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ART / CATHY CURTIS : Juried Shows Needn't Be Guilty of Dullness : 'Issues of Oppression,' at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, demonstrates how the form can foster distinctive work.

July 13, 1993|CATHY CURTIS

In a completely different vein, Meg Rowntree's huge abstract painting "Green Dye No. 1" offers by far the strongest marriage of conceptual acuity and visual appeal in the exhibition. Large irregular red platelets--suggestive of magnified cancer cells--are painted with an aniline dye that soaks into the wood surface, mimicking the action of a carcinogenic substance (the green dye of the title) eating away at the body.

The prize-winners in this show struck me as inferior to these works. David K. Morgan's terra cotta reliefs, "Self-Portrait With Medflies," winner of a Curator's Exhibition Award, and Hamid Zavareei's untitled First Prize-winning landscape painting (in which the boulders turn out to be huddled human masses) struck me as exactly the sort of serious but unexciting works that tend to be honored in juried shows.

Carefully crafted, engaged with a timely issue, ponderously literal or at least extremely obvious, these are works that lack the rough edge of experimentation, the subversive understanding of popular culture and the engagement with ideas that signal the emergence of a fresh vision in today's world.

While no artist in this show fits that description, there are a few other pieces worth singling out: Carol Goldmark's "QUILT/Days Are as Flowers"; Duncan Simcoe's "Abraham Contemplates the Departure of Ishmael"; Jinhi Uh's two paintings, "Space" and "Time"; and Serge Armando's "SA. 44. 92," a coolly abstract painting that seems to be alluding to color theory and '60s hard-edge painting in a deadpan, almost didactic way.

Goldmark's painting combines her long-term interest in memento mori floral imagery with a specific reference to AIDS. Rendered in her meticulous style, the bones, embryos, heart and sex organs that "grow" from the centers of individual flowers--envisioned as panels of a memorial quilt--are sober reminders of the brief span of a human life under siege.

The grieving man (ambiguously both white- and black-skinned) in Simcoe's deftly allusive mixed-media drawing is the Biblical Abraham, seemingly recast as a street person in an urban combat zone under a fiery red sky.

Jinhi Uh's two paintings with all-black backgrounds and weighty-sounding titles have a comically reductive appeal. "Time" features an upside-down alarm clock plugged into a socket; "Space" contains a red planet and a skimpy brown object that looks like a deflated planet falling from its orbit.

Without knowing what Korten had to work with, it's impossible to say for sure, but the selection of works on view suggests that his approach was extremely catholic--a form of open-mindedness that tends to produce a diffuse and dull show. Competing artists may disagree, but I think shows like this work best when they reveal a distinctive viewpoint.

One way to foster distinctiveness is to pick an outspoken juror identified with a particular kind of art. Miriam Schapiro, the juror for the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art's 13th Annual Juried Exhibition, "Issues of Oppression" (through Aug. 6)--OCCCA's first juried contest open to artists throughout the United States--is firmly identified with the feminist art movement of the 1970s.

Formerly an Abstract Expressionist, she began making altar-like "shrine paintings" in the early '60s, conveying a specifically female vision of creativity. Much of her subsequent abstract work incorporates craft materials associated with women's unsung work throughout history.

It isn't surprising that three of the four "awards" (Schapiro, I was told, doesn't believe in the hierarchy of rankings) went to works incorporating fabric. One of these, Lisa L. Wood's "Gaia"--a small bugle-beaded stitched piece with a female image--is so densely worked that it suggests a talismanic object.

The best piece in the show, however, was the fourth award-winner, Kathleen Kasper-Noonan's sculpture "Spike," a high-heeled shoe fashioned from polished wood and a thorny branch. The deep slit in the shoe is a vaginal reference; the spike heel becomes a true object of pain, objectifying the tyranny of fashion as well as--seemingly--a bitter view of male domination.

Schapiro had to pick through 800 slide submissions to come up with work by the 45 artists represented in the show; I'd have eliminated quite a few more. But there is a welcome amount of passion and conviction in this show, and the homespun quality of some pieces tends to compliment rather than contradict this intensity. (For example, the blobby-looking breasts and nozzle-topped breast surrogates lined up in Nancy Jo Neuman Brown's ceramic "Breast Removal Totem" are at once grotesque and humorous.)

Even rather pedestrian-looking works tend to be gratifyingly specific--not just vaguely lamenting "violence" but dealing with the irony of a particular situation. One of these, Dale Wiess' painting "My Summer Vacation," illuminates the sad, absurd chasm between schoolbook versions of suburban middle-class children's lives and a world in which a Boy Scout brandishes a rifle.

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