Organized in 2004 as a response to Laguna Art Museum’s “100 Artists See God,” Grand Central Art Center’s “100 Artists See Satan” flipped its finger at convention (and Laguna, pre-empting their touring show by a month) by focusing on the darker side of life.
Six appropriate years later, the prince of said darkness is back, this time as “100 Artists See Satan: Fundraiser,” featuring many of the artists from the first exhibition, as well as a host of others donating their energies and work to help the contemporary-art maven stick around for a few more years.
There’s a remarkable collection of pieces in the exhibition—a lot more than 100—many of them brilliant, some less so, but tongue still planted firmly in cheek.
I won’t waste your time with too-literal pieces that lack the imagination to transcend their theme because you can linger over the dusty record collection of a heavy-metal fan and find more provocation than you will in these pieces. Likewise, the paintings of nubile women with horns and spiked tails—and all the misogyny implied—have already been forgotten.
The best work falls into three basic categories of cool:
1) Politics/Social Issues
Jason Maloney’s oil painting The Devil Made Me Do It is the first eye-catching piece in the show: A devilish cartoon jack-in-the-box possesses a child’s teddy bear, which then goes on a shooting spree with an M-16 and a gas can, walking away from dead, stick-figure children and a school in flames. Domestic violence puts the Bible in a place of prominence next to a bottle of moonshine in Jonathan T. Ginnaty’sdisturbing Bedside Table installation. Despite the satanic appropriateness of Ronald (6 letters) Wilson (6) Reagan (6), it’s bewildering to me that anyone would still give the old man any consideration, but he and his wife become hell spawn in the unnerving Nope, Eric White’s painting of Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s faces melding together like a bad acid trip. Nathan Spoor’s The Immaculate Correspondence links drug addiction and childhood, as both a bearded god figure and colorful pharmaceuticals gush from a visible man’s braincase, transmogrifying into candy and gumball machines over verdant, toy-strewn hillsides. Nicotine is given the treatment in Naida Osline’s photograph Study, Tattooed Tobacco, with images of slaves, eagles, affluent smokers and royalty imprinted on the hanging, drying leaves.
2) Lighter Fare (But Still Political)
Artist Dark Vomit’s grinning Santa Claus holding a gun to the head of Jesus in Satan Claus-X-Mas vs. Christmas is in-your-face amusing enough to get a rise out of conservatives and Christians who lack a sense of humor. Likewise, Matthew William Miller’s poke-in-the-eye Beelzebible, with its grinning devil face cut into a large copy of the Good Book. Check artist and Coagula critic Mat Gleason’s shit-eating grin T-shirt image I Met the Devil, in which he shakes hands with junk-food shill Ronald McDonald. Satan’s dark fingers grasp for a halo but are smitten by the ever-angry hand of God in Gary Musgrave’s limited-edition print Foolhardy, the imagery so concise I bought one.
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3) WTF Awesomeness (With a Smattering of Politics)
A butterfly rests at the joint of a thigh bone in James Lorigan’s divine etching, When Orpheus Plays. We’re in Poppy Z. Brite queer Goth territory amid the beautiful shirtless teen boys in skull-face makeup with blue, glasslike spikes at crotch level in Christine Wu’s Ghoul’s Night Out. Krystopher Sapp’s nightmarish mixed-media assemblage Temptation is a tiny wonder to behold: A legless, bug-masked man-monster, thick black bristles growing from his skin, sits in a squalid room. A trapped Brundlefly, it talks to a tiny fairy perched on its finger, as if asking for a way out, even though several keys lie about the room in plain view. In a similar vein is the always-amazing Elizabeth McGrath and Brian Poor’s elaborately decorated Damn-O-Meter fortune-telling machine, with its half-angel/half-devil doling out predictions (although the coin-operated robotics weren’t working on the Saturday afternoon I visited). Agent provocateur Hugh Brown’s untitled “directory of hell” is typically brilliant in its visual satire. I won’t spoil the joke of the piece—when you go, just look at which name is not like the others. Ennui and aimlessness inform the mood of David Molesky’s ghostly On a Detour From Valhalla, as two faceless figures wander, lost in plumes of smoke as they search for the heavenly banquet hall. I’m generally not a fan of Shag’s work, but I was enthralled by his painting Black Drops. It’s his standard kitsch family, but here, they’re isolated in a depressive abandoned wilderness. In this blue circle of hell, the trees have been defoliated, black BP tar oozing from the branches. The wife is hiply whorish, her perky cleavage exposed, and the husband is seated in front of a mirror, looking only at himself. The two children are dressed in partial devil outfits, one of them riding an enormous black leviathan in a circular pool. It seems to me as good a portrait of the modern family as I’ve recently seen.
“100 Artists See Satan: Fundraiser” at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.grandcentralartcenter.com. Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Through Aug. 15. Free.
This review appeared in print as "Back In Black: Six years later, ‘100 Artists See Satan’ brings the darkness back."