Mark Ryden
 
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Mark Ryden

The District
Pageant of the Old Masters
Laguna Art Museum Surveys The Pop World According To 'Juxtapoz'
By Theo Douglas - July, 2008

ITS OKAY TO FEEL A HUGE SWELL OF patriotic pride rise in your chest as you walk through "In the Land of Retinal Delights: The Juxtapoz Factor'” Laguna Art Museum's new show surveying the immeasurable impact Juxtapoz magazine has had on the world of modern art

Thanks to Juxtapoz (since 1994), everything you see here - giant apes, grizzled astronauts, hula girls, a display case of doggy-do, a buffalo suitcase and a teapot of Hitler's head - is all American art now. You may cry, a little.

"People don't realize how it wasn't always that way, and how unique it was when Robert Williams was first doing those paintings and doing shows at those feeble little galleries," says Jux magazine "curator" Greg Escalante, co-owner of the Copro/Nason Gallery in Santa Monica.

"Retinal Delights" continues the job that Williams (Juxtapoz founder) and so many others - including Von Dutch and Ed Roth - started, proving that pop culture was art. It took Laguna Art Museum's 1993 "Kustom Kulture" show to really set the hook.

Now, you know what art is - the stuff that isn't Van Gogh, anyway - and you can go see this show to prove it. We've come a long way. And this is a great show.

It's overwhelming, as when Escalante asks me if I've seen the frame surrounding Todd Schorr's Ape Worship, a work so new and exclusive that it's not even in the show's catalogue.

The implication is that even the frame - a swirling carved mass of apes sur- rounding Schorr's luminous, amazing King Kong homage - is art now. And it is. That frame should be signed, somewhere.

It probably is. I don't know. It's surreal seeing Camille Rose Garcia's damsels in environmental distress and Tim Biskup's happy monsters and his wife Seonna Hong's playful children and Jeff Soto's 8-track robots - and one of everyone's inspirations, Margaret Keane - hanging together.

An originator, Keane is a breath of fresh air here. Her It Might Have Been, from 1961, is a small portrait of an immaculate young woman with several necklaces - and Keane's trademark big sad eyes.

"Retinal Delights" takes the first part of its name from Robert Williams' 1968 painting of the same name, and of course that psychedelic, microscopically-detailed masterpiece is here, too.

Nearby are Raymond Pettibon's Gumby, Sense of Form . . . (Gumby with a woody), and Gary Panter's entirely self-explanatory Teen-Age Frankenstein Burying a Bride Wild Cadaver On the White Gravel Drive-in Hills, from the book Invasion of the Elvis Zombies. Best title since Starry Night.

Long Beach's Sandow Birk offers a drive-by shooting on black velvet: L.A, Drive-By, a painting of a shooting outside - what else? - a liquor store: Gubby's Liquor. The muzzle flashes are frozen in acrylic paint, the gunman hunched across the roof of a dreadful 1980s Crown Victoria. It's impressive.

For sheer awesomeness, however, you want the room where Schorr's masterpiece hangs opposite one of Mark Ryden's largest works: The Creatrix (one of his Christina Ricci-esque earth mother-types) and looking out on one of the old masters, Irving Norman.

Who? Exactly. You need Norman - and his 1959 canvas, The Palace, of a king who looks eerily like Alfred Hitchcock, looking down from a grim palace literally built on human misery - just as, on the museum's bottom floor, you need that original Leeteg velvet of a topless Tahitian girl regarding a Shag painting.

Because they started it all - pop surrealism, or lowbrow art, whatever it's called now. This is where it came from, and where it still lives.

IN THE LAND OF RETINAL DELIGHTS: THE JUXTAPOZ FACTOR - LAGUNA ART MUSEUM - 307 CLIFF DR - LAGUNA BEACH 92651 - 949.494.8971 - LAGUNAARTMUSEUM.ORG \ MON - WED & FRI 11AM - 5PM - THURS 11AM - 9PM - SAT - SUN 10AM - 6PM - $8-10 - THROUGH OCT 5