Chris Rock once said if he met the devil at the crossroads, he would be damned sure to get more than a few guitar lessons. Rolo Castillo, who might just have a little of the devil in him, kicks off his year as curator at the DA Center this Saturday with an ambitious show. Rolo’s silk screened poster for the New Traditionalists features a google-eyed group of US military officials cutting a mushroom cloud-shaped cake bearing the words “Operation Crossroads.” It is an apt image—Castillo’s first show is akin to tossing a bomb into the DA; it is bound to shake things up. It also begs the question, “Will the DA sell its soul?”
The New Traditionalists is, in part, a provocative foray into religion and politics; this theme effectively dominates the show. The work of three of the artists—Robert Reynolds, Anthony Mendoza, and Richard Ankrom—question societal cornerstones of God and Country, the latter two specifically geared towards post 9/11 America and the war in Iraq.
Reynolds’ convincingly executed conceptual works view both Christianity and Islam with healthy doses of skepticism. Fisher of Men—a boat suspended from the ceiling—refers to Simon, or St. Peter, the founder of the Church of Rome, and Christ’s call to him to become a fisher of men. Viewed from below, the boat floats on air. Fishing lines cast over the side are baited with loaves of bread, recalling Christ’s feeding of the five thousand with five loaves. It also evokes Christ’s retort, “Man does not live by bread alone,” when tempted, after near starvation, to turn stone into bread.
For fifty cents, Reynolds’ Win with Jesus vends Biblical memorabilia in an amusement park manner. You could “win” a crouton from the feeding of the five thousand (will it feed five thousand more?), or a dried leaf “undergarment fragment from Eve’s outfit.” A few crystals of salt are all that is left of Lot’s wife. I had to settle for a genuine swatch of the Shroud of Turin. Reynolds’ most imposing piece, Faith Machine, questions the formation of belief. A large, motor-driven bellows pumps smoke out of strategically placed holes in desk chairs where students would sit. I see the holes having a dual function as receptacles for excrement and—as the artist suggests—blowing smoke up the nether regions of pupils. The desks are inscribed in Arabic with neon signs reading, “God is great.” Reynolds’ work is inventive and conceptually tight, and it left me feeling uneasy.
Antonio Mendoza’s 9/11-inspired paintings touch on the periodic video appearances of Bin Laden, the role of sexual taboo in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and the international Islamic jihadist movement. Some of the work transposes the doctrine of jihad into the milieu of Angelino gang culture; one painting in particular displays the tattooed torso of a young man with the word “Jihad” emblazoned across his abdomen. The paintings themselves violate cultural taboo in employing depictions of pornography. Another painting shows the Ayatollah and the Mujahedeen as two women engaged in a live sex show. Mendoza’s paintings, while referring to explicit materials, are executed in muted tones, primitive line drawing, and scraped or sanded surfaces so that the images are pockmarked and eroded, like artifacts from an ancient civilization.
Richard Ankrom’s commanding 198 star American Flag, Manifest Destiny, accompanied by a star flinging disco ball, is an indictment of American intervention abroad. Commemorative stamps available for purchase depict Ankrom’s manifest destiny flags being flown in front of public buildings.
Michael Woodcock’s four paintings executed on 5’x 5’ birch panels are a departure in scale and medium from his recent work. These paintings function in counterpoint to work in the rest of the show—they point to the experience of the everyday. The mustard is frozen and the ice cream is soft describes the perfect catch 22. The image of a 1950’s era refrigerator is rendered in a skin-crawling green. In if you break down I will drive out and find you, the image of the Volkswagen Beetle is recycled from Woodcock’s prints; however, in the painting, the Beetle appears almost as a mirage, heightening the sense of loss. The text creates a mood of sacrifice and love. So many ideas inform Woodcock’s work, and in a way, the paintings are the perfect postmodern object, as they examine the events of daily life and ordinary people, bringing private narrative to a public forum.
One painting with a large Railroad crossing sign conjures the idea of the crossroads. In your hour of dire need, deity or not, what do you sell your soul for?
New Traditionalists at DA Center for the Arts, 252-D Main Street, Pomona, (909) 397-9716; www.dacenter.org. Wed-Sat 12–5PM.