OCMA's California-Pacific Triennial Is Pacific Rim, Minus Giant Robots

If you blink and don't pick up the flier at Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) announcing the three additional off-site galleries working in conjunction with the California-Pacific Triennial, you'll miss easy accessibility; a visit to Santa Ana, Orange and Newport Beach galleries, all within a few minutes of one another; and exhilarating work building on the exhibition at OCMA, as well as a pair of artists not featured there, but getting a lucky break in the outside venues.

Grand Central Art Center's “Nothing Else Left” by Adriana Salazar is a uniquely sublime display of artificial body parts “rescued” from the trash bins of local mortuaries. Equal parts elegant and elegiac, curated with impeccable taste by GCAC director John Spiak, five beige, Ikea-style tables are lined up, then covered with tiny wires, metal screws, brackets, hinges, staples and prostheses, all charred and twisted by crematorium flames. Salazar's solemn mementos of burnt metal and porcelain, covered in soft patinas of gray, white and black are laid out with a dignity befitting their source, at each table a magnet directly under a tiny smear of metal-enhanced ash that vibrates with a life crying out, “I'm here! I'm here! Don't forget me!”

Curator/gallery director David Michael Lee has the prettiest work on display in “ALLEGORY/cave” at the lovely new Coastline Art Gallery, but the two Triennial artists are Coastline's least interesting part of the exhibition. Dario Escobar's pool-cue sculptures look as though they're in the process of dropping from a great height (or collapsing), about to hit the floor as a jumble of rubber-bumpered, leather-tipped pick-up sticks. While his artist statement talks about Chinese manufacturing, parasitic modernity and capitalist society, the take-home is basically that the work is nice to look at. Likewise, Brice Bischoff's long-exposure photos of colored paper in movement create a rainbow palette, but they're just a variation on his Glassell Park series, this time taken at the famous Bronson Caves of Griffith Park instead of his studio.

Much cooler is Bischoff's accompanying 58-minute video, compiling cheesy film clips from Grade-D movies (as well as a few classics, including the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the TV series Batman) that used the location. More exciting is Lee's addition of an artist not featured at OCMA: Stella Lai. Her rich, colorful, fully badass paintings of Chinese women in warrior stances or Japanese kitsune women with fox tails—often surrounded by humping pandas, ethereal Chinese ribbons, waves red as blood or vaginal flowers—masterfully demolish the cliché of Asian women as passive sexual accessories. With Lai, these women own their sexuality, their occasional nudity adding to their power (as opposed to implying vulnerability). Of course, it helps that her women wear body armor, ride tigers, and carry swords and combat sticks as they prepare to battle the West.

Less vibrant, but as intellectually unforgettable as Salazar's work, is curator Marcus Herse's genius pairing of conceptual artists Mitchell Syrop and York Chang in “Syrop & Chang” at Chapman University's Guggenheim Gallery in Orange. Violent death and the media's inability to do anything except spread fear is the exhibition's caché, and while we never see a drop of blood or hear an agonized cry, an unsettling darkness is everywhere.

Chang's nine waist-high stacks of newspapers, headlines screaming about the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, claim the floor as the centerpiece of the show, and he has placed folded pages from The New York Times and LA Times on a shelf near a corner. Their titles threaten “Comeuppance for Rich, At Least on Screen” and detail the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Chile in 2010. The black backs of 36 framed Polaroids revealing only the date stamp and not the incident captured, as well as the four fluorescent light fixtures wrapped completely in black rope, are two perfect images succinctly describing modern media as darkness and little (en)lightenment.

I didn't connect with Syrop's OCMA work, but his deliriously creepy series of 20 blow-ups of a notebook filled with antic, scribbled Sharpie ramblings (“Hands up,” “I Don't/Have No/Patients,” “Neither Family Knew of the Other's Existence Until,” among others) have an In Cold Blood narrative of sorts, the abbreviated ramblings reminiscent of a stream of consciousness short-circuited by a psychotic break. In the same vein are his blow-ups of five written, erased and rewritten chalkboards, their ghostly unreadable outlines of erased words appearing behind new words, a historical palimpsest of future aggression. Needless to say: Don't blink.


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.

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