Every year, Irvine Fine Arts Center hosts an open group exhibition to showcase Southern California artists — partly as a way to offer contemporary up-and-coming artists an opportunity to exhibit and partly as a way to make money. One of their only pay-to-play exhibitions, with a $20 entry fee and awards totaling in $1,300, the “All Media Exhibition” includes some really amazing works of art that might have gone unseen by Irvine residents otherwise.
The annual juried exhibition is a much-anticipated highlight in the Arts Center’s programming and offers all levels of Southern California artists the opportunity to showcase their talents in a reputable gallery in Irvine. Juried by a different person each year, this exhibition doesn’t just show random artworks that are submitted, but a conscious collection of outstanding and extraordinary talent through the lens of an experienced arts professional’s critical eye. This year’s juror was Constance Mallinson, a renowned artist, writer and curator. Her artworks are in collections like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pomona College Museum of Art, San Jose Museum of Art, and the National Academy of Sciences. Her professional arts writing has been featured in Art in America, X-TRA, Fabrik, Artillery and The Times Quotidian.
Mallinson has helped the Arts Center craft an eclectic and fascinating exhibition that dives into colorful and conceptually-driven pieces in a variety of forms and styles. The curation of the artwork also speaks to the impeccable eye of the juror and staff of the Arts Center — the show leads you through the work instinctively, through color and form, keeping you entertained the whole way through.
More than 50 different artists are exhibited in this iteration of the annual showcase, and they span a great variety of style and skill. The first small gallery visitors happen upon is a bright and colorful exploration through paintings, sculpture, installation and mixed media works. This room exudes palpable energy and life through its textural works and its unabashed showcase of color. Christine Atkinson’s mixed media installation work Of Paradise is the first thing you are drawn to in this space. Bright, strange and textural, this piece uses several materials to compose a kind of interpretation of a tropical paradise that has a shining coldness to it.
Another piece in this space that catches your eye is the Threadwinners’ Techstile Blanket. This “blanket” is a humorous and creative crocheted tapestry that has three-dimensional technological objects covering every surface. Referencing so many different types of technology in one blanket evokes a feeling of chaos and over-consumption of goods, which resonates with our current culture’s obsession with technology. The heavy blanket looks as though it would weigh down anybody who had it on them, which also parallels the weight of the technological burden placed on our culture today.
The larger main gallery space in the Arts Center includes the title wall for the exhibition and an assorted and more muted collection of works ranging from mixed media pieces, prints, paintings, drawings and small sculptures. The space is large with high ceilings and tall white walls but feels underutilized as the pieces in this gallery are all similar shades of neutral colors and of varying sizes. With few stand-out works, this space gets lost among the others.
Blair Martin Cahill’s Nine Nudes is a small but significant work on display in the front of this space that beckons any viewer closer for inspection. An embroidery piece in a frame, we see traditional painting composition techniques being utilized with meticulous attention to color, shading and placement of nine different plump bodies in motion. They are obviously doing something together in this grouping, but what that something might be is unclear. It is a curious and captivating work. Nearby, Katlin Evan’s Left Overs #4 is a ghostly graphite drawing on Duralar showcasing plants and garbage intertwining with one another as if a precious strange alien life form floating in isolation.
Around the corner from the main gallery space is an additionally large space that is half living room and half exhibition space. This is of course challenging, but is made even more challenging with its heavy sculptural display.
The two-dimensional works in this space are enticing and hypnotic, leading you around the space to happen upon each new curious work with energy and intensity. Some of the more compelling works on display on this side of the gallery space include: Riley Waite’s Ian Was Here oil painting, Michael Chesler’s mixed media work Ghost House, Steven Hampton’s Putin and Bird oil painting, Norman Mark Aragones’ Growing Up photograph, Mahtab Moh’s oil painting Persian Venus, and Caroline Yoo’s photograph Are You Listening To Me? The sculptures on display on the floor in this space, however, are not as interesting and feel cumbersome to the overall experience of the exhibition space.
In the furthest corner of the Arts Center main gallery space is a smaller alcove gallery area that has a topical and clever video piece by Pamela Susan Rush that appropriates Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills in a captivating way, and a decorative installation of hanging sculptures by Renee Azenaro. Azenaro’s Occlusions installation is full of crocheted steel wire sculptures that hover off the ground at varying heights and recalls the standing ghosts of sea creatures washed up on the beach. Although each piece is fascinating and aesthetically pleasing, they do not communicate well with one another and feel more dissonant next to one another than one might like.