Karen Finley, Glenn Kaino, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Martin Kersels at OCMA's 'Disorderly Conduct'

Dancing On the Ceiling
Political animals at OCMA's 'Disorderly Conduct'

There are some who say that all art is political. That may be so, but specifically political art—art in which the artist sets out with a message to impart to the masses about some great cause of the day—is rarely a good idea. All too often, it results in thumpingly unsubtle propaganda, art that preaches and screeches rather than enlightens. For every one of Picasso's Guernica, there are a dozen canvases of Bush and Osama making out on a burning red-white-and-blue bed drenched with blood and oil. That stuff is KPFK for the eyeballs. (I wish I could remember who said it, but some wit once observed that if you listen to KPFK enough, you start thinking the black helicopters are coming to get you.)

“Disorderly Conduct: Recent Art in Tumultuous Times,” the sprawling, spectacular new show at the Orange County Museum of Art, presents a quality assortment of art that's political while also, thankfully, actually being art.

Karen Finley became a poster child of the National Endowment for the Arts funding controversy in the '80s for her infamous performances pieces in which she smeared herself with stuff. Apparently, she never actually put yams in her butt onstage, but the fact that rumor stubbornly refuses to die says a lot about the stuff she did do. Here, she contributes a compelling series of paintings rather obsessively examining the oh-so-foxy appearance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She breaks Rice down into her component parts, lipstick shades and dead eyes, and then turns those eyes into bombs being dropped by a stealth plane. The effect is unsettling, like that thing stalkers do in the movies where they sit up all night with a stack of Polaroids, cutting out all the eyes and using them to make a little shrine of love/hate. The work says something we all know—Rice is not nice—but it says it an interestingly twisted way.

Glenn Kaino's Learn to Win or You Will Take Losing for Granted is a sculptural piece featuring a big chessboard with all of the pieces being cast bronze hands—hands making nasty gestures (like flipping the bird) on one side, hands making friendly gestures (hang loose, dude!) on the other. That description makes it sound like a hippie-ish nothing, but the piece is actually rather nightmarish in person, like something that two gross penis monsters in Silent Hill would play with while they're waiting for you to show up so they can slash your guts. It feels like the message here should be obvious, but I'm pleased to say I have no idea what Kaino's point is, really. The piece works very well on the level of a creepily inscrutable object.

The show throws some real spectacle at you, including a couple of room-sized installations. (Room-sized installations are always fun; throw in a room-sized installation, and I'm yours, baby.) Daniel Joseph Martinez's The House That America Built re-creates Professor Theodore Kaczynski's Unabomber shack, but he gives it a homey makeover in Martha Stewart colors. It's kind of an obvious point—like, Kaczynski and Stewart are both funhouse-mirror reflections of the “American dream,” man—but an obvious point can become awesome when it's as big as a house. Martin Kersels' Tumble Room is just what its title says—a teenage girl's bedroom, all sweetness and pink, built to rotate four times per minute so people can walk up the walls like spiders. An accompanying video depicts a sprightly girl (actually a 40-year-old dancer), a dog and the imposing Kersel himself navigating this disorienting environment with varying levels of grace. And then all of the girly stuff in the room starts to come loose and clang around on the walls, too. In its simple yet noisy way, the piece says a whole lot about the ever-shifting terrain of adolescence. Whatever your politics or gender, we can all relate to that feeling of being young and restless, bouncing off the walls while our furniture flies around our heads. Tumultuous times, indeed.

“Disorderly Conduct: Recent Art in Tumultuous Times” at the Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Dr., Newport Beach, (949) ?759-1122; www.ocma.net. Open Wed. N Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Through May 25.

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