Art Reviews

Freedom From Cool: Of all the illustrious adjectives available to describe a work of art today, “earnest” in not among the most glamorous.

Any self-respecting contemporary artist would be proud to be called provocative, cool, angry, playful, ironic, cynical, sexy, hip, dynamic, violent or edgy, but “earnest” implies a degree of sincerity that might be considered a liability in our stylish urban world.  It calls to mind agrarian landscape paintings at an Iowa state fair, or hand-painted greeting cards sold in a seaside tourist town.

An exuberant group show on view at Occidental College, organized by independent critic Micheal Duncan and appropriately titled “The Importance of Being Earnest”, after the Oscar Wilde play, reclaims the unfashionable term with shameless sincerity.  The show brings together a group of 30 mostly outstanding contemporary artists , whose work is said to “side-step the strictures of postmodernism and deal openly with such art world taboos as spirituality, commitment, celebratory decoration and psychological confession.”

Many of these are familiar artists - such as Lari Pittman, Bruce Conner and Llyn Foulkes - whose work is rejuvenated by the relaxed context of the small, crowded galleries.  Others are less familiar and bring a vitality to the show that provides a pleasant balance. All embrace their freedom from what Duncan calls “the aesthetics of cool”, filling the galleries with an invigorating camaraderie.

Particularly notable among the works is Tom Knechtel’s “Tinglado (A Ghost Story)” (1997), a gorgeous and somewhat Pittmanesque hurricane of bizarre and delicate detail; Laura Lasworth’s “(miss Mystery and Manners) Portrait of Flannery O’Conner” (1997), a misty pink dreamscape that enthrones O’Conner within a haunting symbolic landscape; and Nancy Jackson’s “Courtyard with Canopy” (2000), an angelic diorama engulfed in delightfully girlish materials like beads, pearls, mirrors, and shells.

This last work is a wonderful piece of fantasy that captures the essence of this quirky but eminently enjoyable show: an earnest belief in the simple wonder of creation.


Weingart Galleries and Mullin Sculpture Garden, Occidental College, 1600 Campus Road, L.A., (323) 259-2749, through March 16.