The first thing you see in the gallery space at REDCAT is the posse of four-foot tall penguins. Arresting, eccentric, accusatory, funny and powerfully present, these are from the edition “Quack” by the late John Baldessari — his contribution to the unfolding CalArts anniversary project, “50+50: A Creative Century from Chouinard to CalArts.”
For the 50th anniversary of the iconic art campus coming up in 2021 (the 100th if you count from its prior iteration as the equally legendary Chouinard school), the institution has commissioned editioned works from 50 of its most luminary alumni. Priced from $3,000-$100,000, sales of the portfolio will benefit a scholarship endowment at the school — but even if $3,000 is out of reach, you can still enjoy the work as it rolls out in curated group exhibitions of 10 at a time, with one group a year for the next five years. The first iteration is currently on view at REDCAT through March 22. That’s why the penguins.
Baldessari ‘59 (Chouinard)’s “Quack” flock appears alongside an alchemical and aurora-like portrait of the great artist and beloved teacher by Anne Collier ‘93 and a diverse further group of fellows working in a range of mediums. Laddie John Dill ‘68 (Chouinard) known for sculptural paintings offers a light-based work, while Joe Goode ‘61 (Chouinard), known for photo-based works, here offers a sculptural object based on an early still-life muse, the milk bottle.
Stephen Prina ‘90 contributes hand-embellished digital diptychs which, as always, challenge assumptions about mediated cognitive space. Naotaka Hiro ‘00 offers mixed-process monoprints with fresh, fraught energy, while Barbara T. Smith ‘65 (Chouinard) creates a deceptively elegant spherical glass pendulum with overtones of divination and sexual restraints. Gala Porras-Kim ‘09 binds nature and industry together in a way that blurs boundaries between conceptual art, the body, weaponry and natural science.
Tony Oursler ‘79 and Carrie Mae Weems ‘81 each produced singularly memorable works for the occasion. Oursler’s video-augmented boombox and lyrics notebook work revisits the “archives” of the band he formed during his time at CalArts, with other soon-to-be legends like Mike Kelley. Both the band, called The Poetics, and other rare video plays on an intimate screen with the full emotion of nostalgia for a daring youth. Weems for her part, creates one of her signature tableaux photographs, an intentional environmental portrait of Mary J. Blige depicted as a pensive queen with the trappings of Renaissance-inflected luxury and the aura of a distracted heart.
The exhibition is organized by Carmen Amengual (exhibition manager, REDCAT; art MFA ’16) and Michael Ned Holte (faculty, School of Art, CalArts), and produced with publisher Lisa Ivorian-Jones. The remaining 40 artists include Nayland Blake ‘84, Andrea Bowers ‘92, Beatriz Cortez ‘15, Malik Gaines ‘99, Lauren Halsey ‘12, Lyle Ashton Harris ‘90, Daniel Joseph Martinez ‘79, Rodney McMillian ‘02, Catherine Opie ‘88, Laura Owens ‘94, Lari Pittman ‘76, Kaari Upson ‘07, Henry Taylor ‘95, Jim Shaw ‘78, and David Salle ‘75.
On view at REDCAT through March 22; redcat.org/exhibition/5050-creative-century-chouinard-calarts.