"From Our Side" by Jim Hodges
"From Our Side" by Jim Hodges

Sugar Rush

"Landscape Confection" at the Orange County Museum of Art is perfectly serviceable, if a little dull—we've seen these works going back biennials and then some. There's the smog skyline, and the upside-down Schwarzenegger, and . . . and then you round a corner and realize you've been in the wrong gallery the whole time, looking at OCMA's permanent collection instead of the visiting beauty, because "Landscape Confection" has just slapped you upside the head with a Mardi Gras' worth of color kaleidoscoping in front of your rioting eyes, and you want to roll around in front of the works, or at least reach your grubby little finger out and touch them, which is just what I did after positioning a friend between me and the quelling glare of the art guard.

Oooh. Oh, yes.

Shiny crunchy gloppy marvelous swooping candy fun.

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Is there theory behind "Landscape Confection"? Of course there is. It's the (new) new guard's reclamation of the decorative after the buzzkills of the Modernist movement sullenly refused to offer up any hue more pleasing than, in Tom Wolfe's saucy words, "Tool & Die Works red and Subway I-Beam green and Restaurant Fan Duct Lint gray." (Of course, the bad boys of Light & Space, in between bouts of poon hounding, already reclaimed the decorative with their "fancy baubles for the rich.") But how can we care about theory—or even a good, rousing manifesto?—when there's a mixture of Candy Land and Wonka's chocolate factory puddling down OCMA's walls?

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Curated in Miami and here for a goodlong visit, "Confection" is a fertile crescent, a land where strange works sprout and erupt simultaneously. The only pieces I might have added for sheer tactile pleasure are the beaded worlds of Liza Lou, all emerald grass and sandwiches. But maybe Lou would have been too anal, too put-together, for these swirling, sloppy, blazing works.

Coming closest to Lou's mode, at least in his choice of medium, is Kori Newkirk, who's been included in several OCMA exhibits already. His beaded curtains, forming luscious murals, are less zany than Lou's, and more elegant, despite the fact that they're formed from pony beads strung on artificial hair in a nod/raised fist to Black Is Beautiful. A night scene here doesn't work as well as usual, because the museum's inviolate white wall shows distractingly through the black beads. But then he works in silvers, as he does in LK-3, a snowscape that could have come from Currier & Ives, but without all the ticky-tacky people and horses messing up the glistening frame. It could be one of Ansel Adams' silver gelatin prints, or a hearthless Kinkade, if Kinkade understood restraint. The traditional, pretty, decorative suits him, especially combined with his goofy, lightly subversive method.

Newkirk isn't the only artist to wed craft and art (and all that's historically implied about gender). Rowena Dring uses black thread to stitch blocks of color into geometric forest glades. Some look like modernized Chinese brush drawings of Japanese maples; others evoke '70s Doodle Art posters with their heavily demarked fragmentation.

David Korty's ExImpressionist landscape paintings are heavy on the pink and rose, Jim Hodges works in the medium of silk flowers woven into wall-sized webs, and Michael Raedecker's jumbled scumbles of thread invariably evoke grotty pubes, but I imagine that's just me.

The arts/crafts unity is everywhere, but more important, so's the color. It's scumbled and impastoed in layers inches thick, smeared across canvases many yards wide; what may seem like so much finger painting in photos is mesmerizing in person, with its juicy tactility begging for your furtive touch.

Katie Pratt works in what looks to be fuchsia vomit—chunky, gritty and melded with lime swirls—while Neal Rock's hardened acrylics look like toothpaste and candy and alien spawn squeezed from the same tube. It's a tube that must be remarkably like the fearsome vagina dentata—expelling as it does such sharp, pointy effluvia—but I imagine that's just . . . .



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