Grand Central Art Center's new Jeff Gillette show "In Appropriate" was just hung, director Andrea Harris says, when she had an earnest conversation with a couple of animators who were quite peeved to find that Gillette had peopled his small $20 untitled canvases with most of the famous Disney characters.
They were shocked, no doubt, to see Eddie Adams' famous 1968 Associated Press photo doctored to show South Vietnam National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan busting a cap on Mickey Mouse—Adams' Viet Cong prisoner's final anguished scowl replaced with Mickey's trademark grin and button nose. And those ears you can buy at Disneyland. In the 18-and-over section, the animators must have clucked at the sight of Goofy sidling up to some babes in an old Playboy cartoon—or at Donald Duck inspecting a gaping, textbook vagina. But isn't that where we are now: looking backward on illustrations of our past, all mixed up together and reminding us how far we've come?
Relax, Harris told the cartoonists—nothing's been sacred for, like, forever now, and if you have a problem, well, consider that we've actually talked to Disney about doing a show on how artists see and use Disney. And they came to us. The animators, Harris says, went away with a different point of view—which is really what "In Appropriate" and two other similar shows elsewhere in the county are driving at.
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At the Office in Huntington Beach, Adam Rompel's current show, "transmundane diversions," is mundanity incarnate until you realize that is his intent—and it immediately becomes . . . less mundane. Rompel's Temp Work is a photo series of office supplies: tiny Post-Its creased and set on paperclip stands like miniature Christo umbrellas; yellow legal pads laid out like a B-1 bomber; and a stack of Post-It blocks balanced one atop the other on clear plastic push-pins. In another series, Often Better Thought About has cards in a Rolodex typed with whatever must have come into Rompel's head. "Hey there, Daryl Hannah," one thought went; another reads "Might as well give up painting and get yourself a typewriter." But why bother doing that? You don't have to, because art is anything, and Rompel does anything quite well.
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SolArt Gallery Cafe's "Collective Memory/Memoria Colectiva" is the most serious show of the three—and not merely because its inspiration is the Day of the Dead holiday, when Latinos honor their dead with handmade wooden altars, elaborate candy sugar skulls and a dark sense of humor. "Memoria" is serious because the artists were serious about making it. Yolanda Gonzalez's monoprint Dia de los Muertos Mujer, of a surreal woman's torso with blackened eyes in a skull-head, is loaded with an undeniable gravity despite her liberal use of color. The same is true of Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin's My Soul Is at Peace, with its central image a painting of a cherubic baby in swaddling, a crown atop his head. You instantly wonder if he is alive; Soul feels eerily like an altar. It's only when you spin around to see most of the rest of the show (SolArt isn't that big) that you realize this show is grave not just because it deals with death—but because its artists have set themselves so difficult a task: trying to sweep out the cobwebs around traditional Day of the Dead iconography.
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When they meet the challenge, "Memoria" is in some ways the best of these three shows—despite lacking the irresistible bellylaughs you'll find in Gillette's one-liners. (If you think art is a $20 collage of Andy Warhol with a toilet on his head, buy two creations and Gillette will take $5 off, which is its own commentary. Buy three, he'll wrestle a bear. Not really.) It's just that his quick-and-dirty argument, and the point of Rompel's simplicity, have been made for at least 50 years. They're valid arguments; but now, they make the idea of artists making art seem fresh again.
"IN APPROPRIATE" BY JEFF GILLETTE AT CSUF 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.; FIRST SATURDAY OF THE MONTH, 11 A.M.-10 P.M. THROUGH OCT. 28; "TRANSMUNDANE DIVERSIONS" BY ADAM ROMPEL AT THE OFFICE, 5122 BOLSA AVE., STE 110, HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 767-5861; WWW.THEOFFICEART.COM. CALL GALLERY FOR HOURS. THROUGH OCT. 20. FREE; "COLLECTIVE MEMORY/MEMORIA COLECTIVA" AT SOLART GALLERY CAFE, 2202 N. MAIN ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 926-4375; WWW.SOLARTGALLERYCAFE.COM. OPEN THURS., 7:30-11 P.M.; FRI.-SAT., 7:30 P.M.-MIDNIGHT. THROUGH NOV. 5. FREE.