Downright Hiddy!

Photo by Jack GouldIf it weren't for my cherished biases, I'd be a lonely woman indeed. Lucky for me there is Huntington Beach Cultural Services overlord Mike Mudd. Ever since Mudd orchestrated last year's bloodless coup, toppling the Huntington Beach Art Center (HBAC) and deflating its ballooning national reputation, I've had loads of cocktail-party material. Who else but Mudd could cut loose Tyler Stallings? Regarded as the hottest young curator in Southern California, Stallings is now at the Laguna Art Museum. The center's ambitious director, Naida Osline? She's in a City Hall administrative position. Ditto for the center's director of operations, Randy Pesqueira.

The problem with this, of course, is that I hadn't yet seen any of the HBAC's offerings in its new incarnation, and I have a cherished bias against people ragging on things about which they're ignorant.

Well, hypocrisy solved! “Other Paintings,” the HBAC's current exhibit of young artists from New York, LA and Las Vegas (which I'm convinced is the true millennial city, but that's a column for another day), is thoroughly, spotlessly unprovocative —just what I thought it would be—while at the same time embodying that sterility in a wholly unexpected way.

After learning that Mudd was exiling the HBAC's nationally regarded staff so he could install exhibits that were less smutty and “more representative of the community,” I had expected to find pretty, pretty watercolor exhibits of the type befouling the commercial galleries in Laguna Beach. Instead, “Other Paintings” takes a slightly riskier—and I use the word loosely—1980s and early '90s non-ideological, stripes-of-ugly-house-paint-on-asymmetrical-canvases approach. It certainly won't win the hearts of any crotchety Huntington Beach old people any more than MacArthur Genius grantee Kara Walker's vividly, beautifully obscene looks at race relations did when she showed at the HBAC. But it will likely offend them a great deal less.

What that means to us, of course, is that we are treated to works that matter to no one but the house-paint stores trying to sell their remaindered pea-green paint.

Least soupy and gray among the many, many variations on grids and stripes and silver tablets with grids and stripes are two large portraits of disembodied heads by former UC Irvine Art Gallery director Brad Spence. Together, the heads constitute Reeve/Hawking, a morbid reminder that their heads might as well be severed and reanimated in jars, la Futurama. The large, large heads look airbrushed, softened, as though they were blown up from photos on the Net and had lost their crispness without becoming pixilated. Technological themes are a favorite of Spence, who painted portraits of computer screens and gave the same floating-head treatment to the Grand High Most Exalted Floating Head Supreme, Bill Gates, at an exhibit at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions last year.

Joining Spence in the tiny cadre of Representationalists in “Other Paintings” is Augusto Arbizo, whose multilayered Rorschach blots are Pollockesque dribbles outlined in black. They seem to be swimming in Grateful Dead butterflies. Phillip Argent's happy, glittery Easter eggs beneath violet and teal clouds (something like the retinal fireworks you see when you rub your closed eyes) may sound horrid on paper, but at least the man's not afraid to seek Peter Alexander sunsets while all else around him is mired in gray and umber. And Gajin Fujita's cool, trs Juxtapoz Magazine graffiti samurais and tigers are charming—wholly out of place in such an otherwise drab, somber, Prozac-deprived exhibit.

These four artists have the tiny back gallery mostly to themselves, and they're a terrific respite from the rambling downer sprawling through the rest of the HBAC. It's hard not to wonder why they were included.

There are three other works of interest in the exhibit. Sally Ross' Untitled (Blue Flowers) is a swirling, matterless gray into which a vase of what looks like very pretty hockey pucks has been transported. Lisa Ruyter's large, flat house beneath a menacing electrical tower has a great deal of foreboding and suspense to it. And Yek's parabolic canvases, melding from tropical green to tropical yellow, would make really terrific patterns for sarongs.

The rest of the exhibit consists of Pet Sourinthone's very ugly pools of limpid peach house paint puddling like brain ridges; Stephen Heer's very ugly silver tablets with dots and fried eggs; Yunhee Min's slightly—slightly —more palatable stripes of very ugly house paint; and David Goltein's offensively ugly, pathetic, crimes-against-humanity grids holding yellow blotches and black squares.

Goltein needs his ass kicked hard. But Mudd? Way to surprise me! Who knew you'd follow good and bad with downright hiddy, as the HB kids are saying these days. Air kiss to you, sir!

“Other Paintings” at the Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-1650. Through Dec. 30.

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