're tainted by their proximity; they work in Santa Ana. Or perhaps they're not fashionably inhuman enough; there's something wildly optimistic about their work. Or perhaps the great artist—like the prophet—is not without honor, save in his own county.
"Sig-alert 2" at Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7234; www.arts.fullerton.edu/events. Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Through Aug. 14. Free.