Malibu Seen

GRITTY NOT PRETTY

You know you are at Art LA when you come across a ’70s-era, banana-yellow refrigerator with a big sign that says “FREE BEER.” Like Alice, curiosity got the better of me and I carefully opened the door. There it was-neatly stacked long neck bottles of ice-cold Pacifico. “Is this part of the art?” I asked the curator. “Yes,” I was told. “Can you take one?” I inquired. “Sure,” I was told. “That’s part of the ‘social art’ aspect of it.” “Wow,” I said, continuing to look at another piece entitled “Beers from China to Czechoslovakia.” “What about this one,” I asked, pointing to a colorful Indian brand that had caught my eye. “No!” I was warned “That’s part of the art.”

Offerings from modern artists like beer-loving Tom Marioni aren’t always easy to understand, but they certainly make Art LA an interesting affair. Unlike the Los Angeles Art Show, sweet ballerinas, breathtaking landscapes and elegant portraits were few and far between. This is gritty, hardcore, in-your-face contemporary art.

Chris Taggert’s piercing piece looked downright dangerous. The sculptor was busy blowtorching an enormous bronze statue that resembled scaly chicken claws in the form of a tree. “Actually, it’s a chicken anemone,” he said matter of factly. “I’ve been working on it for a year and a half. I like chickens, but I do other stuff too; whatever floats my boat.”

Down the hall, an old Marantz turntable was playing a scratchy Devo 45 with eight needles. It provided the perfect soundtrack for Christoph Schirmer’s acid trip homage to Hunter S. Thompson, depicting a massive pick-up truck with big gooey tires, bleeding scenery and monstrous forms entitled “Front: Vampires in the Sky and Where the F— is Private Gonzo?” Other creative curiosities included a rubber duck dressed in a suit, Mickey Mouse in blackface and a fountain made of ceramic hamburgers, plastic tweedy birds, oil cans, washboards and a Darth Vader mask. Hmm, where is Eli Broad when you need him?

Argentinean artist Fabian Marcaccio had a massive acrylic and silicone canvas that at first glance looked like a violent explosion in a pasta factory. On closer examination, it turned out to be a disturbing scene of electronics gone bad. “They are called ‘Paintents'” Adriana Vergara explained, “Like paintings that are mutating. The message is about how society has gotten crazy with electronic influence.”

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The artist’s rep said the mutating paintings give us lots to think about. “This is history. It breaks all the rules and it’s not supposed to be pretty. I wouldn’t want to take it home, but people do.”

Just around the corner, there was a collection of iPods turned into eerie tribal masks, the contents of a garbage can, empty pizza boxes and candy apples hanging from a guillotine. I paused on the way out to look at something that seemed out of place. It was a simple African protea blossom in a crystal vase. I didn’t linger too long or look too hard. It probably wasn’t supposed to be pretty.

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