Irvine Fine Arts Center Welcomes the 99 Percent
Curators Dorian Rooney and Carl Berg's "Eyes of the World: Exhibition of Visual Journalism" at Irvine Fine Arts Center begins with what you would expect from an exhibition with that title: images of impoverished people in Africa, environmental disaster and the overpopulated thoroughfares of grungy New Delhi streets.
We've all seen pictures similar to Barbara Grover's giclee Community, with hands scrambling about a silver pan for morsels of rice and macaroni. It's the washed-out ivory of the sand below, the stark turquoise of a bracelet wrapped around a thin black wrist, its fingers slick with oil and water—all of those precious details—that elevate the picture to art. Hungry children are also de rigeur for this kind of subject matter, but the image of a Muslim woman holding her small daughter to face the camera in My Destiny is decidedly different. Here, the child stares down the photographer, without a hint of sentimentality, and because Grover has allowed her subjects their dignity instead of capturing them in a pitiful pose, the viewer has hope that destiny may be a brighter one. [Editor's note: Material in this paragraph was corrected. Please see the end of the story for details.]
Robert Radin's rich portraits of small businesses are awash in brilliant details: a boy laughs and sells lush red watermelon slices covered with flies (Sweet Deal); a butcher lays out goats' heads and hooves in a lean-to (the fascinating Blind Horror); a dark and otherwise empty store has a few small piles of various sundries such as crackers and candy (Entrepreneur); a rope salesman is surrounded by every size of twine you could imagine (Every Rope), his yellow turban looking as though it's beginning to unravel. Brimming with humanity, one could easily write a life story for each of these people at just a glance, but take your time with them . . . there's a lot going on here.
A couple of the images in Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole's gut-wrenching BP Oil Spill were featured earlier this year in Gina Genis' "Wide Angle View" show at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, but every shot the Pulitzer Prize winner offers is remarkable: A turtle is either floating dead underneath the surface of the oil or gamely trying to escape it. Fires burn off oil blanketing the water, black smoke curdling the sky. Five workers rake up oil and tar sludge at a beach as menacing clouds hover over them. Full of shadows, the otherwise-innocuous image feels grave and threatening, as if the men themselves are covered with the slime.
Less interesting is Janos K. Lanyi's snapshots of India's crumbling infrastructure. Well-framed though they may be, there's little story being told, the images little more than a series of Slumdog Millionaire-style vacation photos. It's a shame, too, because a glance at his website reveals Lanyi has plenty of arresting images available, so one wonders why Rooney and Berg chose these shots.
Hal Robert Myers' 2010 series Carnaval De Ponce, Puerto Rico has a similar set-up-the-camera-and-click-the-button feel, but the fascinating image— used by the center to promote the show—of a young reveler removing his mask to look at the camera redeems the others. I found no artistry or insight at all in Paul Silkowski's shots of other people's artwork—billboards, Banksy street art or LA's Museum of Contemporary Art's "Art In the Streets" exhibition. He just stands on the shoulders of giants.
The real discovery is Lara Jo Regan's brilliant and sympathetic Drive Thru installation in a side room of the gallery. Seven noirish photographs of McJob workers behind darkened fast-food windows, often with some sort of junk food in an extended hand, are incredibly haunting. Connected to one another by the darkness surrounding the frame, the installation covers three walls of the gallery and is hung at eye level, so walking from one to the other feels like one long window. Five of the seven workers are framed by the tiny window within the frame of the larger picture, with two of them bisected at the neck by the window frame, separating their heads from their bodies better than any guillotine could. Welcome to the 99 percent.
Welcome to the 99 Percent
Irvine Fine Arts Center shows the world and America in perpetual Occupy mode
Correction 11/03/2011: In the original version of this story, Barbara Grover's name was misspelled. The Weekly regrets the error.
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