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'Carlos Amorales: Discarded Spider' at Orange County Museum of Art

The ambitious scope of an exhibition that fills five galleries using four media is woefully at odds with the pieces themselves, which feature silly, undeveloped concepts and lightweight execution.

December 11, 2009|By David Pagel

If you don't look very closely or think very clearly, Carlos Amorales' mixed-media works seem to be the real thing: complex objects that reward every inch of attention brought to them.

But if you want more from your art than the mere appearance of seriousness, you soon see that the internationally exhibited artist's pieces at the Orange County Museum of Art are too lightweight, silly and self-impressed to be engaging, satisfying or memorable.

In a very blunt nutshell, Amorales' art is conceptually flimsy and materially stingy. It's a lot like the overpriced items that fill the pages of in-flight catalogs, promising luxury and convenience as if they were the same thing.

"Carlos Amorales: Discarded Spider" fills five galleries with 26 pieces in four media: drawing, sculpture, painting and video. Everything comes in two colors: black and white. Everything is stripped to the minimum: The forms in the 18 drawings are bare outlines, the two big paintings are flat graphic designs, the images in one of the two videos are suggested by dots of light, and the four sculptures barely break free of two dimensions.

Rarely have so many media done so much to deliver such a narrow range of experience. The paucity of physicality causes the installation to come off as antiseptic and heartless, better suited to computer screens than 3-D reality. Amorales' art embraces and sustains the cold, calculating aura of corporate decor.

His drawings are not made the old-fashioned way, by putting pencil to paper. Each is actually a collage, precisely cut from sheets of black paper that are then neatly affixed to a nearly 4-by-3-foot sheet of white paper.

The linear imagery, which appears to be computer-processed and laser-cut, includes silhouettes of trees, spider webs, human skulls, birds, wolves, monkeys, men and women.

Some of the women crawl on all fours; others are pregnant. Some of the birds fly; others perch; a few are tipped upside-down, as if dead. But nothing much happens in Amorales' pictures. They seem to be emaciated copies of Wendell Gladstone's paintings, which use color and texture to weave loaded stories about humanity's place among animals and machines.

Amorales' sculptures, elaborately fabricated from painted aluminum and rubber, are flexible and capable of being reconfigured depending upon their surroundings. Here, they hang on the wall, drape from the ceiling or pile up on the floor. Resembling abstract nests, nets, dresses, subway maps and computer circuitry, they are Amorales' most promising pieces. The best one, "Transformable Web 08," reaches from floor to ceiling and makes you think of the flowing robes in Baroque paintings.

For their part, Amorales' paintings are the show's low point, grandiose abstractions that are less gripping than punch-card diagrams.

One short video, titled "Discarded Spider," treats Amorales' sculptures as props to be danced with. The other, "Psicofonias," goes to all sorts of over-intellectualized trouble to deliver the high-tech equivalent of a player piano programmed more or less randomly.

The biggest problem with Amorales' first museum exhibition on the West Coast, which was organized by the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati and is accompanied by a fat catalog thin on content, is that it makes too much of too little.

Born in 1970, Amorales may well develop into a serious artist. It's just too soon to tell. And shows like this, which turn undeveloped artists into little darlings of the international exhibition circuit, do a disservice to both the artist and viewers.

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