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Skeptics' Society: Sandow Birk, Jeffrey Vallance

Jeffrey Vallance, Morticia Madonna (2007)

Sandow Birk is famous for his telling amplifications of old-master images, updated and parodied not just for art’s sake, but for the sake of the times we live in — which, Birk points out, aren’t all that much different than our forerunners’ times. In his new series of woodcuts, “The Depravities of War,” Birk goes back to a 17th-century sequence of etchings, Jacques Callot’s “Miseries and Misfortunes of War,” rendered in response to the privations of the Thirty Years’ War. Callot’s grim scenes are page-size; Birk’s are cinematic, immense woodblock prints whose every detail can be seen across the room. Typically, Birk’s images are dramatic to the point of apocalypse, whether he’s depicting the battle of Fallujah or, more symbolically, Bush’s rush into war itself. Callot rued the battles; Birk also condemns the decision to wage war in the first place.

Jeffrey Vallance’s interaction with politicians has been rather more benign, and yet more direct, than Birk’s. Vallance has a fascination with political power as a shaper of personality, and he engages in actions that bring forth the human side of legislators, as in Drawings and Statements by U.S. Senators, a droll 1978 interface with 30 congressmen. By contrast, he gets downright worshipful (if not fetishistic) in his recent “Reliquary” series, wherein he enshrines his gewgaw collections, happenstance discoveries and random objects into a whole religion’s worth of holy boxes. Vallance’s almost childlike response to the world actually shares Birk’s skepticism, but manifests as bemusement rather than anger. Sandow Birk at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach; Tues.-Sun. noon-5 p.m. (Thurs. to 8 p.m.); thru Dec. 16. (562) 985-5761. Jeffrey Vallance at Margo Leavin, 812 N. Robertson Blvd., W. Hlywd., Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 273-0603.

—Peter Frank


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