'OsCene': Half-Empty or Half-Full?

Foam homes
Cheeming Boey, Pew!Pew!!Pew!!!, 2009

Let’s take a moment and call bullshit on Laguna Art Museum’s press materials for "OsCene 2010: Contemporary Art and Culture In OC." “Some of the most provocative art that Orange County has to offer”? Really?

Based on the plethora of mundanity on display in this exhibition, I would venture the opinion that curator Grace Kook-Anderson wouldn’t know provocative art if it showed up on her doorstep. She bats a thousand with her meticulous choices in photography, but with 49 artists on display, it’s pretty amazing that only half of them are really worth the viewer’s time. Let’s focus on the good half, shall we?

If photographer Jennifer Shaw’s “desired things” include the world’s potential destruction, then the ominous clouds in her My Desiderata promise a beautiful apocalypse. We never see the full face of any of the day laborers waiting for work at a local Home Depot in Robin Repp’s black-and-white photographs, but then, when do we ever pay attention to their quiet desperation, anyway? The Pack Rat and Lives Lived In Cubes, Gina Genis’ voyeuristic photos of isolated senior citizens seen through their kitchen and balcony windows, are at once chillingly immediate and distancing, forcing us to acknowledge the subjects’ solitude. Of the two photographs from Andrew Printer’s series of nude gay couples in their homes, Rob & Ted touches on the quaint domesticity of the breakfast table, while thebland apartment interiors in Wade & Justin are a marked contrast to the tan-and-pink flesh tones (as well as the sensual positioning) of the two men’s bodies. The brightly colored rooms in Betsy Seder’s Blue #2 and Red #1 (From the series Monuments to Future Forgetting) are deliberately ambiguous, while Brad Moore’s specific portraits—of a squat white Buddhist temple festooned with colorful lanterns in Jung Hye Sa, Anaheim, California and marble pillars on either side of a pile of floor mats in front of a “Wipe Your Shoes” sign in MS International, Orange, California—dead-on capture a familiar kind of Orange County weirdness.

Aside from Repp’s and Moore’s photos, there isn’t much that references OC directly, but the white wall with clay brick atop it in Melissa L. Thomson’s inspired Red Progression feels as if it had been picked up and moved in toto from Aliso Viejo.

In the most unusual piece, Projection (I Have a Dream), artist Jenny Yurshansky has removed the text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, leaving only punctuation, with commas, quote marks, dashes, periods and exclamation points dotting the paper like ants on a white picnic cloth.

I liked Shannon Hayes Faseler’s clever Aesthetics of Decay, Walls, Laguna Art Museum:Her painted toile design features couples dancing gaily, swinging on tree branches or listening to music, menaced by a stylized black mold. To add to the cleverness, there’s wood molding below the “wallpaper” and the title of the two framed oil paintings (Aesthetics of Decay, Humboldt Fog #1 and #2) are blunt reminders that what we’re looking at will all pass with time. I was moved and unsettled by Suvan Geer’s installation Family/Trees: To Revive a Still Image, in which a faded park bench is nestled among dead leaves as ghostly old photographs are projected briefly on diaphanous cloth, the calming sounds of birds and insects piped in from tiny speakers.

The coolest piece, Kendall Carter’s Too Black . . . Not Black Enough, works on a host of levels, targeting the art world, race relations, corporate advertising, drug use in minority neighborhoods and the American flag, all in one poetic installation. Never has the drift and bounce of black and white balloons been so powerful.

Cheeming Boey’s Styrofoam cups embossed with intricate Sharpie drawings are a small revelation, their intricate black lines creating something beautiful out of something usually tossed onto a trash pile.

Tar-covered cigarette butts sticking up from an aluminum base look (and smell) like a square of dirty shag carpet hanging on a wall in Julie Easton’s Downtown Skyscape. It would have made more sense to me if the piece were sitting on a pedestal instead (to get the effect of a city backdrop), but I dug it.

I could sit for hours waiting to see Jim Jenkins’ kinetic installation of aluminum birds in a steel tree, Jacaranda, kick into gear. Flapping their wings with a metallic clack, the tiny robots shake the branch they’re perched on and had me thoroughly enraptured.

Exiting the museum, the obvious imagination involved in the design of the crucified dress in Cheryl Ekstrom’s Out On a Limb or her Winged Victory built from found objects—driftwood, boxing gloves and a saddle—makes you wish for a little more than what’s currently on display.

“OsCene 2010: Contemporary Art and Culture In OC” at Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971; www.lagunaartmuseum.org. Open Sun.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; first Thurs. of every month, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Through May 16. $10-$12.

This review appeared in print as "Half-Empty or Half-Full? While OsCene at Laguna Art Museum doesn’t live up to its billing, its best works are worth a good, long look."

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