From Piglet Manisfesto (something we
just made up and not included in the exhibit).
Which our kid drew and which we think illuminates
the Mayan culture's fascination with zero,
the Haymarket massacre and secret
In the Artists Village, with its near-constant crime scene of pretty-watercolor perpetrations and drive-by flower scenes, there was always one small, sterile-walled oasis for the critical-theory art-snob set. Refugees from CalArts and Otis could count on RAID Projects to shelter their sensitive eyes from the mushy dcor offered across Broadway at the Santora building. Before RAID—a collaboration between handsome, smirking Finish Fetish lover Ed Giardina and handsome, pretentious limey Max Presneill—Ed Giardina Fine Art stood in the same place and accomplished the same things, with more piss and less theoretical vinegar behind the abstruse works. The first exhibit I saw at Giardina five years ago offered a small sign near the high ceiling, calling for the death of the art critic who was then hurling thunderbolts at the local art scene from her desk at the Los Angeles Times: "RIP Cathy Curtis." In neon. (Yes, the Times OConce had a full-time art critic! And she was mean!) Giardina—smirking, naturally—denied it was at all untoward and manufactured an extremely transparent explanation about how RIP stood for something else. Giardina likes to lie; it's a kind of art. The second show I saw at Giardina, a Chris Burden retrospective, got around the fact that Burden wouldn't even return their calls by going through the famed Conceptual artist's trash and exhibiting the finds. Genius!
In the meantime, Presneill was moving from the British Isles to Laguna Beach, where his gallery of British artists cluttered up every available inch of wall space. Soon, he'd ditched the British Lime Gallery and moved to Santa Ana, where he got a small but bitchen apartment in Cal State Fullerton grad-student housing and began very quickly to insinuate himself into the loosely woven fabric of the Artists Village. Just as quickly—due mainly to the excellent one-night art parties that took over entire buildings that he organized with Cal State Fullerton art honcho Mike McGee—Presneill was synonymous with the Artists Village. Giardina and Presneill can usually be found on the Gypsy Den Grand Central's patio, shooting people looks and thinking very well of themselves and their slice of the art world.
And now, with what feels like an awful conspiracy to drive me mad, RAID Projects joins a long list of OC mainstays to announce it's shutting its doors this summer. Giardina says the Empire Building's landlord has doubled RAID's rent, so it's time to head for LA, to a 6,000-square-foot space at the Brewery. They take possession of the space Aug. 1, but the Santa Ana gallery will remain open until then.
This means, of course, no more cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the monthly Artists Village openings. No more sneering. No more aesthetically impaired works for which one has to read an incomprehensible manifesto to glean—sort of—meaning from the meaninglessness. No more respite from the earnest student works and pleas for commissions to copy masterworks for a small fee across the street. And the Artists Village will be a much duller place.
RAID's current project, "Uniform Building Codes," is typical Presneill and Giardina. It's not much to look at, and the theory talks itself into pretty circles that even the curators don't understand. And yet, when you're most ready to scoff, something outstanding pops forth. Matt Fisher's blue and yellow trapezoid cutouts on the walls of the gallery's backroom are excruciating. His artist's statement is equally impenetrable, discussing Western history as a list of permutations of models and variegated attempts to analyze, qualify and anticipate reality as we experience it, using modernist abstraction to make systems of notation that transcribe interconnected matrices of information into paintings. To be fair, that wasn't originally one sentence. But still. I mean, come on. According to Giardina, the lightly penciled sheets of paper with mathematic notations on them represent people and perhaps—perhaps—genealogy. Fisher then uses computer models to come up with corresponding shapes.
"I don't understand it," Giardina said, shrugging. "I'm not a physicist. But you know, he's a Claremont guy."
Indeed. The fact that there is no bridge of understanding for the viewer doesn't bother Fisher at all: he says so in his artist's statement. I think.
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It's in the front room, with Arthur Aghajanian's projects, that things get unexpectedly lovely. He has his share of B.S. for his Otis professors—he talks of seeking to move into and interrogate coded systems of belief, knowledge and power. Who teaches these kids to write their damn artist's statements, anyway? But as a writer, I can only admire his excellent choice of action verbs, despite their overreaching.
Aghajanian's works are divided into two projects. One features paired sheets of paper on which couples have individually drawn their homes' floor plans from memory. Not only do people apparently not know where their own bedrooms are, but almost every couple had one anal guy drawing in each stool and end table, and one slob who barely conveyed walls and trees. Without a lot of hemming and hawing and overblown language, Aghajanian lets the dysfunction of the pictures speak. I will, too.
The other project, "Fictional Structures," is the more surprising of the two. It's not much to look at, and it's a lot of work: snippets of reviews from leading art periodicals are arranged into diagrams that purport to show the formal qualities and effects of various media, including sculpture, collage, video and painting. Each diagram has 12 textual components, and the only regard Aghajanian shows for aesthetics is giving each a different colored background. There is sepia and cherry and violet. But what's surprising is the lucidity of the writing itself. Aghajanian has managed to find bits of art reviews that are interesting, well-written and evocative. "He smears the mutable paint into clownish mouths or convulses it into dense and turbulent atmospheres," one bite reads. "The antinomies of harmony/chaos, utopia/dystopia, refinement/vulgarity, hygiene/filth pervade the artist's impure aesthetic," reads another. Apparently, the leading periodicals need to find someone like Matt Fisher to make everything good and dense again.
"Uniform Building Code" at RAID Projects, 206 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 836-1176. Open Sat., noon-4 p.m.; and by appt. Through June 30.