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12 Assholes but only One Exhibition Worth Driving for

As a welcomed distraction from the controversies and scandals plaguing our museum world here in L.A., I hit the road---not too far---just an hour's drive south, down the 405 freeway.

I wanted to check out the exhibition by the bad boy of independent cinema, John Waters, whose photographic and sculptural works went on display at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach. From the man who gave us Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, one would expect a healthy dose of irrelevance, a good dollop or two of bad taste, and plenty of reasons to choke with embarrassing laughter. All these are trademarks of his early movies, whose manic energy is able to scorch our gentle sensibilities even now. To my disappointment, John Waters' endeavors beyond the silver screen lack the punch of his early movies. In his photographic collages, he relies on the startling juxtaposition of unrelated images, such as, Charles Manson and Divine, the transvestite muse of so many of his movies. But somehow the similarities of their hair-dos makes for a rather uneventful comparison. Even his most in-your-face work, appropriately titled Twelve Assholes and a Dirty Foot presenting precisely what the title promises, doesn't knock you off your feet---just the tiresome work of an aging prankster, who should keep his daytime job.

Going further South I hit the dreamy shores of Laguna Beach, where last year I saw an uneven but interesting and edgy exhibition: 100 Artists See God. The current exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum has a promising title as well: A Broken Beauty, but unfortunately it also carries a pseudo-academic subtitle Figuration, Narrative and the Transcendent in North American Art. The exhibition consists of a few dozen works, mostly paintings, with direct or sometimes vague references to religious or spiritual themes. Among the 15 featured artists are John Nava, Jerome Witkin and Patty Wickman, demonstrating their well-known technical skills in drawing the human body and depicting complex emotional situations. But most of the works of other artists in this exhibition come across as helplessly bombastic or simply inept. Alas, this exhibition is one of those periodically occurring instances of a museum's good intentions gone awry.

Fortunately for me, on the way back home, I stopped by the Manhattan Beach Art Center, where I hit an unexpected jackpot---the solo exhibition by Katy Stone, a young, Seattle-based artist whose few works I'd seen previously in a private collection. Her works can be described as both paintings and sculptures. She paints with acrylic on clear acetate sheets, cuts them with scissors into elongated feather-like strips up to 10-12 feet long, and then tacks to the walls these painted strips in many layers. From a distance her cascading, dramatically lit installations appear, depending on your fantasy, either as gorgeous peacock tails or as the turn-of-the-century, pleated, shimmering silk of a Fortuny gown. The most impressive of her latest work is a horizontal composition with especially free brush marks in various shades of blue, conveying the sense of the rolling waves along the horizon. Above the water in the blue skies are twisting spirals of energy, clearly in reference to the dangerous beauty of Van Gogh's Starry Night with its celestial drama. This is an exhibition worth driving for.

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