Lesson No. 146 for art groups: Get yourself a well-known judge with strong opinions, and watch the quality of your juried exhibits improve by leaps and bounds. Not only do you tend to attract a better group of artist entrants in the first place, but you also wind up with a manageable number of promising works instead of a big jumble of mediocre efforts.
The 11th annual juried show at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (through Aug. 9) is by far the best in recent memory, and surely a chunk of the credit belongs to Howard Fox, curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He chose 43 objects by 36 artists from more than 800 entries by more than 400 artists from all the western states. The results of this decisive form of jurying are displayed to great advantage in an arrangement attractively designed by OCCCA member Jeffrey Frisch.
Three-dimensional pieces in unusual forms predominate in this show. One of the best is Richard Keely's untitled fat tube of wire mesh with rubber covering the two openings. Suspended from hooks, the tube sags and bends in a curiously intimate way, rather like an upside-down human crotch.
Dean De Crocker's "Live Fish Away" is a gray, vaguely mailbox-like sculpture with a pleasingly obdurate presence. Third prize-winner Margaret Adachi's "Heavy Ham" is amusingly inventive: Concentric layers of fabric fitted around a cardboard tube form the familiar bulky ham shape, and corks arranged in spiraling patterns re-create the absurd decorations traditionally added to the skin of the meat.
Daniel Wheeler, who won first prize, organizes "found" objects into small tableaux. In "Untitled (Vessels)," rusted clamps separately affix three objects to the wall: a small
bucket, a tuft of driftwood and a mysterious rounded piece resembling a buzzer. How do all these things come to be called vessels? Wheeler's logic seems inscrutable, but the stiff, anonymous array of objects has an oddly provocative presence, like a series of riddles posed by a poker-faced sphinx.
The exhibit also includes more than the usual number of conceptual pieces. Amusingly, two different artists chose to do takeoffs on Marcel Duchamp's famous "Ceci n'est Pas un Pipe" (This Is Not a Pipe) painting, which is meant to call into question the meaning of artistic representation. In an untitled piece, Christopher Collet outlines a pipe shape in typed letters that spell out the Duchamp phrase. Stephen Sherwood's more adroit variation, "The Antithesis," underlines traditional distinctions between art and craft by sewing a pipe in cross-stitch above the phrase, "Ceci n'est Pas Art" (This Is Not Art).
Although few of the selected artists tackle social themes, honorable mention award-winner Chris Acuna-Hansen deals thoughtfully with the twin issues of youthful peer pressure and prejudice in "Portrait."
The piece contains a photograph of a shy-looking young man in a plaid shirt and a text in which the speaker reminisces about his high school days, when he was friendly with "Greg." But other friends "started telling me (Greg) was a queer and couldn't hang out with us anymore. One of them told me that if I couldn't tell (that he was), I must be one, too."
Judith Bell's "Venus in the Ice Age"--a gray, wedge-like mixed-media piece with a narrow slit on the bottom--has a strong sexual undercurrent. Lengths of clear tape are plastered over the upper portion of the piece, and rust-colored paint trickles along the slit. The "ice age" might be today's wary, fear-of-AIDS climate, an era when abortion rights are also threatened. The work's semi-abstract form allows for multiple readings.
Rosemary Boost's mixed-media "Man's Gift" is an eye-opener about an antique form of abusive treatment of women. In a shallow box painted red and gold, two doll-sized socks stuck on a wire grid are superimposed over an open book with an extraordinary text about the "diminuitive elegance" and intense sexual connotation of the 3- or 4-inch-long bound female foot, shown in photographs on the facing page.
Pure painting gets the shortest shrift in the exhibit--seemingly for good reason, since the works on view tend to be rather dated-looking--and printmaking is barely represented. But Alan Azhderian's large monoprint "Nightly Equation's" has the late-night look of sketches made by designers or architects with more personal matters on their minds.
Among the small group of photographs, second prize-winner Thomas Harris stands out for his amusingly elegant black and white images of three-dimensional geometric shapes "posing" in stagy, Angst- ridden tableaux.
What: 11th annual Juried Show.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday; through Aug. 9.
Where: Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, 3621 West MacArthur Blvd. (Space 111 in Harbor Business Park), Santa Ana.
Whereabouts: Exit San Diego Freeway on MacArthur and drive east; Harbor Business Park is between Harbor Boulevard and Fairview Road.
Wherewithal: Admission is free.
Where to call: (714) 549-4989.