And then I went to see "Capital Crime$," the show that the artist Mark Chamberlain has assembled "to occupy BC Space," his small gallery, for this Fall, 2012. When I climbed the stairs to the somewhat obscure space that Chamberlain has occupied for many years above the store fronts of Laguna Beach's main shopping street, I found the man himself engaged in lively conversation with a class of students from a local college, clearly inspiring them with his own enthusiasm and his long-standing commitment to an American democracy untainted by the scourge of of monied interests. Like myself--though born on a different continent--Mark is what I'd describe as a good, old-fashioned socialist, a rare bird in today's America and, in my book, a compliment He has devoted much of his energy and his vision as an artist to the promotion of core social causes like peace, freedom and justice in the world--causes, these days, that are too often scoffed at as quaint and idealistic.
Mark gave me a personal tour of the show he has put together, in part to create a context for this current election season. The curatorial process was simple: to put out a flyer announcing his intention to the community of artists he has assembled over the years, inviting their participation. The result is a mixed bag, a rag-tag of an exhibition that requires no critical review--in fact, I'd tend to say that its very passion mocks the idea of a critical review. This is in-your-face stuff, unabashed and unrestrained by social or aesthetic convention. Artists generally are a passionate and compassionate bunch. They are most often "liberal," in the sense despised by our current right-wing fanatics, and vociferous when given the opportunity to speak out. This exhibition shows that they can also be genuinely funny, angry, satirical, unsparing, rude and crude to the point of cheerful obscenity, sometimes as outrageous as they are outraged.
I won't attempt the detail here. This is the kind of work that needs to be seen rather than described. Its point is clarified in the immediate spark that leaps between eye and socio-political analysis. I took one snapshot of a piece that, for me, sums it up: the cover of the current issue of a magazine that sets out to promote the materialistic good life in wealthy Orange County, California.
Mark tells me that the issue hit the stands before the glaring irony was noticed--and then quickly withdrawn. But not before a quick-eyed artist spotted it and grabbed a copy, now included on a pedestal in Mark's exhibition.
It's a sad truth that money has come to dominate our society as well as our political life. It takes the artist to confront us with hard truths about ourselves, and "Capital Crime$" makes that point with unambiguous urgency. Kudos to Mark Chamberlain for having the wit, the social conscience and the chutzpah to act as provocateur on our behalf. My only regret would be that this wild and woolly show is not still wilder and still woollier, and out there in some big, conventional public forum like the Orange County Museum or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose patrons would most probably not like what they see. Which is, after all, the point.