Photo by Jack GouldPeople should not name works of art pertaining to children "Innocence." Nor should any piece—ever—be called "Solitude," especially if it portrays a person by him- or herself. If artists would simply remember these two rules—and the rule that says, "Don't create geometricisms out of beige house paint and then expect me to be nice to you"—then we could all get along.
As it is, two small shows this week are making me feel kindly and protective, for no apparent reason. They're sweet shows—and modest, if you can call a show with crimson-knit vaginas and closeups of pierced penises "modest." I maintain you can.
"Erotic" at Artscape in a funky section of the LBC and "Dawn's Early Light," at the Showcase North Gallery in Santa Ana's Santora Arts Complex are not the best shows in the world, or even the best shows I've seen this week—that honor would go to the mixed bag over at Santa Ana's Spurgeon Building, with 100 artists in varying degrees of juicy goodness. But the shows aren't aiming for the frenetic grandeur of the Spurgeon Building gathering; they're aiming for hokey but crisp pictures of old ladies and cemeteries and "innocence" in the case of Showcase North and labia in all their puffy glory in the case of Artscape.
Let's start with "Erotic," just because. I usually take issue with shows that purport to be "erotic." They're like those stupid Anne Rice short stories or 9 1/2 Weeks. And the name: "Erotic"? Why don't they just call the exhibitions "hump shows" instead of trying to dress them up in some kind of elegance? I picture pervy 45-year-old men with salt-and-pepper goatees cornering 20-year-old women and reading the letters section of Oui.
That said, several of the works in "Erotic," which is sponsored not by Oui but by Penthouse, are playful and good in the time-honored Artscape tradition. Many don't give me the willies at all.
Sandra Carter's Plenilune is a big, hand-knitted vagina installed in a corner. Unfathomably, the hole is at the top of the pubis instead of the bottom, which gave me a few moments of freakish uncertainty before I confirmed that yes, most holes are at the base of the vagina, unless perhaps you're looking at it with a mirror . . . no, it would still be at the bottom. Aside from that, the piece is splendid for its untamed jungle of pubic hair, which forms a complete bushy circle around the pudenda. This is not a military-issue, '90s landing-strip pubic hairstyle; it is, as sexpert Susie Bright once called it, big, happy "Seventies Pie."
Kris Hostikka's Kama Sutra-ish watercolors are lovely Hinduisms of fine outlines and blue and chartreuse fertility goddesses, with nipples like stars or sunflowers and vaginas like pods full of sugar peas. They're overtly sexual without making me roll my eyes; they're ripe and womanly, rather than panting and silly, even when showing tangles of unidentifiable limbs.
Also fun are Carlos De Avila's Patriarchal Crown, a black-and-white closeup of a throbbing penis with a ring through the head that's hilariously whimsical, though it's probably supposed to inspire awe, and Eva Kolosvary-Stupler's Cold Shower, an assemblage with frozen goo substituting for coursing water.
Most (though certainly not all) of the rest of the works in the small show are forgettable, perhaps because there's nothing distinctive about their brand of horniness. They capture neither the sweaty animality of the act nor the occasional spirituality. Instead, I can only think of artists pounding their meat before their easels while considering themselves "sensual," which is not an image for which I'm thankful. But that such a large percentage of works were able to distinguish themselves to me as more than silly erotica is a small miracle in itself.
"Dawn's Early Light," meanwhile, purported to be about the sun rising on the new millennium, and I thought I would get to trot out my story of watching the sun rise over the Sea of Cortez in San Felipe on New Year's Day, which wasn't quite as romantic as it sounds, but it was close enough and I'm not going to be picky. But what the folks behind the press release really meant was that, you know, it's now the dawn of the millennium, and photography uses light. In other words, it's their annual photography show. D'oh!
Once I got over my raging disappointment, I noticed that the works lining the largish gallery are charming, ranging from the unadulteratedly ridiculous Visiting Van Gogh, in which an elegant, black-draped figure leans over van Gogh's headstone, to the delicate, hand-colored Homegrown, in which a bowl of roses—the expensive kind: lavender and peach—bloom tawdrily.
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Many of the works are a bit too sincere: there's a Serenity, two Solitudes, and an Alone in the Park, not to mention a Floral Dream and the previously excoriated Innocence.
And many images are clichs. "Kitsch" is too kind a word. There are photos of cemeteries. There is a blonde reading alone in the park, which seems to be aiming for ubiquitous-dorm-room-poster status.
But the composition and clarity of most of the photos are excellent. Bill Birnbaum, especially, though shooting hobbling old ladies, delineates each crack in the slabbed sidewalk for yards and yards beyond his old biddies. And one Solitude is actually sly: on a pedestal above a guy reading in the park (yawn) cavort a fat old Bacchus and a bunch of nymphets writhing in grotesque, semen-slathered sex. It is such an incongruous figure—"solitude" as some kind of spiritual attainment, coupled with such blatant grossness—and one that people in previous ages could sculpt without having to cloak it in class. They didn't call it "erotic," so far as I know. They just called it godless paganism, or Classicism, and left it at that.
"The Dawn's Early Light" at Showcase North Gallery, Santora Building, 207 N. Broadway, Ste. B7B, Santa Ana, (714) 558-8843. Through March 24; "Erotic" at Artscape, 2226 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 434-3224. Through Feb. 13.