Mark Cunnigham's Rarified Air Blog

From Huntington Beach, I made my way up the 405 to Hermosa Beach, to Gallery C's American Gothic, curated by Laguna Art Museum chief curator Tyler Stalling. As a curatorial thematic, gothic is about as open ended as "grotesque," which Robert Storr tackled earlier this year at SITE Santa Fe. Actually, a lot of the work that found its way into this should would have looked perfect in Santa Fe. In fact, American Gothic is probably a more grotesque show that Storr's exhibition is (which might make David Rimanelli, who slammed Storr in the most recent ArtForum for playing it too safe, happy).

Curiously, some of the worked mined similar territory. I was curious about the connection between Bruce Connor's inkblot Rorschach patterns in Santa Fe, and Laurie Hassold's decorative, Victorian-looking Mandibles and Mandable What is it about failed symmetry that registers as creepy? Does it actually function this way psychologically, in some sort of Gestalt way? In any case, I liked Hassold's work a lot; it was probably the best in the show. She went beyond assymetry in doilies, lace, gloves, and wallpaper (the trappings of Victorianism) and constructed imperfect skeletons of imaginary creatures, made from what appears to be bones, horns, roots, and skulls. Strange Attraction manages to look like a character from Alien, but appears very visceral and organically inviting.

Like "Our Grotesque," Stallings doesn't attempt to make a precise statement about what the gothic is, but offers us several servicable categories: 1) blood, viscera, meat (including human flesh); 2) that which is idiosyncratically American, drawings ripped off the front page of the newspaper 3) drawings of suburban wastelands, the gothic home 4) what I can only refer to as gothic graphic design.

The first category, in which I'm including Hassold, was also rounded out by Lisa Tucker's wallpaper pattern made from photographs of scars, Victoria Reynolds' amazing paintings of meat, Naida Osline's photographs of hybrid and deformed human body parts (is that a testicle? are those false teeth where a vagina should be?), and David Early's paintings of bloodied saints set with a medicine cabinet-like shadow box. Of this group, Reynolds' work stands out, especially her brilliantly Baroque painting (shown above), where the content of the canvas and the frame merge into a single slab of glistening fat and bright pink meat. Early's paintings looked a bit too slick--almost an airbrush effect--and I wasn't quite sure if they were intended to provide a modern iconographic representation. Certainly they were bloodier than most, but to what end?

The second category included Michael Hanson, who offered a painting about Critical Art Ensemble member, Steve Kurtz, who came under FBI suspicion for possession of biological materials. The style of the painting reminded me of Gregory Jacobsen's more active paintings. Also in this category: Clayton Campbell, who works with newspaper clippings and graphite drawings, producing a recording of modern day plagues, including The Curse of the Extremists. Thomas McGovern's photographs of bodybuilders and Mexican wrestlers works the idiosyncratically American angle to a T.

The third category included both the literal home--as in the work of Jeff Koegel--and also the psychological home, dealing with memory and family. Koegel's work was great, a kind of deconstructed Edward Hopper meets Gordon Matta Clark, with architectural elements of the home shattering and hovering in space. CLXXVII Babylon seems to have a futuristic dystopic flavor, replete with monorail, blank billboards, a crumbling house-of-tomorrow, and a giant slab of meat (again?) in the middle of the composition. Yasuko's work--here, photographs (Photoshopped?) of a dead grandmother--which in my opinion was not terribly effective. Jennifer Celio's graphite drawings are the suburban wastelands: a tree with a plastic bag stuck in the branches; an abandoned chair with a copy of the Hustler of the ground below, pages flapping in the wind. Rebecca Niederlander's Nitelite also pushes on the sanctity of the home. While children's nitelites are a source of comfort--and serve to keep monsters at bay--Niedelander's lites act as spaces of mystery and unease. Still, they don't quite induce nightmarers as much as suggest that there is more to the world than that which is knowable and safe. The nitelites seem to be able to the dissolution of these boundaries between clean/pure/domestic andorganic/dirty/threatening. Admittedly, it took me a while to warm to Niederlander's work. Don't let the slight shape and shadowy forms fool you; they are as much about mental landscapes as any other work in the show. Brian Cooper's installation of metallic buckets with embroidered, golden puddles "spilling" out is probably also a reference to domestic space. A solid couch has melted into liquid, threatening the stability of the well-ordered home.

The fourth catergory was definitely the most perplexing part of the show. It could neither discern the American or the Gothic in the work of Adam Mars or Joseph Kirby. It wasn't bad, per se, I just don't think that it really fit the look, or feel, of the show. Mars' work looks like icons from an early Atari videogame, set on a solid black background. There doesn't seem to be any relationship, or more importantly, interaction, between the forms on the blank field. Kirby's work reminds me of the website Exploding Dog, where a phrase is the impetus to create a funny illustration. Kirby's "If I had a tornado for a body I would scare a lot of people who live in trailer parks" is cute, not goth (and even recognizing that there is a category of twee goth, I don't think this would fulfill it). Lee Clarke's paintings seems to be especially inspired by graphic design as well.

I wish I could have seen more of Sherie Franssen's paintings. She doesn't really seem to fit into any of the aforementioned categories--which is a good thing--but, I wasn't able to form an opinion based only on 2 paintings. I agree with Chris Hoff that they look a bit like Francis Bacon (more meat?--just kidding), but I'm not sure what to say other than that.

Other artists in the show inlcude: Clayton Spada, Jane Callister and Jim Ovelmen.

Overall verdict: a very strong show, curatorial focus could have been reigned in a bit. There are probably a few too many artists in the show, but it fills the space well and has a nice rhythm.