Mitt Romney's epic failed run for the presidency last week is still being dissected as I type these words and will likely continue in the weeks and months ahead, as the angry finger-pointing about who is to blame rips apart the GOP. While I sit back and enjoy that cavalcade of recrimination, the Republican Party would do well to adopt the philosophy at the heart of “ex•pose: macha suzuki,” now on exhibition at Laguna Art Museum. Built around the theme that failure isn't an end, but a gateway to growth, character-building and regrouping, Suzuki's work is generous, child-like and a lot of fun. Guaranteed to put a grin on your face, the work is curated with immaculate taste and a thorough, insightful series of interviews and biographical material by Grace Kook-Anderson. It's impossible to not embrace the gentle spirit of Suzuki's work (or fail to be embraced by it).
The sheep in Minor Threat, its plastic coat of white pom-poms pierced by two arrows that cause it to bleed different colors perfectly embodies the artist's world-view. Head up, surrounded by a Matrix bullet time of dozens of arrows frozen midair, each one just inches from penetrating its coat, what's unusual here is that the doomsday scenario is anything but. This is about change through adversity, not death, with the arrows changing the color dynamic of the sheep, moving it from bland white to a rainbow hue. That the title also suggests the Washington, D.C., punk band with the same name and its eponymous record cover with a black sheep escaping a herd of white sheep, suggests our woolly Saint Sebastian will not only survive, but also be better for the experience.
Nice Try, an archery target, a perfect circle of arrows at the edge of it and the middle pristine, gives us an archer trying again and again and again to hit the mark, making his Sisyphean failure more honorable than depressing. Blessings In the Skies' handicapped seagulls fly side by side, each missing a wing, but the two birds make up for their deficiencies with the two halves making a whole. A fitting political metaphor if this were a political show—which it isn't—and a perfectly extended hand to a damaged world that needs to work together to get to where it needs to be.
The collective in Huddle, 10 figures in Occupy drag, might be planning a revolution or they might just be facets of the same man (Suzuki) deciding on a game plan. One figure has a clipboard, and if you sneak a peek over its shoulder at the white-paper game plan, you can see the stray scrawls of a child, made by colored pencil or crayon. Fatherhood equals child's play. Meanwhile, 2008's Fail features the word hidden among a bare, brown system of branches and enhanced and bolded by colored yarn, drawing/demanding our attention to it. In the lovely sequel created a few years later, the exhilaratingly positive Permission to Fail, the FAIL has grown bigger, suggesting repeated errors over the years, but this time, the branches are flush with green foliage.
There are many other pieces in the show—which I'll let you discover on your own—all of them worth noting for their beauty or innovation or the statement that they make. Despite the brilliant near-perfection of the show, let me toss out two critiques: Press materials describe Suzuki's work as surreal, which I think is a mistake. Surrealism is as much philosophy and politics as it is style and, in describing new work, seems to be a catchall for odd, dream-like work that isn't “natural.” When talking about Dalí and his ilk, it's important to note these guys were art terrorists, out to destroy what had come before them (while simultaneously making bank doing so). They made zero effort to reach out to viewers or overtly communicate ideas with their work, immersing themselves in abstract images to avoid the personal in favor of the intentionally obscure. Meaning was an afterthought.
Suzuki simply doesn't fit into that category: His work in abstract symbols is complex, deeply personal and geared toward intellectual and emotional statements. Calling the work surreal is too easy. He belongs in a class all his own. Last, but not least, this show deserves an exhibition upstairs in one of the larger galleries. Hiding the work in the basement makes the trek to discover it an exciting adventure, but it's too damn good to be concealed down there. Certainly not an epic fail, but a fail, nonetheless.
This review appeared in print as “The Beauty of Fail: Laguna Art Museum's 'ex•pose: macha suzuki' meditates on life's shortcomings.”
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.