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Art Review : Fresh Visions Emerge From a Mix

August 02, 1994|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — What do you do with 424 slides of work by 167 Orange County artists? If you're juror Mike McGee, you look for stuff that's "quirky, ironic, eccentric or funky," and is as likely to have been made by untrained "outsiders" as by art school graduates. That's the happy secret of the sixth annual "All Media '94" exhibit at the Irvine Fine Arts Center through Sept. 2.

Viewed as a whole, the work (mostly painting, photography and sculpture) by the 65 artists McGee chose has its rough edges. But a few of the entries offer fresh visions and innovative approaches.

Startlingly visceral and wryly pathetic, Eeva Crume's fiber piece "Migraine" is a literal image of an aching brain. Long, wavering strands of nylon thread knit the upper and lower portions of a bulbous fuzzy object permeated with the hues of fresh and dried blood.

Kristina Dendinger's deliciously deadpan painting "Out of Thin Air" consists of a wallpaper-like pattern of literary and pop culture characters famous for their sudden appearances and disappearances (the Cheshire Cat, Superman and so on). Propped up on supports rising just a few inches above the floor, the painting itself has a furtive appearance. It won one of 13 honorable mention awards.

Marten Euchler's third-place painting, "Ire and Indigence"--large, juxtaposed heads of a man tearing his hair and a bright-eyed woman tilting a plate into her mouth--has the crisp, unemotional and unambiguous look of illustrations for a child's alphabet book. In the same way that the child's book teaches recognition of the names for common objects, Euchler offers a neutral primer of emotional states and actions we may or may not view as healthy or socially integrated.

Several other works, while less compelling, are nevertheless worth noting. By finding just the right size and format for her subject, honorable mention award-winner Connie Sasso gave her sequence of small black-and-white photographs of a woman's legs dancing on a checkered floor ("Tiny Dancer") a piquant allure.

Similarly, the witty appeal of Linda Cushing's assemblage "Vehicle"--made from an old block of wood, casters, bicycle handlebars and a water meter dial--derives from shrewd scavenger choices and a rare economy of means.

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At the other end of the scale, it probably is fitting that the two top awards went to artists attempting to address big issues (alcoholism and gay-bashing) in unconventional ways. Yet the bigger the issue, the more difficult it is to find metaphors or presentational modes that illuminate rather than simply add another layer of moralizing.

Gayle Gardner won first place for her video "Umbrellas" in which the fate of paper cocktail umbrellas planted in the ground (a la Christo) mirror the impact of the narrator's father's drinking problem. Unfortunately, portentous music and heavy-handed verbiage overwhelm the delicate imagery rather than complementing it. And whatever point Gardner may have intended by evoking Christo's "Umbrellas" project remains unclear.

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Second-place winner John Breitweiser ("Sure Wish") makes paintings that spell out factual statements about gays and hate crimes in brightly colored capital letters. Like effective public service announcements, his work attracts attention and delivers a clear message at a glance. But the best contemporary art digs deeper to locate more of the ambiguity and contradiction of contemporary life.

Still, it is very encouraging to see socially conscious work that avoids cliched histrionic imagery. In addition, the presence of numerous individualistic works by seemingly untutored artists enlivens this show in a way that the politely traditional entries cannot hope to rival.

* "All Media '94" continues through Sept. 2 at the Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine. Noon to 9 p.m. Mondays; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays; 1 to 5 p . m. Sundays. Free. (714) 552-1078.

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