If your idea of good art is something nice and soothing, polite and clean, then you'd better turn off your radio [or whatever device you're listening on]. What would you say if you caught the family dog peeing on your furniture? [Stop it, you bad, bad dog!] So what is wrong with all the people, myself included, who are drooling over Richard Jackson's adorable dog peeing on the walls outside the Orange County Museum of Art?
First of all, this creature is so huge that it's actually taller than the museum building itself. With its hind leg raised in the air it's almost thirty-two feet high. And boy, look at the bright yellow stain its left on that concrete wall! So my friends, welcome to the retrospective of the exuberant, irreverent and audacious Angeleno artist Richard Jackson.
Now in his early seventies, Jackson continues to demonstrate remarkable stamina - the new works in this exhibition, like Bad Dog, display even more of the trademark cracking wit and devil-may-care energy that endeared us to his early work.
His room-sized painted environments could be justifiably described as either sculptures, stage sets or even paintings. One of the museum galleries--its walls painted florescent orange--invites you to step inside a super-saturated blue room-within-a-room, where not only the walls and floor are splattered with paint, but the life-size figure of a sad young woman is dripping head to toe in blue as well. It is as if I could hear the wistful tune and words of the famous song "Am I Blue?"
Instead of a traditional paintbrush, Jackson loads a small canvas with a thick layer of paint and uses it as his brush. Flipping the canvas over, he smashes and drags the painted side of the canvas against the gallery wall and leaves the canvas attached to the wall to punctuate his action. And, lo-and-behold, the resulting artwork becomes a captivating homage to the art of painting - from classical murals to the American action painters.
At the museum entrance, visitors are greeted by a vintage Ford Pinto flipped on its side, with every square inch of its surface (plus the nearby columns, walls and floor) sprayed with candy-colored paint. This is another example of the artist's inspired craziness, beautifully framed by the classically proportioned architectural setting.
And I'll leave it up to you whether to cry or to giggle at the sight of Degas' famous bronze fourteen-year-old dancer: turned upside down, bleeding, her head smashed against the museum pedestal.
It takes fifteen minutes to get from Newport to beautiful Laguna Beach and its art museum. I was curious to see the re-installation of the museum's permanent collection, with the addition of a few works on loan. It was a big surprise to encounter the sprawling ceramic wall sculpture by well-known Los Angeles sculptor John Mason. A year ago, this very sculpture welcomed visitors to the Getty Museum's ambitious Pacific Standard Time exhibition and I thought of it as one of the most appealing works on display. The piece, Blue Wall, from 1957, has been described as abstract expressionist ceramics. Strangely enough, this beautiful and important work is still in the collection of the artist and not owned by a major museum.
The museum is also paying tribute to LA-based artist Allison Schulnik, showcasing her paintings, sculptures and video. This is her first solo museum exhibition and her extremely thickly painted paintings--landscapes, still lifes, and images of animals--are mesmerizing and slightly scary, like Disney characters and stories re-imagined as nightmares. Schulnik's paintings have such a distinct, exuberant texture that they almost become sculptures. On the other hand, the glazed surfaces of her ceramic sculptures have such painterly quality, you cannot help but think of them as three-dimensional paintings.
My recent trips to numerous museums north and south of Los Angeles have revealed that -- in spite of the current turmoil involving the major cultural institutions here in LA -- the state of art in Southern California continues to stay strong.
Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.