The Shock of the Bourgeois

Photo by Jack GouldI've softened on the work of Sally Storch. Her retro '50s urban landscapes in Diane Nelson Fine Art's "Second Annual Women's Exhibition" are so bourgeois they should come framed in boxes from St. John Knits.

Perhaps it's the repeated viewings, but Storch's works no longer rankle quite as much as they used to; it's so easy to become inured to evil. Although I have always admitted to their charm, I've also said her daubs and dabs in browns and blacks were like chunkily painted Manets and Degases, most particularly in their celebration of those Suisse Mocha moments. Comparing a painting to a Suisse Mocha ad is never a compliment.

Storch paints very pretty, dark-toned portraits of White Dress and Little Black Dress #5 (just how many are there in the series?!); it's rather like the new Conde Nast magazine Lucky, a magazine its editor says is all about "the very real joy that there is to be had in finding the perfect kitten heel pump." But although our Sally is painting pictures of women gazing at dress shops, she is at least painting pictures of women gazing at dress shops.

If I were in the mood to delude myself and others, I could even make the case that Storch is in fact illuminating the inner emptiness of the bourgeoisie. But since waggish artist friends have proclaimed they can tell the weeks I've gotten lucky by the uncharacteristic generosity of my criticism, I won't.

Francesca Sundsten is also making a repeat appearance at Diane Nelson. Last time, she showed little blue men and marvelous fatties—marvelous, but not at all sexy like the fatties of Emil Kazaz. Sundsten's fatties were nude or in knee socks in an English country garden. Each blade of grass was delineated, like the hyperrealism of local god F. Scott Hess, though she had more compassion for her soft, dumb idiots than Hess generally shows. This time, she's skipped people entirely; now her focus is bizarre landscapes with the scope and breadth of Ray Turner's apocalyptic bullet trains. But she still shows each reed beneath her soaring blue-eyed owl under attack from a squadron of tiny, piper-like birds. And Hole is simply that: a hole in the ground surrounded by bushy shrubs, bringing to mind sexpert Susie Bright's reference to her ungroomed thatch: "Seventies Pie." It's hilarious. She's been studying with Odd Nerdrum. They should marry and have weird young spawn.

Elizabeth Solomon (another repeat from the first-annual women's exhibit! Doesn't Diane have any other femme painters?) also shows many of the same works. They are peopleless interiors, with gorgeous patches of light streaming in through curtained windows. Her compositions are modest, with clean lines. And if they cover the same ground Edward Hopper covered 70 years ago, I don't particularly mind. And neither do you.

Outside of Santa Ana, very few Orange County galleries are hardscrabble and streetwise; Diane Nelson Fine Art surely isn't one of them. It's graciously chic and shows paintings for people with lots and lots of discretionary income; it is the height of bourgeois. But don't hate it for being rich or beautiful: there's nothing inherently beautiful about poverty; not everything "street" is wise; the fact that an artist ekes out but a meager existence is not necessarily evidence of virtue or talent; the glamorization of the artist starving with only his etchings for company in his cold and lonely garret is a relatively new construct. Diane Nelson Fine Art has its discreet and mostly harmless charms.

"Second Annual Women's Exhibition" at Diane Nelson Fine Art, 435 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-2440; Through June 18.


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