After 29 years of biennials, Orange County Museum of Art has decided to shed some excess weight and give itself a makeover. Slimmed down from 2010's dizzying 45 artists to an easier-to-assimilate 32, the retitled California-Pacific Triennial now is less about California and more international, featuring artists from within the wider scope of the Pacific Rim.
Under Dan Cameron's sensitive curatorial eye, the exhibition is still large but not overwhelming, the intimacy that ensues suggestive of great things to come. With more than 100 pieces to consider, I've narrowed my focus to one piece for each year the biennial has been running (in no particular order):
1, 2. While there isn't much to Kim Beom's Yellow Scream, the video supplementing the painting takes the idea of the tortured artist to new parodic heights, the agonized screams accompanying each brushstroke, at first startling, then instantly hilarious.
3. People whose lives were touched by recent Supreme Court decisions will appreciate Lin Tianmiao's All the Same (2011), as its long strands of colored silk thread wrapped tightly around 180 mounted mammal bones spill into a rainbow pool on the floor.
4. Cutting up a flag is provocation enough, but artist Raquel Ormella creates messages from the scraps.
5, 6, 7. The tenderness of Tiffany Chung's embroidered maps of political hot spots contrasts sharply with their individual violent history, while her gigantic pom-pom bullhorn (From Morning Merci Exercise to Techno Beat Promotion Dance, 2008) and stuffed plush loudspeakers (Morning Glory, Glorious Mornings, 2008) suggest that tools of communication can become oppressive toys.
8, 9. Mark Dean Veca's portraits of Rich Uncle Pennybags and Reddy Kilowatt make them Warholian icons.
10. With his lone turtle in Turtle's Life #2 surrounded by pictures of lions, and a tiny, mirrored sign hanging from his cage saying, "You are not a lion," artist Masaya Chiba delivers a wicked, painted critique of Japan's world economic standing.
11. Step into a spotlight, and sensors in the ceiling will pick up your movements, changing the digital composition of a "painting" on the wall in front of you in Camille Utterback's Untitled 5 (2004).
12, 13. Much of Pedro Friedeberg's work dates itself, but his creepy Shiva San Agustin (1970), with its Catholic saint modified to look like the Hindu god, and surreal Hand-Foot Chair (1961, 2010) feel like something out of Buñuel.
14. Drug violence in Mexico is the subtext of the gory performance-art piece captured in Yoshua Okón's 2012 short film, Latex. Playing on two screens above a small stage, the film shows intestines unraveling and blood spurting, as a puzzled audience watches with seemingly bored fascination.
15. The world is turned upside down in Danial Nord's installation No Exit (2013), as loud explosions and screams burst from the speakers in the dark gallery, LEDs flashing within a panel of open doors hanging from the ceiling. The result: eerie and oddly consoling.
16. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's fascinating film short Two Planets: Millet's The Gleaners and the Thai Farmers (2008) records the humorous, thoughtful reactions of villagers looking at the famous social-realism painting.
17. Brice Bischoff's photograph #5 (from his "Glassell Park" series) is a long exposure of him moving about wrapped in colored paper. The resulting yellow blur hovers behind what looks like several doormats attached to sticks, making the assembly appear to be on fire.
18. Human beatboxes play on one wall as hip-hop dancers move to the vocalizations on the opposite wall in Shaun Gladwell's divine video Broken Dance (Beatboxed).
19, 20. Eko Nugroho's cartoonish flags (Mints & Politic both contain Artificial Sweetner and Hack Reformation (2013) combine snark and sci-fi to get across their very serious politics.
21, 22, 23, 24. Gabriel de la Mora's obsession with texture in the rusted locks and chipped paint of Puerta 1 A-B, his carpet of worn shoe leather (El peso del pensamiento, 2013) and the possibly toxic detached ceiling of Altamirano 20 I and III made me want to court mesothelioma by stealing the pieces and running home with them.
25. Adán Vallecillo's wall of recycled inner tubes stretched over cedar racks in Topografia I (2011) collects visible patches, stretch marks, road wear, white manufacturer imprints and thorny air hoses into a marvel of black gradation.
26. I won't spoil the story behind the vortex of Wang Guangle's painting 120403 (2012), but the Chinese tradition it commemorates is glorious.
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27. The dead cemetery flowers on tiny motors turning slowly toward you in Adriana Salazar's Moving Plant #30 may be fragile, but their creepy Alice in Wonderland vibe is palpable.
28, 29. Koki Tanaka's lovely film duo A Haircut by 9 Hairdressers at Once (Second Attempt) and A Piano Played by Five Pianists at Once (First Attempt) reveals the inherent tension behind individualism sweetly restructuring itself into community.
They're also a fitting reminder that vast ideological and geographical separations between people are becoming more inconsequential, an aspect of the zeitgeist curator Cameron has captured with this show. The California-Pacific Triennial makes the world seem a more generous and accessible place, which is something definitely worth celebrating.
2013 CALIFORNIA-PACIFIC TRIENNIAL | Orange County Museum of Art | 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach | Through Nov. 17 | (949) 759-1122 | ocma.net