I’ve just returned from the California Biennial in Newport Beach, at the Orange County Museum of Art.
Driving on I-5 through scorched earth and a chilly rain in Gorman, the smell of ashes from numerous central valley fires drowned out some of the usual gasses emanating from the periphery of the interstate. Wet ashes gave Marge the car a nice protective coating, insuring her against further surface damage from rays and polluted winds. Being in close proximity to cows and their detritus, a three hour fiery sunset, combined with wide swaths of storm turbulence (in pale shades of neutral grey – offsetting the periwinkles, persimmons and lazulis), topped by a rainbow ribbon (heavy on the green), set the scene for meditating on what I’d absorbed at the Biennial -- the resurgence of color (dress you up in my love), scatology (gestural abstraction), and expressivity (emoticons, obituaries, war field dreams, nightmares, and realisms) in art, tempered by Beuysian alchemical experiments (rectangular surfaces made of diesel and ash). An installation of videos depicting imagined feral children donning, for one, coyote headed pelts (also a la Beuys), presented using fake ethnographic reportage, and leaping like gazelles, reminded me to go find my own feral child who I had abandoned (along with her diminutive tweenage friends) in the museum lobby, telling her to (knowing we might miss the entire Sonic Youth performance – which we did) "Sit there on the red couch. I’m going to look at the art."
Highlights were the first wall of procession paintings, and the waltz of military figures and vetaran’s parade floats by my beloved copain Martin McMurray, the better than Koons metallic sculptures of Joel Morrison, the urban ecology salt mine pipe dream collages of Leslie Shows, the prescient crystal-lit glacial ships in her harbors of Marie Jager, the bleeding photosynthesis of fellow Bay Area artist Binh Danh’s leafs and war casualties in vein/vain, and the effed-up topo maps lovingly rendered by Lordy Rodriguez in ink (some of which looked felt-tipped).
The OCMA website chose to break the show down into six types of artists/art/methods of artmaking,
"Extreme Objectmakers: artists who make exquisitely-rendered works that mutate traditional forms and media to create new hybrids. (Andy Alexander, Jane Callister, Christian Maychack, Joel Morrison, Sterling Ruby)
Social Interactions: works that engage viewers to interact in particular social spaces, constructed or identified by the artists, that call attention to popular culture and everyday life. (Kianga Ford, Kate Pocrass, Mario Ybarra Jr.)
Urban Ecologies: art that responds to the natural and built environment, including urban, suburban, and entropic landscapes. (Christopher Ballantyne, Bull.Miletic, Shannon Ebner, Leslie Shows, Amir Zaki)
Historical Consciousness: archiving and adapting images and text from the flow of history and contemporary political events. (Walead Beshty, Binh Danh, Sergio De La Torre/Vicki Funari, Martin McMurray, Lordy Rodriguez, Speculative Archive, Hank Willis Thomas)
Impulsive Surrealism: the resurgent interest in work that draws upon unconscious desire, dream like imagination and absurd humor as a strategy. (Scoli Acosta, Brian Fahlstrom, Pearl C. Hsiung, Marie Jager, Shana Lutker, My Barbarian, Nicolau Vergueiro)
Refracted Identities: artists who use themselves as both subject and object to construct personal, social and/or multiple identities. (Ala Ebtekar, Arturo Ernesto Romo, Tim Sullivan, Goody-B. Wiseman)"
The Catalog is full of additional work not on display at the main OCMA site, and some not-too-bloated catalog copy. Catalog copy writers make some far reaching assumptions about Bay Area figurative artists and their connections to one another, but overall the tone of the essays is consistent with the history-hinges-on-grit-and-stenography approach to art listings. Monitor chicken scratch and free ranging heartbeats using the Gerhard Richter scale, only if you’ve imbibed grains of ocean salts in Laguna first. In other words, use the catalog as a jumping-off point for fact checking.
[Catalog image: Pearl C. Hsiung, Tidal Wretch, 2005; enamel on canvas; Max Wigram Gallery, London]
[OCB Curators: Elizabeth Armstrong, Karen Moss, Rita Gonzalez]