Image by Naida OslineWhen one has been covering Orange County art for a decade, there are periods—we shall generously call them "fallow"—when one must be ready to spot even the quickest glimmer of hope. To do otherwise would soon turn one into a raving bitch.
So even though the colleges are hibernating for the summer, Laguna's its usual Sawdust horror, and Santa Ana's Artists Village is in one of its protracted downturns, it's my great pleasure to pronounce that all these many years later it looks like we've found not just a momentary reprieve but a shiny beacon of civic joy, of communities popping for some culture in their midst, and not being too terribly anal about matters of taste.
We may even have found a replacement for the avant-garde (in a good way, not an insufferable snob way) heyday of the Huntington Beach Art Center.
Ladies and gentlemen: Would you believe . . . Brea?
That's right. Brea, home of . . . well, there's that mall, isn't there? Also, there's some offensively inoffensive public art, mandated to accompany all new construction since the '70s, that has to be okayed by a panel. That panel somehow has managed to give the civic thumbs-up to statues honoring rhythmic gymnastics and some quite nice Japanese-modern stones.
And yet? In their last show, there was an erect penis.
An erect penis! In Brea! In the City of Brea Gallery, to be precise!
The City of Brea Gallery—formerly the worst kind of granny gallery—finally had our attention.
It took some doing. We can't be expected to just drop everything and head to Brea when there's anything else in the world we'd rather do first.
Silly us. We'd forgotten the first rule of suburbia: when you're bored enough, you'll sneak in and take something over, whether it's an empty pool or, apparently, a civic gallery. That's where Travis Collinson, the baby-faced director of education, and Thomas Ciganko, promoted to director of the gallery for just the past 11 months, are running a virtual two-man fiefdom and roping in a few of OC's most-loved art brats for the ride.
When the curator for "Mediums" dropped off the face of the earth just before the show was to open, Ciganko and Collinson had three weeks to gather works from Kim Abeles, Carlee Fernandez, Naida Osline, Tyler Stallings and others. With a day till the opening, they were just waiting on an installation from Ruben Ochoa. "It soundslike it's gonna be cool," said one of them (who knows which), with a sort of cautious hopeful fatalism.
Most of the rest of the show looked fantastic. There are Osline's feature creatures (in this case a stretched old man with skin grown over his sightless eye sockets and a particularly disgusting torso made of bellies). There are completely against-type works from Stallings, who usually works in blobs, clots, acids and phalluses, turning in instead deceptively sentimental yet straightforward realist paintings like FencewithFlowers, a picket fence with daisies that still somehow manages to convey an unsettling darkness, although I wonder if that's just because I knew who'd painted it. Occupyfeatures a monkey on a flat, affectless background, with just a few leaves hanging down the white space. It has a very small, subtle monkey wang, which is the only reason you'd even begin to think Stallings was responsible for it. It's very irono-found-garage-sale art.
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There are few other paintings on the walls; as befits the theme, most works come in installation, or video, or plastic straws (Shirley Tse's Mandala, which looks like a giant packet of birth control pills), or plastic tubing and spy cams (Deborah Aschheim's NeuralArchitecture, last seen at the Laguna Art Museum), or dollhouses, or 50-foot-long musical instruments, or mechanizations trepanning into the skulls of small blank-faced statues, or the always popular medium of taxidermied goat.
Kim Abeles, as usual, works in the medium of smog, with a series assessing the environmental impact of presidents back to Teddy Roosevelt. She knifes a stencil of each president and leaves it on a plate; actual smog—the airborne kind—shapes its likeness. Sadly, there's no George W. The curators say she couldn't stand looking at his face long enough to cut the stencil.
The show's a beauty—many of the works have been seen before, but taken together, they're a bravely textured, touchable thing with just the perfect amount of perfect weirdness. Meanwhile, the men of the City of Brea Gallery still have to put on an annual watercolor show for the granny crowd. But that's okay! It and the absolutely delightful kids' programs—where materials and instruction for your pumpkins are only $5—arethe least onerous cost of doing business imaginable. Beats getting arrested for trespassing.
"MEDIUMS: A SURVEY OF EMERGING TRENDS IN ART," THE CITY OF BREA GALLERY, 1 CIVIC CENTER CIRCLE, BREA, (714) 990-7730. OPEN WED., THURS. & SUN., NOON-5 P.M.; FRI.-SAT., NOON-8 P.M. $1. THROUGH JULY 22.