Exodus and ‘CHROMA’ Will Leave You Feeling Untethered

A scene from Mandana Moghaddam’s Exodus. Courtesy of Grand Central Art Center

Sundry suitcases and baggage huddle together, floating out at sea.

Curated by John Spiak at Grand Central Art Center, there’s zero spoken exposition in Swedish-Iranian artist Mandana Moghaddam’s exquisite short film Exodus, but there’s plenty of narrative. In the couple of minutes that it will take you to watch it, the film’s simple image sparks a flurry of thoughts and associations: The book of the Bible detailing the Jews leaving Egypt. The few personal belongings you can fit into a bag as you escape your home. The vilification of immigrants. The diverse cases suggesting the miscellaneous faces and nationalities escaping oppression. The corpse of a drowned Syrian toddler lying on a beach. That wall that No. 45 keeps talking about. How our action (or inaction) plays its part in this international horror show.

All you hear is the sound of the ocean as the initially relaxing image projected on a wall creates a growing unease. One of the bags, just out of reach, begins to gather water and go under. Our instinct is to reach out and grab it by the handles, to pluck it from the water and rescue it. That’s what a decent person would do, right? No one does, of course, as the bag sinks, and the collective mass moves slowly away from the camera until it’s a minute spot bobbing on the horizon.

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Half a block away, Fourth Element Gallery hosts “CHROMA,” curator Laura Black’s exhibition of three artists and work featuring bright colors. While the styles and various mediums seem to be at odds with one another, painters Jordan Christian’s large oil paintings and Chloe Jeongmyo Kim’s abstract designs, along with Philip Kupferschmidt’s serene ceramics, fit well together thematically.

Kupferschmidt’s work doesn’t really offer us anything new, but it’s the easiest to access: reasonably priced ceramic cups, bowls, planters, and even what looks like a dog dish next to a series of “volcano vase” designs that ooze down the sides like a shiny-glaze lava. Red, yellow, orange, green, blue and lavender pieces fill a long table at the front of the gallery, with several other works—a few of them more monochromatic—arranged on pedestals. Sometimes the underpainting shines through in stretch-marked streaks or faded spots, but most of the ceramic pieces wear their color like heavy skirts, the edges curling up ever so slightly. They aren’t utilitarian pieces awaiting your Captain Crunch and almond milk—they likely wouldn’t make it through a dishwasher cycle—but their casual comfort would be right at home with a few fistfuls of decorative fire glass or a plant.

Christian’s paintings are more demanding. Vague figures can be seen (Starfisher), or at least parts of them (legs, possibly genitalia, flailing arms), as the artist assaults the thin boundaries of his abstracted bodies, with angry black scrawls and shotgun blasts of color (Bosom Buddy) obliterating details as if the work doesn’t want you too close and is visually trying to push you away. The result is a palimpsest erased and obscured through scraped surfaces and overpainting, layers that hide as much as they may seem to present. The artist’s most focused work is the mesmerizing Adonis, a figurative piece with the face a blank slate of cyan, the torso a chalked, heart-shaped coat of many colors, but mainly a visceral explosion of aortic red on one side, the other thin and scraped into a resemblance of a ribcage. Surrounded by a muddied dream background of grays and greens, a ghostly white face floats over the figure’s right shoulder, blankly watching, simply observing him or perhaps waiting to step into his place.

As tightly wound as Christian’s work is chaotic, Kim’s paintings offer us an anxious, Orwellian oppression. The lines and angles in her layered acrylic on wood panel or plexiglass-and-polycarbonate film are sharp and rigid, symmetrical within their frames, as blocks of incongruous hue hover next to limpid pools of more subdued tones. Color peeps from underneath a white blanket threatening to suffocate the messy life beneath it (Encroachment). Her Full of Obsession series reminds one of Diebenkorn’s architecture, stripped to a handful of subdued painted surfaces and flat, neatly structured outlines, an unidentifiable, amorphous construct that suggests more threat than comfort. Her final piece, Escape From the Cold, is even darker, its abstracted arrows pointing to a horizon in the middle of the canvas: a black smudge of a refugee running from some nameless, oppressive terror.

“Mandana Moghaddam: Exodus” at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.grandcentralartcenter.com. Open Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Through Feb. 17. Free.

“CHROMA | Jordan Christian, Chloe Jeongmyo Kim & Philip Kupferschmidt” at Fourth Element Gallery, 210 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (657) 232-0002. Open by appointment only throughout January; call or email 4thelementgallery@gmail.com.

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