Let a Thousand Murals Bloom!

Photo by Jack GouldI like to mock the Irvine Fine Arts Center (IFAC) as much as the next guy. It's like a baby Orange County Museum of Art, putting forth pretentious contemporary artists who have little to say and say it badly. And it's in Irvine.

But at least it's better than the lapsarian Huntington Beach Art Center. Irvine's artists use fewer shades of cheap, remaindered paint, and there's an actual guy with some art history in his bones who makes the decisions, instead of just the disgraced Huntington Beach cultural-services director constantly toning things down for the sake of the bluehairs.

With those three premeditated slappings out of the way, may I say that "Mural II" is delightful, especially the ill-disguised penises (big black ones!) stretching 12 feet high, as the kids taking summer art classes at the center wander by?

There's not a lot to see at IFAC. Of the nine works, a bare majority are interesting, but a couple of those are outstanding. But then murals themselves are such an outstanding brightener to one's day, even when they're dreadful—I'm thinking particularly of that one near LAX on the 405 that features really creepy marathon runners—that I have to approve of even the dull, ugly ones.

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We don't get many murals in OC. We're pretty much limited to those floral tiles on the sound walls in Seal Beach and Santa Ana, although we also have the sweet and elegantly simple Jesus wall in San Clemente—if it's still there; it has been several years since we named it OC's best public art.

Though the accompanying text says it aims for representational and/or figurative, "Mural II" has no pretensions of magnificence. The grand traditions of Giotto, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Orozco, Siqueiros and Diego Rivera are absent. There are no heroes, or saints ascending to heaven. Nor are there even attempts at beauty—with, perhaps, the exception of Gijs Frieling's depiction of some hideous flowers in (watch out, HBAC!) remaindered pea green. But if Frieling was aiming for beautiful, then he was about as successful as Tammy Faye Bakker when she said it's important for a woman to remain sexy for her man.

But that's okay! I don't mind if the murals are ugly, or lazy, or have little to say, or exhibit little painterly skill. I'm just happy someone painted on the walls.

"Mural II" is part of Los Angeles' recent Biennale, of which I saw approximately none because I don't care that LA feels slighted by the rest of the art world and wants to prove it has culture beyond the latest Bruckheimer blow-'em-up. And it would be easy to snicker that Irvine has joined the fray from its seat an hour south (if you're lucky) on the 5. But I find it actually quite courageous and neighborly that the IFAC would ignore the jeers from those snobs in Los Angeles. I think it's great they wanted to come to the party.

So what will you see at IFAC before you head outside to feed the ducks on the little lakelet? Let's stay with the good; the bad are too boring even to make fun of. Foremost are the penises (my mom would call them "wieners") by Nic Bezemer. There are five of them in Rorschach black. I'm almost positive it wasn't just me.

And there is Mark Dean Veca's Toile de Joey. It's a large, busy cartoon with figures of Nixon popping up all over the place—and Brando and cows and a sexy rock band. They're all lifted straight from Robert Williams, when they're not cribbed from MAD Magazine. But that's okay! I like Brando! And rock bands! And cows!

Johan Nobell's almost Chinois brush painting/line drawing would be fine if it didn't depict a palette and brush; it's the kind of self-reference that makes my gums bleed—like when John Irving writes about novelists. Enough!

But Jeremy Kidd's room-size installation is wonderful. A huge screen shows a lush topiary garden that is almost Teletubbies in its saturated color and fakeness and serenity. The trees are accented with blue pods of mysterious origin. On the ground in the gallery are more large blue stones, set there like gumdrops in Candy Land. It's surreal and childlike and fun—and more to the point, it's pretty, and it's not lazy, and it's well-done. Let's put it on the sound wall where the floral tiles are now.

"Mural II" at Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine, (949) 724-6880. Open Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun., 1-5 p.m. Through Aug. 26. Free.

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