Juicy Fruits

Fruit means sex. Whether in art or literature or Allman Brothers songs, there is one meaning and one meaning only: ripe, juicy, sweet, dribbly sex. Except, of course, when fruit means death. Think of a Damien Hirst fly villa, but take out the cow head and add in a bunch of rotting apples, and you get the idea. Then, too, anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of the French language already knows that death and sex are the same thing, with the French for "orgasm" translating as "the little death." Petite morte is a much prettier term than "orgasm," isn't it? Even "I would like to buy some condoms, please"—"Je voudrais acheter des condoms, s'il vous plait"—sounds nicer, non? We should probably let the French do all our sex talking for us.

At Diane Nelson Fine Art—the Laguna branch, as Nelson has recently opened another in Old Town Pasadena—there's a whole gallery full of fruit under the minimalist moniker "Realism." And yet . . . And yet . . . There is not a peach to eat in the whole bunch. There is one small portrait of pears and green apples. There are onion stalks (mmmm, onions!). And there are lemons and limes, which appear most often. But lemons and limes are not sexy, not even a little. They are like the Jgermeister man making his horrible Jgermeister face. They are terrific in all manner of vodka drinks, but sexy they are not.

So if Carin Gerard's lemons and limes (of which there are half a dozen distinct portraits; one would think Gerard would get over it already) aren't about sex, then what exactly is the point?

The answer is simple: fruit—like gem-laden idols, incense and stained glass—is for Catholics, especially Catholics who are also Spanish or French. Catholics like fruit and sex. Catholics like all manner of pleasurable things, like wine and bitchen cathedrals and Ricky Martin. Protestants? Come now: Have you ever seen a bitchen Protestant cathedral? How about a Protestant portrait of fruit? Every time the Dutch painted fruit, they had to add a skull or some other ghastly thing to remind you that fruit and pleasure and bitchen cathedrals are bad. Easy, Martin Luther! So what do we have here? Fruit that's sour and tart, not for biting into, but for squeezing over a chicken breast or a gin rickey. Its juice will never run down your chin. That's for papists.

Margaret Caldwell does lemons, too. She also mixes it up, adding in an occasional plum and an even more occasional dead pheasant, whose soft, dead feathers comprise a thousand exquisite brush strokes. And Christopher Young's Ottobre includes a bundle of thorns along with a pine cone and a gourd on a background of the periwinkliest blue. How will I ever survive such trenchant symbolism?

In the back, Glenn Ness does Edward Hopper, but without the sad-eyed nude girls. Instead it's all plastic chairs and tiles and empty phone booths waiting to be used. They're beautifully done, but they don't have any fruit in them, and even I can't get sex out of a phone booth.

The whole exhibit is breathtakingly executed but very repetitive and with very little to say. Despite that, the works stand up nicely when you take them individually. The ones that don't, sadly, are Christopher Terry's, right at the front. Those, like Espresso and Conduit and Vacant Frame, are painted in drab, muted colors and feature mostly tables against walls, some with small teapots on them. They aim for some kind of structurality, some kind of architecture, showing seams and tiles. But they are boring, peachless and austere in the most Protestant of ways.

"Realism" at Diane Nelson Fine Art, 435 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-2440. Through Jan. 14. Free.


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