The China Syndrome
The J Flynn's 'decorative dialogue on defense and destruction'
Charles Krafft's art would be very shocking to some people. But those people would still be shocked by Mel Brooks and Monty Python and sent into a catatonic state by an evening of Adult Swim. And those are not the sort of people who are very likely to ever see Krafft's stuff. For the hipster-art-gallery crowd—and for just about anybody reading this publication—Krafft's art will come across as more decorative than depraved. Compared to, say, the squirming horrors of a Joe Coleman canvas, Krafft's stuff is damn near cute. Sure, Krafft dabbles in Nazi and Manson-family imagery, but he presents it with such a sly wink it would be hard for any reasonable person to take serious offense.
Krafft specializes in objects that look just like those blue-and-white Delftware ceramic gewgaws you would expect to see on the shelves at your grandma's house, only instead of featuring cute little Dutch girls fetching pails of water, Krafft presents intricately painted casts of hand grenades, busts of famous murderers, and so on. It's some funny stuff, but it's definitely not a show you should take your grandma to see. On second thought, maybe I'm underestimating your grandma—if she has a fairly dark sense of humor, go ahead and take the old broad along. She'll probably get a big kick out of it.
"LOL," Krafft's new show with Mindi Cherry at the J Flynn Gallery, is slightly less provocative than some of his other shows. His little Charles Manson mug almost looks like something they'd sell in the Queen Mary gift shop, and while that psycho Manson stare is always kind of creepy, even in decorative-mug form, it's really no big whoop compared to the genuinely disturbing Adolf Hitler teapot that really got Krafft noticed. Krafft's crucified Mickey Mouse glove is the sort of thing cranky Goths doodle in the margins of their geometry textbooks, while his prettified anthrax container seems like a rather quaint historical curio from Sept. 12. Seriously, after years of articles explaining to us in tedious detail how very unlikely it is that anthrax will ever hurt us, this thing would have to contain actual anthrax to be even slightly frightening.
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But Krafft has plenty of smarts and wiseguy charm, and the irony of his work aside, he has the earnest fussiness of a true craftsman. His anthrax container is a gorgeous little thing, and brass knuckles have never looked more lovely than they do here, all white and shiny and embellished with fancy blue flowers. In a 2002 profile on Salon.com, Krafft described his work as "a purely decorative dialogue on defense and destruction." It's a pithy line, but if he was trying to suggest that this imagery is just a goof to him, I question his commitment to apathy. Get him started, and Krafft has plenty to say about dangerous belief systems.
You could argue that Krafft's Nazi-themed ashtray trivializes the Holocaust, but I'd counter it makes a blunt but effective anti-fascist statement, inviting you to mash out your cigarette beneath a kitschy little swastika. It's a gesture Mr. Hitler surely would not have approved of, a gesture that makes the Nazis, not their victims, look small, disposable and ridiculous. Here's hoping that for his next project, Krafft goes all out and offers us a shiny, ceramic toilet bowl that looks like Hitler's head. (Right in Der Führer's face, indeed.)
As for Krafft's gallery mate, it is not for nothing that Ms. Cherry's just getting a quick mention at the end. Cherry makes a natural duo with Krafft—her Delftware plates, featuring such phrases as SHUT THE FUCK UP and GOOD MOURNING in blinged-out fonts, almost look like something Krafft himself knocked out to help fill the corners of a solo show. But while Cherry's stuff has a certain pop, it's the kind of thing you can just cast your eye across a wallful of and, in 30 seconds, have gotten the whole idea—fancy plates, nasty text. She also makes funeral urns that say stuff such as LOSER and BITCH. If you actually buy one of these things to put somebody's ashes in, you should probably also buy the urn labeled ASSHOLE—because I'm guessing that after you croak, somebody will find it very handy.
"LOL" at the J Flynn Gallery, 2950-A Randolph Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-3504; www.jflynngallery.com. Call for hours. Through July 5.