The California-Pacific Triennial opened a couple of weeks ago at The Orange County Museum of Art. The ambitious exhibition, which runs through November 17th, is the debut of a new format that used to be the California Biennial and has morphed to include 15 artists from countries that border the Pacific Ocean. The premise that California is in actuality a microcosm of this demographic is an interesting one. In the next couple of months it is estimated that the number of residents in California who are Latino will outnumber Caucasians. The timing of the statistical tipping point underscores the diverse nature of a state that always has had a heart beat slightly syncopated from that of the rest of the country.
Curator Dan Cameron has assembled a thought provoking and intelligent selection. Thankfully there is no umbrella thesis (thematic or political) in sight. With thirty two artists on exhibit, there are pleasant discoveries, epiphanies of satisfaction, head scratching befuddlements and yawns of disinterest. In other words, exactly what you would get if you were to visit 320 one person shows.
The exhibition is awash with artistic paradigms, techniques and aesthetic investigations. As a reflection of the current landscape of pluralism, the Triennial is an accurate picture of this diverse cross section. Gone are the days of dogma, presiding style or narrative bent. So what we’re left with is a little like playing hand ball without a wall. Playing squash in an open field if you will. You serve, and nothing bounces back. There’s no resistance. Nothing to tear down. Nothing to defame. No sacred cows to sacrifice.
This, of course, is a doubled edged sword. Freedom can create insight or navel gazing.
From the miasma, Mark Dean Veca rises as a singular voice. The artist from Los Angeles has installed a large wall painting with a plinth upon which sits a large golden bean bag throne. Veca has built an iconography of high contrast graphic swirls and entrails of black, orange and yellow. The style is part tattoo, part graphic novel. The tableaux includes two pillars that are part of the architecture of OCMA. And high above are tasseled fabric adorned with gold truck nuts. The installation is catchy and garish. It engages the eye from afar and up close. If one wishes to, it can act as commentary of the adoration of false prophets. But the layered work does not pontificate. It delivers content without out dogma.
Mitchell Syrop is another pleasant discovery. The exhibit features several works from a series called Giacometti’s Bar Mitzvah. The works, as the title, are evocative, ambiguous, poetic and occasionally opaque. Working with plasma cut steel, Syrop creates objects of singular originality. The best is a frame, hung away from a larger installation of his. The empty frame is a powerful object. It has authenticity in its weight, methodical process and unapologetic heroic bravado.
The elder statesman Pedro Friedeberg has almost an embarrassment of riches on display. At 77, Friedeberg demonstrates his particular predilection of pattern, occult, design and architecture. A gold leafed version of his iconic HandFoot Chair is on display from 1962. Plenty of works on paper, objects and canvases, 16 in total, create a powerful case for exactly how ahead of his time he was and continues to be.
Humor in art is equally a double edged sword. Dangerous territory. There are precious few can can negotiate humor’s appeal as an on-ramp of aesthetic inquiry and not leave the viewer signing a chorus of Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there is?” Korean artist Kim Beom delivers with a satire of an abstract expressionist video painting tutorial a la Bob Ross. The video, with all the hallmarks of amateurish production values and calm/measured instruction is on display in the entrance just adjacent to the welcome booth. The painting that was actually created in the video is on display in one of the main exhibition rooms perfectly displayed in a plexiglass case, the type one might see an ultra precious and ephemeral Ad Reinhart or Yves Klein painting. Both works, the video and the painting itself, mock but with affection. The are funny but not at the expense of artistic passion and faith.
The work that falls flat does so for an equally diverse set of reasons. Camille Utterback’s motion sensor interactive video/painting comes off as a gimmick. The work that is created with the viewer’s motion through a designated field resembles Julie Mehretu paintings and drawings but the color palette is muddy and the technology harnessed is actually out of date. (For a sample of the technology used to a more gregarious effect take a look at a ThrashLab Video. This example may be more Rave than Art, more Colossal.com than Artforum.com, but it demonstrates Utterback’s anemic execution.) There are simply way too many variables that could be harnessed in this process to make this work successful. It seems dated before its inception.
Dario Escobar’s suspended installation of pool cues in starburst patterns is perhaps, at best, worthy of a BFA student’s flexing possibilities. The result also is way too similar to the terrific suspended metal abstractions of Richard Lippoldwhose contribution to the abstract sculptural canon has been long undervalued, overlooked and in some circles sadly forgotten.
Lastly, Farrah Karapetian installation of hundreds of photograms of ice is also the visual equivalent of a yawn. Investigations like these simply don’t improve with the introduction of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Repetition. Yeah, we get that chromogenic prints invert the blue translucence of ice into a toast-like brown. So what?
There is plenty more to fall in love with and plenty more to question or diss. But at its core, ambitious exhibitions of this caliber succeed when debates are catalyzed. I, for one, am looking forward to a return visit. The exhibition and Cameron’s curatorial eye demand it. Anyone in greater Los Angeles should make the effort to travel south to OCMA. Those in Orange County have a gift that should be taken advantage of immediately and often.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, July 11th, 2013
also by Mario M. Muller
- Mid-Century Modern at LAMA Auction House, Van Nuys - February 20th, 2014
- Robert Therrien at Gagosian, Beverly Hills - January 22nd, 2014
- Art Fair Season in Los Angeles - January 15th, 2014
- Roy Dowell at Various Small Fires - October 14th, 2013
- Leon Benn at Carter & Citizen - September 13th, 2013