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Art and Politics Mix in Pair of Gallery Exhibits

Local Emily Murray points to newsprint incorporated into a mixed media work at Ar4T’s Elephants & Asses exhibit.

This year’s election season didn’t lack for an avalanche of advertising, speech-making and mud-slinging, but it did lack a stand-out political button.

Leave it to two Laguna Beach galleries to fill in this communicative void, staging exhibits centered on national politics and Tuesday’s election, with one presenting a wall filled with mock lapel buttons.

The Laguna Beach gallery Ar4T’s “Elephants & Asses,” presents a show centered on chronologically young or young at heart artists espousing their social and political views. Works are refreshingly un-preachy but still maintaining serious-minded motifs, devoid of the vitriol that had many pull the plug on their TV sets.

Some works, like Danny Schutt’s “Results, Not Causes,” could even be described as elegant. Schutt replicates party headquarters’ banners and signs in four joined panels with the elephant and its donkey adversary uncomfortably squeezed together into a too small space like big ideas crowded into small minds.

Some of the mock political buttons in the Threee Brothers installation.

There is a bit of suggestive humor, as in Adam Mars’ graffiti-like stencil affixed to a gold brick wall stating “Girls Say Obama Has a Big Debt.” The implications of money, power, gender politics and race are hard to miss.

The showstopper here is Camilla Taylor’s exquisitely executed, skeletal donkey. The lugubrious little beast might inspire unending interpretations, but its artistic merit all can agree on.

The star of the show, which continues through this weekend, is the “Unity Project,” a series of over-sized buttons created by Jorg Dubin, Jeff Peters and Mark Garry, who have formed an artistic collaborative “Threee Brothers.”  Their buttons are big disks that make little sense unless viewed with rudimentary knowledge of social, political and cultural history. For example, Ford and Dole, presidential running mates in 1976, also represent brands as generic products, said Peters.

The again, what’s to make of a button combining (Jimmy) Carter with the Union 76 logo or one saying “I like Ike,” that shows, rather than Dwight Eisenhower, R&B musician Ike Turner or another button that combines the presidential Ike with a Nike swoosh? There is also Mickey Mouse and a blue Viagra pill turned into a “Popsicle Pill.”

Jorge Sicre’s “We The Sheeple,” in the Capital Crime$ exhibit at BC Space.

“Buttons have become relics of past political seasons. Here they contain the overarching theme that we wanted a fun statement and not just a cynical one,” said Dubin. Garry compares the project to an artistic Marshall Plan, a purposeful mash-up of culture, politics and commerce designed to get people’s thinking out of established ruts.

He also masterminded two American flags, one made from repurposed military uniforms  and the other with stripes made from baby blankets and stars from rubber nipples as a comment on the mass dependency on government.

Liberal activist Mark Chamberlain, proprietor of BC Space, staged “Capital Crime$,” featuring his cadre of political and artistic soul-mates, to coincide with the elections. With a deft but predictable hand, Chamberlain has assembled works, on exhibit through December, by well knowns such as Dubin, Lynn Kubasek, Paul Darrow, Frank Dixon and Lev Anderson that are somewhat edgier and angrier than those shown at Ar4T. But then, this is an older generation, veterans (Chamberlain served during the Vietnam War) in more ways than one.

Chamberlain asked 60 artists not only to submit works but also phrase a question to either presidential candidate on any topic ranging from climate change to birth control, to the death penalty. Alas, only a smattering of those questions were heard at a forum he conducted last Sunday at the gallery. (Nor were the contenders there to field them.)

Gena Genis’ “Economy Portraits” are hundreds of photographs of young and old people taken while she served as artist in residence at the Huntington Beach Art Center. Though not submitting a question, she let the faces speak for themselves in wrenching  tales of economic distress in an accompanying notebook.

Local Tom Lamb’s “Court Corrections, Society Values,” an aerial view of an abandoned youth correction facility, raises questions about misdirected funds and the effectiveness of the current penal system.

Among many quality works, Lev Anderson’s “John Doe Falling Down,” a video consisting of “found” movie footage and documentaries, stands out. That money and power corrupt has become cliché, but in Anderson’s at times tongue-in-cheek view it becomes fresh again. And then there was his written clincher question: “If you could have seen into the future and seen the approach of global warming, what steps would you have taken to prevent it.”

Chamberlain plans to hold future forums where young and not so young artists will have a chance to answer those questions for themselves.

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