Seeing art in the words around us

Exhibition at Orange County Museum of Art to feature works that find different meanings to language. Some artists use what they have found in public, such as exit signs.

November 29, 2010|From
  • Sarah Bancroft, the curator of this year's OCMA's "2010 California Biennial," stands before Taravat Talepasand's "Censored Garden." Talepasand is an Iranian-born San Francisco resident who likes to "toy with stereotypes" in her work. In this painting, she has "pixeled out" the middle of the woman's burqa.
Sarah Bancroft, the curator of this year's OCMA's… (Daily Pilot )

What's in a word? More meanings than we might assume, if we consider the myriad ways in which artists in the California Biennial explore the use and misuse of words. The exhibition, at the Orange County Museum of Art through March 13, includes about a dozen such examples out of more than 40 artists selected by museum curator Sarah Bancroft.

"A lot of people think art is a visual experience, but it engages many senses," she says. "For me it's often an intellectual experience, and it seems very much natural that text and language would be incorporated into artwork. Text has a gravity — so many of these works have poignant senses of humor or are whimsical, and are also critical at once."

Some of the artists capture what they have found in public, such as Will Rogan in his "Other Worlds" series, in which he sought out and photographed storefront signs. Gil Blank plays with signs also, although he manipulates them through the computer, enhancing certain details and deleting others. Allison Wiese has created her own sign, a 28-foot-wide green awning with orange text, which asks, "So what are we going to do now?"


Some use words to help us see context and subtext. For his project, Camilo Ontiveros proposed allowing anyone identified as "an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States" into the biennial for free — playing off the Arizona law regarding the identification of illegal immigrants. His proposal and the OCMA board's response (no way, for it would be a form of discrimination) will be on display.

Below, four L.A. artists talk about their text-based art.


During an earlier visit to the museum, Johnston saw and asked for a doorway with an exit sign over it. "I wanted to work with the doorway," the artist says. "I feel that throughout this work there are themes of exit, of disappearance, leaving the body and social norms. I wanted to ceremonialize, to formalize this exit sign. I often talk in my work about spiritual thresholds, the possibility that at any moment we are crossing thresholds and leaving the boundaries of our identity, redefining ourselves."

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