First I Saw God and Then I Saw Satan

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First I Saw God and Then I Saw Satan

It's Summer time, and living is supposed to be easy. But not for yours truly. Friday night I went to a performance of sacred Hindu Indian music and dancing, which took place in a private studio here in Santa Monica. The following morning, off I go to a Bar Mitzvah for a wonderful young man, Josh - my best friend's son. More music, more dancing and - this being a Jewish celebration - a lot of wonderful food. What else could one wish for on a perfect weekend? Well, how about seeing God at the Laguna Art Museum? No, I'm not being ironic. Later that very day I drove to Laguna Beach for the opening of the exhibition "100 Artists See God", curated by two well-known L.A. artists and respected art teachers, John Baldessari and Meg Cranston.

This traveling exhibition was first shown at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco and after a stop over here in Laguna Beach it travels to the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia. Most of the participating artists are from Southern California. It's safe to assume that they are either colleagues, friends or former students of Baldessari and Cranston. Each is represented by one artwork. Scott Grieger, <I>Beware of God</I>, 1996; Acrylic on canvas, 17-1/2 x 21-1/2 inches; Collection of the artistNone of the artworks come across as being overtly religious. Few artists dare to venture into dangerous waters of traditional depiction of 'Our Savior', whoever She, He, or It is supposed to be. One can always rely on rabble-rouser artist Reverend Ethan Acres to raise an eyebrow or two. In a large photographic print, he presents himself kneeling in a state of ecstasy in front of The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, while experiencing a vision of the Son of God, whose crucified, pale, naked body, with long blonde hair, floats in the blue sky. The most striking element in this work is that Christ is turned away from us so we can only see his naked back.

Raymond Pettibon, keeping a straight face, draws a figure of Madonna with child, reminiscing a medieval statue. Madonna's robe is blue and at the bottom of the page the artists writes, "Even her nylons were light blue". Hmmm, I'd love to hear the confession of that artist.

Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997), <I>Fred the Frog Rings the Bell</I>, 1990; Carved wood and steel nails, 51-1/8 x 33-3/8 x 9-3/4 inches, Artist's proof from an edition of 7; Collection of Norman and Norah Stone, San Francisco, Courtesy Thea Westreich Art Advisory ServicesThe exhibition is divided into 16 sections, with such titles as "Artists See God as Mother, As Tyrant, As the Great Organizer, As Miracle Worker, As Architect" and the list goes on. Very inclusive indeed but at the same time very, very vague for my taste. There is certain fun in guessing the connection between an artwork and its manifestation of God. Not surprisingly with such a big show, one encounters a few very good works, many competent and, unfortunately, quite a lot of rather weak works.

And finally on Sunday afternoon, I drove to Santa Ana for a rendezvous with Satan. Yes, I mean it. I went there to see the exhibition "100 Artists See Satan" at the Santa Ana Art Center, which occupies a picturesque old building in the heart of the old city. This exhibition is a light-hearted, delightfully blasphemous response to its more highfalutin cousin in Laguna Beach. Victoria Reynolds, <I>For the Carnal in Dante's Hell</I>, 1999; Oil on panel in artist's frame, 28-1/4 x 32-1/4 inches; Collection of the artistThere are fewer good works here, but even the bad ones are funny and on occasion very, very naughty. You have to see it to believe it. For fear of God I wouldn't dare describe them! This exhibition is a good reminder of why actors like to play the bad-boy role. It's so much more fun.

100 Artists See Satan
Grand Central Art Center
125 N. Broadway
Santa Ana, CA
Ends September 19

100 Artists See God
Laguna Art Museum
307 Cliff Drive
Laguna Beach, CA
Ends October 3