Let Them Eat Beefcake

Photo by Rebecca SchoenkopfThe boss wanted to know why I thought the art scene in Orange County was so sad 'n' scrawny this season—it was the Little Match Girl of art seasons, really, dying alone and unloved in the snow. After rambling on about natural lulls and fluctuations, I hit on it.

"National malaise," I told him happily.

It's about time someone besides Jimmy Carter got whomped in the head with the damning phrase. Unfortunately, it's also the truth. Nicole Richie and Ally Hilfiger (never mind Jessica Simpson!) provide our collective escape as surely as did watching Claudette Colbert or Myrna Loy play heiresses during the Great Depression, only more stupidly and without the beauty, charm or talent.

As far as the art scene goes, I haven't been shamming. The only exhibit in our art listings this week that we haven't already covered is "Hooked! The Lure and Lore of Sportfishing." Literally. You'll be happy to know that we'll doubtless be reviewing it next week!

It's not that there haven't been terrific exhibits this year past. There have been beautiful doozies, mostly compliments (surprisingly) of the Orange County Museum of Art, which used to be the place where minor works of abstract expressionism went to die. The problem is that there have been so few exhibits. You may be puffing learnedly on your pipe, noting that depth connotes far more than breadth; I would reply that you don't have to find 50 shows a year that have to be, if not good, then at least bad in their own unique, scintillating way. We can't just keep writing about the Sawdust Art Festival and its concomitant crap, you dig? You would get bored, pets, and I would run out of synonyms for execrable.

So, national malaise it is. We're too depressed to do more than watch our television heiresses frolic, some puffily, others with eyes flat and reptilian. We have no energy for our own marvelous pursuits of juicy arty sexiness. We can barely curl up in bed with a bottle of Scotch.

And that's where "The Men of the Grand Central"—the Grand Central being Cal State Fullerton's studio and exhibition complex, right across the promenade—come in. What should have been the slightest flibbertigibbet of a frothy dollop of whipped cream, a quick punch line on our way to something weightier and more deserving, becomes instead a small (small) pool of light at the beginning of the tunnel. In a back room at Memphis in Santa Ana's Artists Village, the men simper from the walls. They are January, February and March. They are May, June and July. They are all those other months too. It is not a new idea, and they will never outsell a single fireman calendar, or even that calendar with the old ladies from Yorkshire. But sex isn't just for that awful Hilton chit anymore; the mostly slightly geeky artists who posed and told us their turn-ons and turn-offs are doing their damnedest to reclaim objectification and nasty, dirty sex for the rest of us. They're doing their damnedest to make life light and perky again. And they're doing their best to trawl for dates. This I understand.

The compositions for the calendar photos are fussy, but charmingly so. The black-and-white photos are swamped in too much black. The boys aren't very what you'd call "handsome"—with the exception of one, who goes on to say his favorite snack is the "pink taco," and all of a sudden, with what I'm sure he thought was a harmless little entendre meant to show he didn't take the project too seriously, he's about as attractive as Larry Flynt minus those beautiful $6,000 suits. Pity. There is a mailbox where you can leave smutty love notes for any and all—and a naked invitation to do so.

More importantly, there's a spot of color when you least expect it, with silliness and DIY optimism. You can leave off the Scotch for another day.

"The Men Of The Grand Central" at Memphis, Artists Village, 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064. Call for hours; "Hooked! The Lure and Lore of Sportfishing" At the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, 151 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 673-7863. Open Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Runs indefinitely.


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