OCMA’s Groundbreaking California-Pacific Triennial
By Natasha Shah
Orange County has a reputation for being detached from its surroundings, tucked away in an invisible bubble. Whether or not this is a fair characterization, Orange County Museum of Art’s current Triennial pulls back the Orange Curtain by bringing part of the world to us. Surprisingly, the California-Pacific Triennial is the first exhibit in the western hemisphere devoted to contemporary artists from around the Pacific Rim. Under the direction of curator Dan Cameron, the Triennial includes 23 artists from 15 countries, and places 9 California artists within the context of the international community.
In one room California artist Mitchell Syrop’s industrial, steel sculptures are contrasted with Japanese artist Akio Takamori’s stoneware sculptures of rotund squatting girls. Takamori’s warm, pastel figures depicting everyday, almost banal postures were created using traditional ceramic and glazing techniques from Japan.
Indeed some of the most intriguing work comes from the other side of the Pacific. Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung’s maps are a stand out favorite. Embroidered on canvas and decorated with gems, beads and grommets, the works suggest Asian motifs of Chinese watercolors and cherry blossoms. The pieces can stand alone for their elegant aesthetics and texture but their titles reveal they are maps of conflict areas such as Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Tibet and the Berlin Wall. The strength of her work is that it creates a tension between the beauty of the piece and the dark history it represents. Hiroshima for example has become synonymous with the atomic bomb, however Chung’s rendering removes this association leaving an elegant representation of its geography.
The strongest pieces of the exhibition are the ones where the artists clearly reference their environment or culture. Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s video of Thai farmers discussing a Jean-François Millet painting (“Two Planets: Millet’s The Gleaners and the Thai Farmers”) is an engaging contrast to the conventional discourse on art. Instead of technique or aesthetics the farmers’ discussion revolves around animals, how to prepare the soil, crops and whether there was a recent fire. The video bridges the two worlds as the farmers identify with Millet’s subjects and their dialogue provides insights into the day-to-day concerns of the farmers.
The few interactive installations in the exhibit are an enjoyable way to spend a few minutes. One example is California artist Camille Utterback’s Untitled 5 where the viewer creates art by walking (skipping, staggering) into a “field” and the movement is projected on to a screen.
The California-Pacific Triennial provides an intriguing glimpse of contemporary art being produced on both sides of the Pacific Rim and adds an important cultural dimension to the discourse in the Orange County art community.
The California-Pacific Triennial runs through November 17th at the Orange County Museum of Art 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach, CA.