Courtesy of Silicon Valley Community Newspapers
Posted on Fri, Dec. 13, 2002
SJ MA looks at emerging L.A. art scene
By Jim Aquino
Since the late 1950s, Los Angeles art has been characterized by a detached, "cool" attitude. The San Jose Museum of Art's new "L.A. Post-Cool" exhibition presents the argument that in recent years, this notion of "cool" has been viewed by Los Angeles artists to be "uncool" itself. In other words, "cool" is going the way
of those La Brea Tar Pit dinosaurs.
Guest curated by L.A. art critic Michael Duncan. "L.A. Post-Cool" focuses on L.A. painters and sculptors who have departed from the detached, ironic and cynical views of their peers and shifted to creating more personal and emotional works.
As Duncan writes in an essay for the exhibition, "their works are overheated, awkward, heartfelt, stimulating, fantastical, frightening, humorous, embarrassing, romantic, earnest, undeviating and genuine."
Duncan adds in his essay that these younger artists are "fedup with the heavy-handed sarcasm of stand-up comedy, sitcoms and nearly every aspect of mass media culture."
The "post-coo1"era is also a reaction against academic postmodern thinking and "art about art"-a
movement that Duncan says has alienated the mainstream art audience. "It's time for a sea change,"
Duncan says. "I think a lot of people in the art world are ready for something new and ready for art to
reconnect with the human spirit. As corny as that may sound, it's what the show is all about."
Several paintings in the exhibition have a spiritual tone, which assistant curator JoAnne Northrup says is unpopular in the art world. Examples include Brian Mains' acrylic painting The Niche, a prison-imagery twist on the crucifix, and Laura Lasworth's oil painting St. Thérèse, Pray for Us.
"To paint in a style like this-this meticulously finished and detailed style-is not the height of fashion right now," says Northrup as she points to Lasworth's painting. "Also, the subject matter that Lasworth has chosen, St. Thérèse, the 19thcentury French poet known as The Little mower,' is religious. Lasworth is in this environment where everyone is so cool and slick, and she's doing this contemporary religious painting."
Another religiously themed work on display in "L.A. Post-Cool” is a pair of giant advertising balloon versions of Jesus Christ and Satan, designed by performance artist Reverend Ethan Acres. These are balloons that are usually intended to advertise car washes and shoe stores. Here, he's having them simulate the battle of good and evil-how each of them is trying to get our attention in culture today," says Duncan as he watches museum assistants try to keep the "Dancing Jesus” balloon afloat hours before the exhibition's opening night gala, which took place on Nov. 22. After the assistants turn off the air mover that's being used to keep the Jesus balloon afloat, Northrup jokes that "he needs to rise again."
Duncan says another theme for several of the works in ".A. Post-Cool" is the creation of fantasy worlds.
Examples include Mamie Weber's fairy tale-style video installation The Red Nurse and the Snowman and Merion Estes' sci-fi diorama Gardenof Earthly Delights, which depicts the landscape of one of 42 planets in Estes' made-up galaxy. "What the show is trying to be is a return to the individualism of artmaking, where artists are inventing their own worlds rather than making a sociological or political point," Duncan says.
Llyn Foulkes' mixed-media piece is a far less idealized depiction of a fantasyland. The veteran artist's apocalyptic, barren landscape-an American flag stands side by side with corporate logos like Mickey Mouse and the McDonald's Golden Arches-offers a satirical critique of American corporate culture.
According to Foulkes, Disney Enterprises' brainwashing of children is particularly insidious. Disney is a theme Foulkes also visited in his 1995 self-portrait, But I Thought Art Was Special (Mickey and Me), in which an image of Mickey Mouse burrowing into his brain represents how corporate America threatens his
spiritual side. "Llyn Foulkes is an incredible artist. His work has been concerned with a moral corruption of America. For him, Mickey Mouse is the symbol of all evil." Duncan says.
To Northrup, the ultimate "post-cool" piece is an untitled nude self-portrait that lesbian artist Monica Majoli worked on from 1996 to 1998. In the painting, Majoli is holding a sex toy in a pose that, according to Northrup, has made the self-portrait controversial in the lesbian community in L.A. "She's gotten some grief and negative feedback from the lesbian community because it's like she's saying, 'I want to be a man,'" Northrup says.
Like all the other works in "L.A. Post-Cool," Majoli's self-portrait defies popular trends. "This is the exact kind of thing we want to support-these artists who are emerging and doing really great work that's completely against the grain," Northrup says. Because of their disregard for popular trends, some of the "post-cool" artists have been overlooked in their own city's art scene. Duncan says “L.A. Post-Cool" features a lot of L.A. artists who he thinks are underrated.
"I wanted to mix some familiar names with some not-so-familiar names," Duncan says. "The San Jose Museum of Art is a great museum because they're open-minded and willing to experiment. That's why the show is here."
The "L.A. Post-Cool" exhibition will be on display until March 23 on the upstairs floor of the San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St., San Jose. For more information, visit