Sex Sells

Photo of Christianne Elise's Beach CrowdIt is a truth universally acknowledged that men accumulate wealth and achieve greatness so they can get some strange. Sex, posit these universal folk, is the catalyst for progress and civilization.

For most broads, not so much. But still, sex is very, very important, and pretty much all art should be about it.

Luckily, most art is.

"Beefcake/Cheesecake II" at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) does it all for the nookie—with, you know, exceptions. Jamie Wilson, the new hot thing in curator-as-celebrity (she's tied with the Laguna Art Museum's Tyler Stallings for recent name-dropped mentions), juried the show, and to make it a bit more respectable she's added the subtitle "Tastes of a Nation." Well, that, or perhaps she didn't have the greatest pool from which to draw sex-only paintings, and was desperate to widen the field. Anyhoo, if you were wondering why there were paintings of boxes of Pop-Tarts in the heretofore sex-only "Beefcake/ Cheesecake," it all begins to come clear. Yes, "Taste of a Nation," you muse, stroking your sparse goatee. Wants! Hungers! The drive to accumulate wealth and achieve greatness! Pop-Tarts! Yes! . . .

And what would "taste of a nation" be without some screeds against body dysmorphia and eating disorders? Not much!

First up, we see a Bradford Salamon self-portrait, discreetly featuring his pee-pee as he crawls on all fours. (Wilson ran Bradford's Old Newport Square Blue Gallery until it was recently damaged by a late-night fire.) One of the best things about the portrait revival is all the nudeness, which no matter what Jesse Helms might say is very important; there must be no layers of protection to cloud the vulnerability of the subject. This has the added bonus of letting the viewer, by virtue of his own clothedness, implicitly dominate the relationship. How often do you see Hef in his alltogethers? Remember: physically naked equals emotionally naked. No clothes here!

The artists Wilson has chosen let us play a plethora of kinky roles. We've already dominated Bradford—the only thing missing, really, was a slave collar. Now we get to leer voyeuristically at Liza Hennessey Botkin. Her Gams and Century City Legs are large black-and-white posters of women on escalators in slutty, slutty pump pumps. Nice ass, you think. Nice anklet. They have the feel of posed shots, but, knowing the sluts of Century City, they could very well be captured images of the well-put-together dames who'd better not age a day over 34 if they don't want their husbands to bench them. It's just like Newport: aerobics as career. And just like in our better beach towns, sly Botkin doesn't bother letting her subjects have heads. There are the legs. There's the heinie. Does a woman need anything else?

Christianne Elise gives us On the Beach (not the nuclear horror story, but a construction dude catching some cancer on a chaise longue) and Beach Crowd. Both are marvelously fuzzy prints—they look Vaselined, like White Diamond commercials—of tiny clay figures whooping it up. Beach Crowd especially has such witty groupings of misshapen humanity—families, boys in Speedos with veiny legs—that the Melody-ditzy blonde stripping her shirt from her firm jugs is only a delightful coda, not the main event.

The show is full of sexy goodness—albeit "sexy" from an extremely wry, aloof (okay, totally unsexy) vantage point. There's no "erotica" (ewww!); there's no sweat. Instead, you get a deadpan painting of Olive Oyl, First Supermodel (Isabella Natak), sashaying her rubber bones down the runway. You get Red Carpet Painting: Pregnant Chic (Paula Covarrubias), with glamorous evening-gowned ladies showing off their tummies. Fortunately for their big fat whale selves, Covarrubias has taken it upon herself to blur their faces into pixels—like crime victims, or as-yet-unconvicted subjects on Cops. We get Nell Angelo's Fish Fashion, a cheesecake nude shot of a baby-faced woman in her fifties or sixties that generates more heat with its white, wide hips marred with moles and marks and varicose veins than everything else in the show put together. We get a takeoff of Manet's scandalous Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe with frumpy chicks in leggings and sweatshirts where the men in their jackets and ties used to be. We get Jason Maloney's Amber Alert—sex as cautionary tale/social hysteria, as we zero in on a girl sleeping innocently in her bed. We get a whole lot of wonderful things. And we also get some paintings of Pop-Tarts.

Do you ever sit around in your skivvies, scratching yourself and wondering, "Gosh, I wonder what Jamie Wilson has been up to?" Yes? Then this is your lucky day! Because Wilson's also put together a big-ass show of works by Aaron Kraten at Laguna Beach's Seven Degrees!

Kraten, the young DIY painter who persuaded the Lab Anti-Mall to give him an empty space as a gallery for a solid couple of years (he showcased paintings by Dee Dee Ramone right before Ramone's sad death in June 2002), is keeping the dream alive. That is, he's keeping Nagel's dream alive. If Nagel had painted yummy, perfect punk rock girls instead of yummy, perfect New Wavers, and if he'd had the opportunity to incorporate some Japanese anime influences, and if he had been a little less mannered and a little more rocket-science hieroglyphical, he would be Aaron Kraten!

Kraten's work is charming. Who doesn't love those sleek-haired punkstresses? What punk rock girl wasn't convinced this was her mirror image—and not the chubby girl from Ghost World who was probably a whole lot closer? Kraten's girls are faceless anime silhouettes; they're sometimes given robotic arms and other improvements, like Jaime Sommers (and Max the Dog). They've got spiky, punky Gypsy Den hair; they wear stripes with fishnets and look smashing every time; their clothes don't fit poorly, like thrift-shop clothes usually do, but adhere snugly and perfectly to their toit-loik-a-toiger model bodies. Sometimes, Kraten gives them pieces of face: they might get a pair of lips, for instance, that invariably are so full and pouty and perfect—like Liv Tyler's—they perforce droop at the corners, weighted down by all that natural lip-fat.

Kraten's girls are beautiful.

And then there are his boys. Emo boys. Slacker boys. Bland, blank boys with about as much personality as the lackluster Ken has next to vivacious, go-getter Barbie. Kraten's boys are beside the point, mere foils for the girls, shadows to show up their light. Aaron Kraten is not motivated by men. He's motivated by expensive and lovely punk-rock strange.

"Beefcake/Cheesecake II," Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, (714) 667-1517. Through Sept. 28. Aaron Kraten, Seven Degrees, 891 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-1555. Open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Through Sept. 30.


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