Tribute 2

Mixed Media
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Editorial Review

D.C. area art gallery shows highlight new works

By Mark Jenkins
Friday, July 29, 2011

The current exhibition at Irvine Contemporary isn't dedicated to national identity. But it's hard to miss the four American-flag variations just inside the door, and there's another version of the Stars and Stripes elsewhere in the show. Add three local artists who riff on the cultures of their ancestral homelands - Japan, Iran and Peru - and a theme almost emerges.

Officially, "Artist Tribute 2" is the venue's farewell to the 14th and P street premises it's about to leave for an unannounced new home. Like its predecessor, the show features new work by artists the gallery has shown previously, and the principal element all 10 participants share is simply a high level of craftsmanship.

Those four flags are silkscreen/collages by Shepard Fairey, the L.A. artist best known for his Obama "hope" poster. His American standards are ragged glories in red, white and black, with a variety of logos - political, commercial and other - within the stars. Dripped paint and smeary colors contrast the streamlined forms of the emblems, which include anarchism's "A," the stylized GOP elephant and the international symbol for recycling. The juxtaposition makes "Flags 1-4" a nifty piece of graphic design. As for social commentary, not all the logos suggest a country divided into permanently opposed camps. But some of them do.

The other flag is constructed from red, white and blue Dixie cups, arrayed in a wire fence and photographed by Susana Raab. Her photos of Peru (where she was born) and Mississippi observe vernacular culture and literary shrines: William Faulkner's desk and Eudora Welty's library are among her subjects.

Akemi Maegawa's two pieces are a cranial-shaped object in artificial turf - sort of a Chia brain - and "Love Daruma," a glazed white porcelain figure that's crying a silver, heart-shaped teardrop. In Japan, a Daruma doll is a good-luck talisman that pays tribute to Bodhidharma, the legendary monk credited with founding Zen Buddhism. Maegawa's nearly featureless Daruma suggests the blandness of "kawaii" (Japanese for "cute") mass culture.

Painting on Mylar, Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi combines images of modern Iran, illustrations modeled on classic Persian illuminated manuscripts and bright, flowing colors. She depicts a dragon, black helicopters and women both in and out of the head scarves required in public in contemporary Iran. The most striking of her three pieces is "Pedantic Transgression," a blue Rorschach blot that nudges a gilded page from the country's equally gilded past.

The show also draws, of course, on another sort of history: that of art itself. Gaia's large-scale drawings (sometimes atop photographs) include burlesques of classical paintings. Sebastian Martorana constructs likenesses of such banal everyday objects as a bath towel and a beanie bag from classical sculpture's noblest material, marble. And Kerry Skarbakka photographs himself swooning in front of masterpieces, experiencing the "Stendhal Syndrome," in which art overwhelms the viewer. Skarbakka collapses ironically, of course, but amid all the political and personal commentary, these 10 artists seek to astound.