Kitsch-In-Sync: Art and its Opposite
curated by Bradford J. Salamon
through March 21
Coastline Community College Art Gallery, Newport Beach
Written by Mario Vasquez
Clement Greenberg, in his 1939 essay for the Partisan Review entitled “Kitsch and the Avant Garde,” set up a demarcation line that defined modern and contemporary art since. Greenberg states, “civilization produces simultaneously two such different things a poem by T. S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song, or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover.” Greenberg clearly wanted to separate the avant-garde that had been dominant in cities like Paris from the growth in advertising, which was increasingly represented by the primary economic and military power of the United States. He became the advocate and the leading proponent of Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism was primarily abstract art. Representational or figuration in the eyes of Greenberg was the gateway to “decay” or the “imitation of the imitating.” Between 1945, at the end of the Second World War, around 1955, abstraction dominated the lexicon. Then something happened. Between 1955 and 1965, artists began looking at advertising, comics, popular culture, and other forms of mass communication as a source of artistic expression. Art was no longer internal, it was becoming external. Figuration was acceptable. Greenberg’s “internal critique” became discarded for a more universal language of advertising, comics and popular culture. This shift became what is known today as Pop Art. Pop Art was and is currently a figurative movement. The current show at Coastline Community College “Kitsch-In-Sync: Art and its Opposite” curated by figurative painter Bradford J. Salamon looks at the legacy of this shift from the abstract to the figure, which occurred between 1955 and 1965, by presenting works from 48 artists, working primarily in painting.
Salamon as a curator does an excellent job of presenting contemporary figurative Pop Art as a liberating force. The idea of Kitsch can be a dismissive term of art to those extolling high art’s virtues. Salamon argues that the figurative in Pop or as is referred to as “kitsch” communicates and connects the viewer with ideas and concepts associated with “high art.” Topics such as beauty, sex, gender, consumerism, the erotic, philosophy, and other ideas are covered in “Kitsch-In-Sync.” The title is ironic in that the idea of “kitsch,” not considered “art” by Greenberg, is the highest form of art.
The works in “Kitsch-in-Sync” explore a range of subjects. The works of Jeff Gillette creates a dystopian vision of Disneyland, while Gordon McClelland explores the work of Barbara Keane and her “low-brow” doe-eyed children. Mr. Let’s Paint (John Kilduff), David Michael Lee, Ashley Bravin, Tony Pinto and David DeFelice explore art historical and modern figures such as Jeff Koons, Rauschenberg, Picasso, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. Leigh Salgado, Eric Johnson, and Angela Izzo are explicit in their femininity eroticism and sexuality. Other artists such as Michael Flechtner, Raymond Logan, Kristine Schomaker, Kerri Sabine-Wolf, John Marcella Grant, and Arthur Taussig explore kitsch through material culture by using still life painting portraying common objects and things. The work Craig Skibs Barker, Ciara Rafferty and David Kluver examine leisure time as art. Regina Jacobson, Jeffrey Vallance, and Bradford J. Salamon look at icons of popular culture as a way of both upending traditional ideas of the iconic and thus creating new icons in the process. Victoria Reynolds, Gay Summer Rick, Karrie Ross, and Catherine Ruane present a kitsch as a vehicle to create new landscapes formed by a consumerist society.
The most provocative work is Sarena Potter’s “Dilemma” where two middle-class women discover their husband’s secret; the hidden stash of Playboy magazines. The painting is an allegory of the time which presents a turning point that occurred while the shift from abstract to figurative occurred in the 1950s and 60s; the beginning of the sexual revolution. Great figurative work can take you to a moment when everything chances and the viewer is left with pondering the consequences of the discovery. Potter’s painting was the highlight of this exhibition. As both a curator and painter, Salamon chooses the work from the standpoint of an artists. The moment when kitsch became art is a moment that has a deep meaning with Salamon, and it is demonstrated with the excellent quality of artists and art that is shown in this exhibition. “Kitsch-in-Sync” as a group show tells the story of a pivotal moment in art history that resonates to this day. That moment is a point of inspiration for Salamon, and the works chosen demonstrates a dynamic which connects the viewer with the work and the work with the viewer.
Coastline Community College Art Gallery
1515 Monrovia Ave. Newport Beach, 92663