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AT THE GALLERIES

Satire Missing in New Work by Small, Avalos : Art: The two artists are no strangers to controversy. But newest work beats on a tired theme.

January 22, 1992|VICTORIA REED

SAN DIEGO — David Avalos and Deborah Small are no strangers to controversy.

Avalos, along with Elizabeth Sisco and Louis Hock, created the poster "Welcome to America's Finest Tourist Plantation" that adorned buses during Super Bowl week four years ago. In spring of 1989, Small joined the group to produce the billboard (and matching bumper stickers) of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with this caption: "Welcome to America's Finest a) city, b) tourist plantation, c) Convention Center."

Since then, all of the artists, independently and with others, have developed projects that question the status quo, pointing out inequity and inevitably ruffling a few feathers.

Now, Avalos and Small have united again to create "mis-ce-ge-NATION," an installation and video at UCSD's Grove Gallery. Using Helen Hunt Jackson's 19th-Century novel "Ramona," set in northern San Diego County, as a point of departure, "mis-ce-ge-NATION" accentuates the underlying prejudice against interracial relationships inherent in our culture, eventually dooming such a combination.

"Ramona," which, as the artists point out, inspired three movies, a popular song, the name of a town, an annual pageant in Hemet and was required reading in California schools in the 1950s, is a story of star-crossed love, "a tragedy of racial mixing." Helen Hunt Jackson illustrated that lovers from different races are doomed. This idea, as portrayed in the video, still exists.

The video, which is a send-up oW. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," is a blend of scenes from the Ramona pageant and clips from popular Hollywood films. The quantity of the clips in the video and the redundancy of the themes in the films augment the artists' contention that interracial relations were such a taboo that, in order not to offend anyone, popular Anglo actors played ethnic roles. Examples in the video include Charleton Heston and Natalie Wood.

The video also illustrates the accepted belief that identity confusion exists among people of mixed races, as illustrated by Elvis Presley who plays a confused half-breed Kiowa in the movie "Flaming Star."

The installation itself is simple. "Ramona's Bedroom," where the video is viewed, is a bed made up of hay bales covered with serapes. Artifacts and bric-a-brac such as dried chilis, cacti and a reproduction of a Mission Bell decorate the room in a comfortable middle-class manner.

Hanging across the wall from the bedroom are reproductions from 18th- and early 19th-Century paintings from Mexico depicting persons of racially mixed parents, contemporary color photographs of cousins, and words such as mix , mingle, co-mingle and blend. The point the artists are making is that, even though intermarriage has been an issue and frowned upon for centuries, we are a mixed nation.

As usual, Small and Avalos are masters at uncovering innuendoes. Unfortunately, "mis-ce-ge-NATION" lacks the biting satire often found in Avalos' and Small's art, and in many ways their message is simplistic. And because multiculturalism has been such a popular topic in the last few years, what the artists are saying is also redundant.

* At the Grove Gallery at UC San Diego. Hours are Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Through Feb. 22.

"Images and Objects" at the Porter Randall Gallery is a grab-bag exhibition. There is a little of this, a little of that, and your not quite sure what you're going to find when you turn the corner.

The gallery has been open less than a year, and this type of a show is typical of new galleries. They're testing the water.

Six of the seven artists work with photographs.

The most challenging works in the exhibition are by Melissa DuBose and Albert Chong.

DuBose, who mixes photographs with a Bauhaus-like painting style, incorporates both male and female nudes within a geometric framework. She is not only commenting on and mocking art history, in works such as "Gargoyle" and "Reliquary," but she is addressing current feminist concerns in "Persistence of Memory," a cheese-cake look at a male model.

Chong, a recent MFA graduate from UCSD, created a series of works based on the African and Asian practice of making offerings to ancestral spirits. Taking objects from his Jamaican childhood such as cowerie shells, codfish, coconut shells, barbed wire, monkey skulls, condor claws, egg shells and palm tendrils, Chong organizes them on handmade thrones and photographs them. Among the most enduring pieces in the show are his books. Placed in elaborately decorated boxes, the books, which are a combination of hand-painted paper and black-and-white photos, unfold into a series of evocative imagery.

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