Charmed by Logan Wood's Grumpy Girls at Sue Greenwood Fine Art

Isn't it good, Logan Wood?
Charmed by grumpy girls in Laguna Beach

“Not to be shocking means to agree to be furniture.”

The phrase, scrawled on one of the walls of a corridor in the Orange County Museum of Art, packs a whole lot of art-school crabbiness into 10 little words. As somebody who takes fine art seriously, it's hard to argue with that phrase. Art should shock us! Art should afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted, table the comforters and flicker the comfits! (Or something like that.) Art should change the way we see the world . . . or what is art, really, but some expensive nothing that you just hang on your wall because it doesn't clash with your couch?

But how do you respond, then, hypothetical person who takes art seriously, when you encounter art that is truly wonderful to look at—art that makes you sigh with admiration, but that doesn't seem to have much on its mind? Art, in other words, that looks like it was designed not to clash with your couch, but that is utterly awesome anyhow? Is there more to this art than it seems? Or are you just being charmed by that sexy surface? Is this art worth less than cranky, ugly art that says something a lot deeper? In essence, can you, in good conscience, love art for its body, instead of its brains?

All of this serves as a clumsy introduction to the work of Logan Wood, who creates little wooden statues of girls that are sometimes breathtakingly neat, even if being breathtakingly neat kind of seems to be all they're good for. (And isn't that enough? What more do you want?!)

Most of his figures are about 2 feet tall—perfect coffee-table height. Some are small enough to fit on a shelf; others are big enough to scare your dog. They have milky skin—literally, since he paints many of them with milk paint—and expressions that are passive yet also somehow yearning and more than a little grumpy. (Yeah, these are young girls, all right.)

Not one of these kids is Disney Channel-cute, but they all have a certain gawky, grouchy something. They look kind of like a classroom—girls who don't really enjoy one another's company much and spend a lot of their time daydreaming. But what the heck kind of messed-up, Alice in Wonderland school are they stuck in, anyhow? North Channel features a girl in a little boat whose arms have been replaced by oars, which may serve her well on the rowing team but are sure to cause problems in later life. Phasis depicts a girl in a minimalist Borg-queen-like outfit, making her arguably inappropriate company for Upstream, a sweet-looking ocean-side urchin with a little sailor suit and everything.

A nautical theme runs through many of these pieces: Beacon offers a kind of mer-lighthouse, or whatever you call a mermaid who is a lighthouse from the waist down instead of a fish. Other girls stand around in old-timey, one-piece swimsuits with life preservers around their waists, or shielding their eyes from a sun that can't reach them here inside the gallery. They look like they've lost track of the sea.

All of the girls are looking for something, each bearing something heavy on their slim little shoulders. The girl in The Crossroad is most literally burdened—she's got a big pile of weird stuff balanced on her head. But some of the girls are troubled in other, stranger ways, like the poor kids of Intrinsic and Intrinsic #2, both of whom have little doors all over their bodies that are flung wide open so horrible little bugs or whatever can go right in. One of the girls has raised her hands, as though in surrender. It's an effective metaphor for the openness but also the terrors of youth, when you have no choice but to walk through a hostile world without any defenses, making your way as best you can and praying that horrible little bugs don't fly through the little doors in your torso and build a nest inside your hollow stomach.

Hmm. Maybe this art does have something to say, after all.

The same can't really be said, however, for the art of Wood's exhibit mate, Paul Brigham. Brigham paints art that is furniture—wallpaper, specifically, featuring lots of pretty birdies. And that's not intended as an insult, honest—his stuff really would look great with your couch.

Logan Wood and Paul Brigham at Sue Greenwood Fine Art, 330 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0669; Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through July 30.

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