MISSION VIEJO — There is something naggingly contrived about Italo Scanga's sculpture that keeps me from singing their song--a folk tune, born in the Southern Italian countryside and adapted for city slickers with quasi-Cubist motifs and decorative markings in brightly colored paint.
Scanga's works at the Art Gallery at Saddleback College (through Sept. 23) are bricolages of battered musical instruments, farm tools, tree branches, toy images of farm animals and pieces of geometric carved wood balanced in vertically oriented compositions and mounted on short-legged platforms.
Because the show is titled "Animals in Danger," a viewer might try to find an ecological message implied by upside-down elephants and lions balancing thorny branches on their legs, or a cow whose legs serve as a storage place for a tool with nasty-looking blades. But the work seems too decorative and vague to refer to endangered species, or to the displacement of farm culture by urban society (a tired theme in any case).
So what are these sculptures about? Well, they might be paeans to the dual influences of nature and art, or work and leisure-time pursuits, in the life of a culture.
The platforms and the long poles--shovel or pitchfork handles--are probably meant to recall homemade floats in rural European celebrations of the harvest season. (Scanga, a native of the Southern Italian province of Calabria, has lived in the United States since the 1940s; he is a professor of art at UC San Diego.)
Because most of the animals in these pieces are not native to Europe, they could be taken as allusions to the circus or to the traditional role of animals as bearers of mythic attributes. The musical instruments have obvious connections to folk music (tambourine, guitar) as well to Cubist still-life paintings (which so often included stringed instruments).
But these allusions never cohere, and the works are ultimately just too-artfully arranged bouquets of objects deadened by decades of approved use in works of art. Like most of Scanga's work, the sculptures come across primarily as exercises in modernist cliches.
The random-seeming combination of unrelated objects, vaguely related through silhouette (the circle of the tambourine mirroring the bell of the French horn, and so forth), the abstract patterning, the Cubist-style piecing together of wooden triangles and hemispheres--all of this seems overly stylized and vacuous. Even the warmth that should adhere to used vernacular objects is chilled by Scanga's formulaic approach.
* \o7 "Italo Scanga: 'Animals in Danger' " remains through Sept. 23 at the Art Gallery, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Gallery hours are 12:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, 12:30 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Fridays. Free. (714) 582-4924. \f7