Fight Club fans will find much to appreciate amid the anarchy and anxiety of “Faux Real,” the new exhibition at Laguna Art Museum. Cleverly curated by Grace Kook-Anderson, the show splits into six pliable sections that blend easily into one another, broken up by just a bare minimum of placards with her musings on them. Ostensibly about tromp l'oeil, or the artistic tricking of the eye, “Faux” is about much more than what's on the surface, as its 19 artists slow you down so you can stop to see the everyday as something extraordinary, using the silly and seemingly inconsequential to make sobering reflections on the country's (and Orange County's) consumer-culture fetish.
A close look at Richard Shaw's porcelain still lifes reveals a host of impressive detailing that easily sells the illusion of reality, given away only by the glinted shine of the overglaze: the degraded surface of an animal skull, books with their dust jackets flaking at the edges, a half-filled glass of amber booze, a cigar box that looks as though it once held a box of children's crayons or a pack of Camels next to a pair of burnt matches (Still Life With Skull and Glass, Book-Jar With Paperback and Walnuts, and Past Habits, 2009-2010). The pile of junk on an opposite table (Lauren DiCioccio's mixed media Still Life, 2013) also disorients: What one might initially dismiss as a crumpled water bottle, a memo pad and pencil, a busted clock or some ragged magazines are instead carefully embroidered cotton, felt or silk items, all tinged with the sadness that abandoned or neglected objects always seem to carry.
Tiny marvels of ingenuity, the pieces stagger the mind at the hours and labor it must have taken to put them together. The bright acrylic colors of the food items in Libby Black's Goyard Bag With Produce (2012) have a childlike feel until you notice they're stuffed into a high-priced designer bag. The necessary and nourishing contained within the exorbitant and unnecessary—all built from otherwise-fragile hot-glued paper—feels perfectly at home just down the street from Fashion Island.
Pop Art food rears its delightful head with David Gilhooly's obsessive frog ceramics. The colorful little creatures infest a broad array of foods, from tacos and cupcakes to a Whitman Sampler-styled box of chocolates. Half-cartoon/half-gross-out, his work conjures questions about what might be lurking in your food. There's also a touch of that oh, cool!/ick! factor in Michael Arcega's 2008 SPAM/MAPS: Oceania, with the artist using dried luncheon meat and pins as a commentary on the commercial spread of the questionably nutritious, precooked-meat product. Julie Bozzi's preoccupation with all things carbohydrate—ceramics and oil paintings of doughnuts and Mexican pastries such as pan de muerto and Nine Pan Dulce—is less about the food than the comfort and ritual that accompanies it, and I get that, but the picture frames holding the images are more elaborate and artful than the images themselves, and her work takes up too much of a gallery better used by other artists. I felt the same way about Jean Lowe's installation You Deserve It!: Designed to be a mixed-media acknowledgment of the quiet desperation inherent in 99-cent stores, the bare shelving save three coffee mugs, single painting and cases of stacked beer just feels too skimpy in the large gallery to have the impact of her better work.
Comfort gets the evil eye in Cheryl Ekstrom's 2007 stainless-steel castings Eames Chair and Ottoman, Large Bean Bag and Marshmallow Sofa. The pieces revel in the creases and wear caused by the bodies that rested on the original furniture, but the now-intolerant surfaces freezes them into inspired torture devices. Amy Caterina's delicious mixed-media social commentary Doomsday Bunker follows suit with its giant cupcake design, security cameras poking out from the “frosting.” Inside, the shelter's rations are wrapped in pink tea cozies amid shag carpeting, making the claustrophobic space resemble a little girl's playhouse refuge. It's easy to overlook the surveillance cameras of Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet's CCTV #2 and CCTV #3; they're surreptitiously attached to the gallery walls, blending in neatly with the museum's own cameras, until you notice the Arabic writing on them. From 2011, the pieces seem tailor-made for the recent NSA controversies, while conjuring up the numerous sacrifices in privacy we've made since 9/11.
I haven't laughed this much with both joy and astonishment since the Orange County Musuem of Art's recent Richard Jackson retrospective, as my partner and I encircled the displays, examining all sides of the work to point out details to each other. In a world in which many of the things we took for granted—economic security and political leadership the most obvious—have revealed themselves to be completely untrustworthy, “Faux Real” is a necessary slap in the face to wake up and smell the coffee that isn't there.
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.