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Photograph by Eric A. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly


By Eric A. Carlson

"Good art won't match your sofa."

--Fred Bobb

ONCE RESPLENDENT in a coat of faded aquamarine, Building 157, a Lockheed monument in Sunnyvale for several hundred years, was recently repainted primer gray and now resembles the Chernobyl sarcophagus or a 1959 Bondoed Buick. There is a cafeteria on the first floor, and I was dining there with Marty and Kurt as Marty described a 99-cent store in Lodi that sells unlabeled bottles of cabernet sauvignon for 99 cents a bottle. Marty swears the wine is like nectar--fluid fit for gods. He was going to bring me a bottle, he said, but drank it first. Perhaps appropriately, Kurt stated that a fourth spatial dimension exists--proven by mathematicians--that resembles hypercubes. Which is only one dimension away from the fifth dimension--home to Mr. Mxyztplk the mischievous imp. Which gets one to thinking.

Every so often Mxyztplk breaks out of the fifth dimension and hops into ours, with the express intention of creating mayhem in a humorous fashion. His appearance in the San Jose area would explain a lot, not only about maimed Lockheed buildings but also about plans for parking under city parks and building duplicate City Halls. And might account for some of the suspect statues sprouting up in the Valley of Heart's Delight.

Kudos to the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA) for dropping all admission fees. Although this may be perceived as a reckless act, exposing countless men, women and children to heinous works of art, there are bound to be saving graces attendant. Michael Kennedy's lugubrious Green Fuse may indeed induce vomiting, but Joan Brown's glorious The Journey #1 provides an immediate Pepto Bismol antidote. SJMA palliates the miasmal effects of its more blood-curdling objets d'art by allowing patrons to fill out critiques adjacent to the subject piece. I highly recommend this; it is better than screaming inwardly.

SJMA bad art has Mxyztplk written all over it. And I propose a mxyztplkian contest to determine the Ugliest Painting in the San Jose Museum of Art. The following standouts are offered as nominees: 23rd Street (1957) by Edward Dugmore, Green Fuse (1973) by Michael Kennedy, Circular Ruin by Larry Thomas, Chinese Profile II by Hung Liu, Emeryville Figures (1999) by Terry St. John, Hog Island (1979) by William Wheeler, and last but not least by a long shot, Kathryn Spence's untitled "Mud Animal" (1999)--which is not a painting but a ball of mud composed of stuffed animals, furry bathrobes and ... mud. Please visit the museum and write or email Metro with your choice--winner will be announced in a later column.

Bad art can be fun, but there is choice Grade A Beef at SJMA as well. Joan Brown's The Journey #1 is luminous and smart--and looks good on a wall. Sandow Birk's A Partial View of Rio De Janeiro (1997) is at first glance a handsome colonial view of a harbor and ships. But closer examination reveals bitter ironies: homeless children, civilian deaths at the hands of corrupt police, and a mention of being the plastic surgery capital of the world. And an exhibition, Jo Whaley's photographs--Natura Morta, is wonderful. These are darkly colored and darkly humorous still lifes with the most amazing flotsam and jetsam matériel. I am quite fond of Cross-Pollination (1992), which depicts bees drawn on pieces of cardboard, and rusty tin cans beneath a vase of sunflowers. Jo does not employ digital darkroom techniques, using Photoshop or the ilk, but assembles objects and painted backgrounds bathed in florid impossible light. Her photos are reminiscent of 16thcentury Mannerist paintings--every one looking good on a wall.

Wayne Thiebaud lives just up the street, in Frisco Frisco; couldn't SJMA snag a couple of his desert paintings? Just a thought. I suspect Hockney is out of the question.

Final Note: The death of Joan Brown at the top of her game is inexplicable, perplexing and downright mxyztplkian--crushed by a falling obelisk. Her paintings of dogs and cats are among the finest things in the world--a molten meld of humor and beauty and poetry.

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From the July 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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