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Art Review : Irvine Arts Center's 'Vine Ripened' Offers Slim Pickings


IRVINE — The unfortunate thing about the embarrassingly titled "Vine Ripened, Ready to Pick," a showcase of local art at the Irvine Fine Arts Center (through Nov. 6), is that it has so little to do with the city's one major contemporary art institution, the art department at UC Irvine.

A note in the accompanying catalogue says that 20% of the artists have degrees from UCI. But if work by promising current students had been included, the level of the show would have been much higher and its contemporaneity quotient much greater.

How likely is it, after all, that a gifted and motivated artist graduate will remain for years in a spic-and-span town that lacks either the usual amenities (and low rents and cheap hangouts) of an art center or the freedom of rural living?

As it is, the show contains numerous examples of amateurish abstraction, a dose of bombast, a sprinkling of coy "naive" art and other mediocre pieces. A stale air hangs over the exhibition, as if most of the participants--whose average age is 45, according to the catalogue--haven't paid much attention to contemporary art for the past two decades.

Within these depressing parameters, the most arresting works are by Doree Dunlap, a professor of art at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, and Kristin Siracusa, who received her master of fine arts degree from Cal State Fullerton last year.

Dunlap's debt to Frieda Kahlo is rather too obvious but the passions informing her apparent self-portraits in stark, dreamlike compositions seem deeply felt.

In her painting "Mi Arbol Familiar" (My Family Tree), a nude woman with a scar in place of one breast, a scarf hiding her head and the open palms of a saint going to her martyrdom is about to step into a grave containing a dead tree adorned with skulls. "Mi Vida Como Una Opuntia" (My Life as a Prickly Pear) is a more enigmatic vision in which signs of death seem to multiply as fast as living things.

Siracusa's linocut "Untitled (from Inventory series)" contains two images: a loosened knot and a bird holding a thread in its beak. Spare and precise, the style of the print is of a piece with its riddle-like format, which suggests comparisons between human and animal ingenuity, and intellectual and intuitive problem-solving.

Other brighter lights include Jonathan Burke's painting "Mult Nat Sm Cap," a wry fantasy in which multiple chimneys on a factory roof belch prettily colored wisps of smoke and fire into a tranquil landscape; May Swanson's eccentric untitled still lifes; Roanne Hickok's amusingly retro landscapes made of tiny collaged eyes and lips; Marcia Cox Holzman's ceramic piece "Soulmates," more emotionally specific than her other work in the show, and Ching-Woan Chen's luminous untitled painting incorporating a loose grid of individual brush strokes.

* "Vine Ripened, Ready to Pick" continues through Nov. 6 at the Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission: Free. (714) 724-6880.

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