“Vitality & Verve: In the Third Dimension”

at Long Beach Museum of Art

“Hold Fast,” 2016, Kiel Johnson, Mixed Media, Site-specific dimensions
Photo: Matt Fukushima, Courtesy: Long Beach Museum of Art

This exhibition, with its urban street art vibe, large number of artists-31 from local and international environs-and broad variety of media, is reminiscent of LA MOCA’s 2011 blockbuster “Art in the Streets.” Yet “Vitality & Verve” transcends the MOCA show with its technical proficiency and bold exploration of contemporary art methods. (All pieces were created in 2015 and 2016.) Near the entrance, The Peeper, by Mark Jenkins and Sandra Fernandez, collectively calling themselves “Glazed Paradise,” is a meticulously rendered sculpture of a hooded young man, situated on a platform above the front door, peering out at the museum’s courtyard. This seeming intruder sets the stage for a humorous, in-your-face and politically charged show. Upstairs, a collaborative piece by painter/sculptor Ernest Zacharevic and photographer Martha Cooper is installed in a dim room with scratched walls and exposed brick. Titled Replay, it features photos of people at play in unnamed worldwide urban locales, alongside expressive paintings and objects of the same scenes. One photo of a young black boy resting on his homemade bicycle is reproduced as a painting of the boy on the wall, and set behind an actual bicycle. Replay‘s scenes from disparate parts of the world, alongside the echoing paintings and objects, create a discordant world bordering on the surreal.

Holdfast by Kiel Johnson fills an upstairs gallery, which itself has large windows overlooking the Long Beach Harbor. The artist’s installation, inspired in part by this room and made of cardboard, glue and paint, features large ships holding multiple shipping containers; it alludes to our excessive consumer culture and need to transport goods while besmirching our oceans with oil. Completing this installation is a city set along a sidewall. Composed of numerous tiny houses, streets, cars, trees and a harbor with boats, but no people, it segues into a compact lush forest, which contains a small fire. This bird’s eye view of an overbuilt urban scene is a claustrophobic vision of the lives that many people lead today.

Here also are: a cartoonish totem, Sink or Swim, made of oil drums referring to our overuse of oil, by Alex Yanes; Urban Rebutia by Patsy Cox, a red, blue and yellow carpet-like installation created from several thousand small hand-formed ceramic balls; and a wall-size mural of the artist’s Studio by Andrew Hem. As one of 11 murals made specifically for this show (displayed alongside 11 permanent artworks), it will eventually be sanded and painted over, enduring only through photographs.

-Liz Goldner