Until fairly recently, artists seemed primarily intent
on expressing their own rarefied vision, one to be decoded by an equally
rarefied audience. Today reality is in: Artists paint, photograph or
otherwise depict what happens to be around us - the good, the bad and the
ugly. The mundane has become de rigueur, the detritus of daily life worthy
of contemplation - Everyman rules.
Huntington Beach Art Center Curator Darlene DeAngelo has put together a
small multimedia exhibition titled "Selected, Preferred, Chosen" that
exemplifies the trend. True to her New York roots, DeAngelo, who professes
fascination with the activities behind construction fences that are revealed
only through those small tempting viewing holes, picked three artists who
can be described as kindred spirits - wanderers who prefer gritty urbanism
to pristine gentrification. She picked the trio from a group whose work
comprised the Huntington's annual "Centered on the Center" exhibition.
Painter Ian M. Kennelly, installation artist Betsy Lohrer Hall and
photographer Tram Davies found beauty on freeway construction sites, in
piles of broken asphalt and concrete, in the hieroglyphic markings of
deserted streets, in abandoned buildings and the serenity of barren
beachfronts. Kennelly fills, for the most part, large canvasses with images
of highways under construction ("Parastereoscopic"), down-at-the-heel
suburban tract houses dwarfed by electricity towers ("To Get to the Other
Side") oil rigs protruding from soil bereft of life ("Boom"), and a stretch
of neglected land waiting to be developed ("Inbetween Phases"). He paints,
and rather well at that, scenes we routinely take in and dismiss. His work
suggests that most of us have become drive-by observers, seeing much but
Looking at Tram Davies' pristine, elegant photographs (selenium-toned
silver gelatin prints) of outdated shopping malls, sleek office buildings
abandoned for the night and quaint apartment houses awaiting their date with
the wrecking ball, one gets a feeling of material obsolescence as well as of
the transient and temporal nature of existence. These structures are not
meant to last. But then, neither are we, and that makes those coldly perfect
compositions, shot only in available light, compelling and somewhat scary.
Even though it is an installation/assemblage, Betsy Lohrer Hall's "Field
and Jetty" turned out to be compelling after a negative first impression.
Let's face it: The idea of putting castoff materials together in the name of
art has become a bit stale by now. But, following DeAngelo's lead, I
conceded a perverse sort of beauty to the jagged chunks of asphalt and
concrete, and Hall's careful arrangement of the erstwhile mess on the
Yielding to the power of suggestion, I visualized rocks and jetties while
feebly resisting a sudden urge to skip from piece to piece. Thus, Hall
accomplishes a mission that is as old as art itself, namely to convert her
audience to her vision.
To her credit, De Angelo tends to keep shows fairly small, concise and
thus accessible to an increasingly hurried and harried populace. Whether
that is what the ruling city burghers had in mind when, a few years ago,
they directed the center to focus on more community-oriented art is open to
conjecture. But so far, the once dreaded deluge of
drag-the-easel-out-of-doors fare does not seem to have materialized.