Glittering California Perspectives: The Gildless Age at Torrance Art Museum
by Genie Davis
On view at the Torrance Art Museum through October 29th, The Gildless Age, curated by Denise Johnson, in collaboration with the museum’s curatorial department, features the work of fourteen artists. The exhibition is a wide ranging exploration of both Los Angeles and California’s political, geographical, and industrial landscapes.
Artists include Andrea Bowers, Jeff Cain, Claudia Cano, Collin Chillag, Sean Duffy, Ramiro Gomez, Justin John Greene, Jeff & Gordon (Jeff Foye & Gordon Winiemko), Elana Mann, Jane Mulfinger, Julie Shafer, Marc Trujillo, Dee Williams, and Bijan Yashar.
Depicting the emergence of today’s society from the tenets of the so-called Gilded Age, the exhibition takes on California tropes and upends them, beginning with the John Van Hamersveld poster of the classic surf film Endless Summer.
“The Gildless Age makes the case that economic, social, and political situations are cyclic, and that we still see the class war of monetary greed in how society self-harms,” Torrance Art Museum director and curator Max Presneill attests.
The exhibition takes on historical perspectives on race and environment, violence, exploitation, and labor patterns which all are the outgrowth of seeds planted during the Gilded Age, when laws supporting racial segregation, labor battles, migrations, and the growth of the oil industries all occurred.
Here we see the legacy of those seeds, from technology to environmental havoc, connecting history to today’s seeming societal-precipice; a California landscape ridden with power players, unbridled development, and pollution. The show meaningfully connects present day economic, racial, and environmental crises with the brutal but prosperous 19th century time period.
The wide variety of fascinating art, from sculpture to photography to painting takes on the topics of how our history defines the present, or at least contributed to contemporary SoCal issues. As George Santayana famously said, “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.” Here, the mistakes have not so much been repeated as they are repeating, reverberations that ripple through the generations, an echo of the past that has taken on a life of its own.
Taken individually, the pieces here are powerful, as a cohesive, thematic whole, the exhibition is a history lesson, a cogent warning, and a passionate plea for change.
Sean Duffy’s “Steel Case” is a large scale, three dimensional portal or frame composed of redwood and filing cabinets. This sculpture is a single-work summary of the exhibition’s concerns: we have lined our world with filing cabinets, consumed, or subsumed the majesty of the redwood forests into more office furniture.
Ramiro Gomez’s “Blue Evening” features pampered pups at the edge of a sleek swimming pool, with that delicious square of water being cleaned by a pool man. Evocative of class, wealth, and culture, the hard, clean lines bear mute witness to the lines being drawn between the working poor and the entitled wealthy.
Jeff Cain’s 3D-printed sculpture “Canis Latrans #1,” presents a wax-like canine with a chewed ear, and a body supported and/or riven by industrial components, oil derricks – the natural, the living, decimated by and dependent on industry.
“14114 Vanowen Street,” Mark Trujillo’s oil on polyester over aluminum, is possibly one of the show’s most haunting works. The stunning sweep of night sky is a counterpoint to the banality of what has taken over below it: a gas station and convenience store, the legacy of the oil industry. Reminiscent, just a bit, of Ed Rusha’s iconic images of a Standard gas station, this work is in one way a loving depiction of an industrial landscape, with a patina of sadness and loss. Contrasting the work of man with the wonder of nature, Trujillo has seven works in the exhibition, and his seamless, oddly sorrowful landscapes represent art to be watched for.
Julie Schafer’s black and white photographic work “Conquest of the Vertical – 600 Miles to Eureka” scans a bleak yet dream-like horizon of sea and mountains juxtaposed together. The artist intends to create landscapes as portraits, using her photography to remind viewers that we are all part of our environment.
In each of these works and those by other artists, The Gildless Age offers strong art, a strong thematic statement about our environment and our society, and through both together provides a riveting look at life in the Golden State – in a gildless world.