People just loooove Tyler Stallings. I've seen people gather around him, hoping to catch his roving gaze as if he were a girl—any girl—at Pierce Street Annex. I've heard him name-dropped in the cultural desert of Hermosa Beach, where it's like spring break at Daytona all year long. It's enough to really annoy a body, though it's not his fault if he's overhyped. But then Stallings goes and pulls out of his ass a miracle on par with the faith healings of the Trinity Broadcasting Network's Benny Hinn.
"Beefcake/Cheesecake: Sex, Flesh, Money and Dreams" should be as big a waste of time as listening to the odious, bombastic little gnome Tom Leykis implore his female listeners to flash their racks. When artists get all "erotic," they're mostly either superpervy and creepy (the kind of people who even use the word "erotic" are usually trying to tart up their dirty little dreams into something classy and highbrow) or just trying to shock. Look! A cock! We bad!
But Stallings, curator at Laguna Art Museum and fawned upon throughout the Southland, guest curated "Beefcake/Cheesecake" for the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA). I suspect that the suspiciously quiet Stallings is a bit (or a lot) of a perv himself.
With more than 500 works to choose from (the call for works brought an avalanche), Stallings has packed OCCCA with style and happy vulvas and very little that's hackneyed. Even the multiple Barbies fucking (or otherwise degraded) don't rankle. Despite their incredibly overused premise, they still show a fresh whimsy (okay, with the exception of Boob Job Barbie; yes, we get it: Barbie is stacked). The best of these is Deborah Colotti's gored dolls (some with menstrual leaks; some with heads on the block) stuck by the dozen to a large board, like butterflies on pins or a schoolchild's science project. Some are extra hairy; one has had a clitorectomy. It's the happiest clitorectomy I've seen yet.
It's a terrific exhibit and as exhausting as a three-hour lay. Interestingly, even the nastiest of the pieces have a gentleness to them. Ronald Parisi's Sensibility and Disability Les Poupees, for instance, is a classic series of gnarly fetish shots of a woman slightly past middle age with a bow in her hair and lacy ankle socks on her prosthetic legs. Bizarrely, it doesn't come across as cruel mockery; she looks pretty good, and you have to give her that.
Arlyn Pillay's The Guardian—which Pillay has offered for sale at $1 million, the cheeky monkey—is a lovely huge tile, glossily lacquered and featuring simple fleurs-de-lis. Inside is a pregnant elf with distended breasts and gnarled ham hands resting upon her misshapen belly. She's very sweet.
Carolyn Kleefeld's The Immortal Lovers is very college-dorm-room Klimt, which as far as I can tell is a good thing.
And a particular favorite of mine is back: Susan Choi, of whom I once wrote, "Alternately showering and wearing nipple tassels, her mouth alluringly open for cock, is Susan Choi. Is she commenting on the objectification of Asian women as little more than meek three-holed fuck dolls? The porn industry, in which so many Asian women are slicked down with so many scrotums' worth of splooge? Or is she just showing off that she has a really hot bod? She'd probably say one of the first two." She's back to her old tricks, this time painting her body (still hot!) green and scrubbing a floor (nude!), all while tonguing a sponge. But for some reason, the photo, which is beautifully crisp and well-made, is wicked funny. Though I don't know for a fact that Choi has a sense of humor, this photo is making me suspect it.
Randye Sandel's Going Down is a melancholy bit of business in which a couple stands fuzzily by a bed and a man, clearly not ready for action, covers his face in shame. The painting's pink tones are almost pointillist. I'm sad just thinking about it!
"Beefcake/Cheesecake" is so brimming with good works there isn't even room here to make fun of the bad ones, which also makes me sad just thinking about it, but you can't have everything. Michael Knowlton's Incident In Laurel Canyon is a beautifully ordered composition. In the middle of the canvas, a lion and a lamb lie down together. Behind them are spread the lights of the San Fernando Valley. And on the sides, hot California girls (but somehow stringy and manly) with shiny, pouty lips ride a jumble of shoulders, breasts flashing like they're at Mardi Gras or Wilt Chamberlain's love lair. It calls to mind Bronzino's nasty Renaissance orgy Exposure of Luxury,and it hurts so good.
Nell Angelo's W/Gun and W/Jeannie, Food, X are the most trying pieces in the exhibit, and that's because it's difficult to tell whether Angelo is being cruel or, like John Waters' Pecker(which had a lovely moral), loves her shit-eating freaks? W/Gun shows a bare-breasted, flat-chested old lady (presumably a self-portrait) lying—somewhat dopey and kinda slack-jawed—on her back. The other shows the same woman, but hovering over her, piling grapes into her own mouth, is Jeannie, a hugely obese nude.
In a small back room, the most noted artist here is possibly the least interesting—oh, except for Boob Job Barbie. Arthur Tress has been showing for years; he's all important and shit. But his photos of young and old gay men, usually nude, are mostly kind of silly. There are exceptions: Dinner Party, which is a young naked guy laid out as the feast on a table, reminded me of Eating Raoul, so I have to give it points for that, and of Judy Chicago's much-maligned happy clams, so I have to give it points for that, too. And Wounded Soldier (his wee-wee is bandaged) and University Tutorial (a creepy, ugly, pervy professor is about to get down with his hot, bespectacled student) are funny, too. As for the rest of Tress' renown, though, I can only shrug: in terms of creativity, his poses and fantasies rank somewhat below the sailors and buff cops (nightsticks at the ready) of Tom of Finland, and in terms of sensuality, they're way less sexy than the smoothly lit boys of Queer As Folk when they boogie in the butt. But they're nicely lensed. Perv!
"Beefcake/Cheesecake: Sex, Flesh, Money and Dreams" at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 N. Sycamore, Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517. Open Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; and by appt. Through Sept. 30. Free.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Orange County art and theater scene.