I Knew When I Saw The Invite For "Perceptions Of The President" at Koo's Art Caf that the show would be short on angel-beams of light touching the noble brow of our 43rd president, and long on pictures of funny monkeys.
I was only mostly right: there's only one picture of a monkey to be found. Yes, it's Uncurious George, the mischievous little chimp depicted in a delicate sepia watercolor and chained on a box. While The Man in the Yellow Hat's yellow hat lies on the floor in the background for a quick touchstone of authenticity, George himself is a beastly monkey body with el jefe's head soldered atop it. It's like South Park's version of The Island of Dr. Moreau,except with less transplanted ass.
As a neutral and unbiased member of the American media, I will shun the obvious joke you're waiting for.
For those of us who've been having very public and near-suicidal breakdowns about the state of our world (perhaps in the pages of this very paper!), Koo's cheery bile is a tonic, as perky as a Girl Scout and as enlivening as a Swedish massage, from a Girl Scout. Some of the works are more trenchant than others. Some of the works are more sophisticated in their analysis. And some do what artists do best—convey a brute, brooding emotion rather than any intellectual argument. That emotion? White-hot pissed-ness, like gonorrhea.
Koo's has done an excellent job in curating "Perceptions." The number and breadth of works is comprehensive without being exhausting. Media range from some of the most potent video art I've seen to bronzed statues of a Mother and Child that's more Liberty than Madonna, with halos formed from missiles and the baby's locks formed from dimpled chicken legs while the statues are stuck into pooled oil so slick and seductive one can imagine what lured the tigers to the tar pits.
In between are smooth graphics with the polished feel of commercial art; rough-hewn canvases (and even just sheets of typing paper) emblazoned with word art and inchoate fragments; and intricate narrative metaphors featuring every sordid "expert" in the Bush cabal—the ones who keep him isolated like Patty Hearst, and from whom Bush gets his news so he won't have to depend on the media "filter."
Nancy Caley, out of San Francisco, gives us Modern Deluge. The big, rough oil shows cartoon characters like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Condi, and John Ashcroft sitting together while Laura gazes, stoned and fawn-like, at her husband at his desk. Behind her husband's George Bush mask is Osama bin Laden; from his belly protrudes Dick Cheney's face like an evil Siamese twin on X-Files. Over the Capitol's skyline float Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson, while Tyco, MCI and WorldCom go unnoticed. It's a nicely naf (and beautifully bitter) painting; it's Grandma Moses with a subscription to Covert Action Information Quarterly.
Jazz-Minh Moore's Dog Eat Dog shows Condi in a mosh pit delivering a kung-fu kick to John Kerry's back. George Bush skanks, shirtless and tattooed; he looks like Henry Rollins, but threatening and manly. Ralph Nader, Colin Powell, Michael Moore and Paul Wolfowitz brawl in the crowd, while Dick Cheney spits venom and reaches threateningly for the viewer, his ugly mug crowding the bottom corner of the canvas, right in your freaked-out face.
Steve Craig's King George and the Administration of Fear is one of the best video works I've seen, the kind which you actually want to see to completion instead of wandering away as soon as nobody'll notice. Just George Bush at a podium, it samples his words out of context, repeating them endlessly, taking them from their original sentences and stringing them along together. "Fear Fear Fear Terror," he tells the nation. "Capable of Killing Deliberate Deception Fear Fear Torture Fear Torture Terror Fear." But out of context, in this case, seems to be the most contextually accurate of all. It exposes his memes mercilessly, exposes the big lie theory perfectly. If you repeat something seven times, the theory goes, people will believe it. George Bush's message control—like Jesus turning the other cheek—is seventy-times-seven instead.
"Perceptions of the President" is a wonderful show—for one thing, because it's not weighted down with the lackluster efforts of cool kids who hate Bush but don't know the reason why. It's a smart show, and a potent one, right down to Susan Dampf's small jewel of a figure, hooded with the stars and stripes. It's an image I feel like I've seen before since Abu Ghraib, but nonetheless skillfully executed and masterfully drawn.
Besides the smartness and bitterness of "Perceptions," though, it serves as a wonderful rallying cry for commonality with our Bush-loathing friends and neighbors. Outraged citizen, you're not alone.
"Perceptions of the President," Koo's Art Cafe, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 491-7584; www.koos.org. Open Wed. & Fri.-Sat., 1-6 p.m. Through Oct. 29.
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