'The Third International Small Teapot Competition' at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo

Little Teapots, Short and Stout
Here are their handles, here are their boobs

Saddleback College's "Da Yu Xiao Hu 3: Third International Small Teapot Competition" is a show about teapots in the same way that Six Feet Under was a show about corpses. This is a genuinely fascinating exhibit, with dozens of artists using teapots as a starting point to create both hoity-toity high art and totally silly (but really fun) kitsch. The show is varied enough to appeal to pretentious art-school grads, old ladies with time to kill, fidgety preteens, and guys who think of teapots as being useful mostly as places to stash their weed.

Let's start with the enjoyably stupid stuff. You go to a show like this, and you definitely do not expect something like Trevor Ewald's aptly named Snake and Skull Teapot, which looks like a biker chick's tattoo come to life. You also don't expect a cameo appearance by Jim Nabors, but that's exactly what you get with Paul Frehe's Shazaam, a red teapot with a TV on the side depicting Nabors and a small, Wallace and Gromit-style Gomer Pyle balanced precariously on top. As Gomer would say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

More surprise-surprise-surprising still is Nikki Kools' Imperial Concubine Tsu Hsi 1834-1908, a very dirty teapot. No, it doesn't need a good washing in the sink (although that's probably not a bad idea). This teapot is dirty in the sense that it makes you feel kind of horny, in a very uncomfortable way. It's this red, freaky, twisted-up thing. With boobs. Never has the word "sexpot" been quite so apt, and if you end up with some weird teapot fetish from this show, send the bills for your therapy sessions straight to Kools.

Doug Blechner's Living Stone Teapot is only slightly less naughty, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that after hours, Blechner's and Kools' teapots are getting it on. Joshua Foy's Tea Machine I and Tea Machine II are also sexy, but in the sense that a vintage Porsche is sexy, and not in the sense that you want to fondle them inappropriately. They're steampunkish objects, one re-imagining the teapot as a trio of large, rusty gears, and the other as the kind of contraption that Sky Captain would use to serve tea in the World of Tomorrow.

A lot of the more interesting pieces don't look much like teapots at all. Ivy Dashti's Best Foot Forward is a big egg with a bunch of human feet busting out of it. Is there a crowd of little people trapped inside, or is it a single horrible beastie with a whole lot of feet? Here's hoping that whatever it is, it doesn't get loose before the show is over. Clive Tucker's Tea Urchin takes that ghastly pun and turns it into something out of a beautiful nightmare, a standard teapot with the wavering tentacles of an undersea creature, while Deborah Kaplan-Evans' Fishing depicts a man with a fish through his head, poking out the back of his skull and sticking out of his mouth. It's nowhere near as grotesque as it sounds, although neither the man nor the fish seem particularly happy with the arrangement. They look out at you as if to say, "Please, just don't even ask."

Steve Hilton's Untitled 2 is vaguely teapot-shaped, but it looks for all the world like something you would find at the base of the Grand Canyon, naturally formed by millions of years of erosion. Jason Harper's Winter Teapot, on the other hand, looks like one that grew out of a tree. These are the teapots of the Almighty.

But a few of the loveliest items here are content to just look like teapots, making no attempt to be representational objects, but instead making the most of their teapot-ness. Clive Tucker's Tea for One is an amazing and strangely melancholy thing, a midnight blue pot suspended by a group of robed figures. Serina Nakazawa's Tea Amigo introduces us to a trio of pots with garish, friendly colors and spouts that make you think of little party hats. These three look like they want to run off and join the circus.

Then there's Susan Wyatt & Dan Finnegan's Wysteria, which is just a really fancy gold pot. Consider it the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

"Da Yu Xiao Hu 3: The Third International Small Teapot Competition" at the Saddleback College Art Gallery, 28000 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 582-4924; gallery.saddleback.edu. Open Mon.-Wed., noon-4 p.m.; Thurs., 4-8 p.m.; or by appointment. Through March 27.


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