Over the years, Axis Gallery’s National Juried Exhibitions have been one of the brightest spots in Sacramento’s summer art scene. This year’s, the 12th annual, is no exception.
Juror Mat Gleason, Southern California critic, curator and founder of Coagula, a controversial art magazine David Bowie once described as “cruel, insensitive, unfair and thoroughly readable from cover to cover,” strikes an almost apocalyptic note in his introduction to a show dominated by overtly political art.
Describing the show as “curated, not juried,” he opines that at a time when “the world we once knew has ended,” the theme of the show he has selected is “Art Is a Flag Flying Above a Smoking Battlefield.”
Gary Aagard’s “White Lie,” a jarring critique of President Donald Trump and his supporters, might be an illustration of that theme. In it, a hooded Klansman with a lying Pinocchio nose draped with a Confederate flag stands under ominous black clouds in a barren landscape. Chilling, if a bit heavy-handed, it sets the tone for much of the show.
Trump is also the butt of Gini Holmes’ juror’s-award-winning, “I Just Start Kissing,” a ruffled white pillow with a circular image that might be out of The Arabian Nights of a man making unwelcome advances to a frightened woman. The image is encircled by Trump’s famous quote about what he does to beautiful women.
Like it, many of the works in the show have a feminist perspective. Covered with a velvety black fabric, Coco Hall’s sculpture, “Goddess Lawn Chair,” with a nod to surrealist Meret Oppenheim, has a soft seat that bears zippers with feathery vulva-like openings.
Not all feminist images are done by women. Thomas Whitworth’s photographic triptych “Constructed Realities (Black Book/Sad Nude)” addresses the sexual objectification of women, while Michael Spillers’ “les demoiselles d’burkha,” a take off Picasso’s famous Cubist painting of North African prostitutes, critiques the oppression of women in many Muslim countries.
Concerns about the homeless are taken up in David Talbott’s ironic image of a homeless snowman and a happy 1950s family; gun violence is addressed in Donna Meeks ironically delicate silverpoint drawing of a bullet wound; Margi Weir comments on police brutality in “Blue Is Not A Neutral”; and the plight of immigrants separated from their homelands is evoked by Mayra Ramos Chavez’s poignant “Casita Humilde,” a naive yet somehow visionary image of a small house surrounded by succulent cactus plants. It also received a juror’s award.
Other works are notable simply for being interesting artworks. Larry Caveny’s painterly, expressionistic portrait of Charles Bukowski is reminiscent of works by Francis Bacon.
Mark Bauer’s fascinating images of surreal scenes call up association with some of the funkily grotesque and wildly imaginative works that came out of the Sacramento-Davis area in the late 1960s and 1970s. His painting “Sailor’s Delight at Ask Not Harbor” in which a Medusa-like woman holds a boatman prisoner, also won a juror’s award.
More traditional in approach is Corinne Chaix’s meticulously drawn portrait of legendary artist Ed Moses isolated in a huge plexiglass vitrine. It’s a witty and well done homage to the influential, innovative Los Angeles artist.
Traditional, too, in methodology if not in spirit, are a pair of intriguing oil paintings that have an unsettling effect.
Joe Bottomly’s “Quinn’s Addiction,” a compelling portrait of a bearded man in a red hooded jacket with an opium poppy in his mouth, strikes me as an oblique reference to the opioid crisis but is decidedly romantic and 19th century in feeling.
YIGIE XIE’s “honey bear” is a shadowy still life of a plastic container filled with honey and enigmatic objects on a shelf that makes me think of a smaller, dark-edged version of one of Michael Tompkins’ shelf still life paintings.
Gleason has put together a strong show that addresses issues of current concern that are on the minds of many. I recommend it highly.
Axis 12th National Exhibition
Where: Axis Gallery, 625 S Street in the Verge Center for the Arts building
When: Through August 27. 12 to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday and by appointment.