By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Still, the BL brigade deserve the benefit of the doubt, in spite of their whorishness. The challenge of generating an uncompromising subculture in the face of the efficiently voracious mechanics of advertising and consumption has seemed insurmountable since at least the days of punk. One attempt to circumnavigate co-option was the ironic post-punk adoption of hopelessly square stylistic motifs of cocktail culture by many of the first Lowbrow aficionados. Surely no one would latch onto the depleted pop tropes of the Eisenhower era — the tiki bars and easy-listening music — as the next big trend!
Well, we all know how that turned out. But the sheer peculiarity of tiki culture’s cycles of death and rebirth — from Polynesian ancestor totems to post–World War II American exoticism to recycled kitsch camouflage to subversive neohedonism to Madison Avenue flavor of the month — makes it perhaps the weirdest stand-alone mythology of the Lowbrow universe. In an almost equally improbable curatorial coup (from an original idea by the master of improbable curatorial coups, Jeffrey Vallance), Polynesia experts Doug Nason and Jeff Fox have assembled a handsome overview of several incarnations of tiki culture in the museum of Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
This isn’t as strange a match as it seems — Forest Lawn founder Dr. Hubert Eaton’s populist, art-friendly mandate has been on a collision course with hipness for some time — and the museum collection does contain Henry, one of the few moai heads to ever escape from Easter Island. Around this iconic centerpiece, Nason has assembled an impressive array of more or less authentic artifacts from the South Pacific, as well as photos from his personal expeditions. Fox’s section traces the waning of authenticity in favor of American pop currency, from the decades’ worth of faux tikis by chain-saw-and-palm stump master Leroy Schmaltz of Whittier’s Oceanic Arts and Shag’s personal collection of vintage tiki mugs to an array of Imagineering sketches for Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
Rounding out this anthropological survey is a selection of contemporary work — mostly Lowbrow — reconfiguring the tiki mystique in typically extravagant visions, returning the appropriated icons to the brink of a renewed mythological potency. Yet, in spite of its coherence and attention to detail, “In Search of Tiki” feels like it’s missing something, say, in the full-frontal blood-sacrifice cannibal-orgy department. “We had to tone it down a little,” admits Nason, “with Disney and Forest Lawn involved.” With the rough edges that gave Lowbrow its outlaw reputation smoothed out by this newfound common ground with the family-values set, and the Art World bending over to assimilate it, maybe the Juxtapoz juggernaut has arrived at an impasse. Totems, totems everywhere. But where’s the taboo?
Turns out it’s in Burbank. Hyaena, a little goth boutique/Lowbrow gallery on Olive Avenue, has become embroiled in controversy due to its most recent show (which closed September 5). Harkening back to the formative dynamics of the Lowbrow scene, Hyaena is very much community oriented, providing a venue for several dozen local junior Juxtapozers, while maintaining an edge by selling artworks by such controversial figures as Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy. These crocheted scorpions and clown paintings never set anyone off, but when owner Bill Shafer decided to give Stu Mead his first American solo show in a decade, the shit hit the fan.
Germany-based U.S. expat Mead — best known for his contributions to the Art Police and Manbag zines out of St. Paul/Minneapolis — paints modestly scaled illustration-based images of pre-adolescent girls in a variety of fantastic, psychologically disturbing scenarios, often of a sexual nature. His work has been exhibited around the world since the ’80s and has been the subject of several publications by the radical French art-publishing house Le Dernier Cri, including a new limited portfolio of screen prints titled Krampussy (which at $45 is my Art Bargain of the WeekT).
Understandably, many galleries are skittish about displaying artworks depicting naked prepubescent nymphets sliding down the tongue of a giant Satanic figure or giving a golden shower to a fresh pile of shit, as there’s always some Republican hypocrite looking to bust into the “protection” racket. So it wasn’t surprising that the modest show at Hyaena stirred up a small tearoom tempest. What was surprising was that the protest came not from the Legion of Decency but from a small clutch of gallery artists who didn’t want their reputations besmirched by association.
Led by an incensed nonartist boyfriend (who actually threatened to call the police), a trio of female artists withdrew their work from Hyaena — including Queenie, whose show of cute dead-child paintings and dolls was the next scheduled show. A group of unconflicted gallery artists pulled together an anti-censorship show (“When Life Hands You Lemmings ...”) to fill the gap. But really. “Outlaw” artists ratting on other artists and DIY-gallery owners on the basis of good taste and moral fiber? Lowbrow seems to be passing through some awfully painful contortions as it leaves its perpetual adolescence — and for what? Mature Art World citizenship? Where’s Charlie Manson when you need him?