Art review: Ben Sakoguchi at Cardwell Jimmerson


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To call an artwork a one-liner is to dismiss it. But what happens when you string a bunch of one-liners together, somewhat obsessively? You might come up with something approaching a worldview.

Such is the case with Ben Sakoguchi, best known for twisting the sunny designs of California orange crate labels into cutting critiques of cultural and political orthodoxies. An engaging mini-retrospective at Cardwell Jimmerson, ranging from the 1960s to the present, paints a much broader picture of his subversive thinking.


Most striking are five panels from a monumental, 26-part painting that was shown once in the late 1960s, but whose other pieces have since been lost, damaged or dispersed. The five panels, each 4-by-4 feet, are incredibly dense, almost psychedelic mash-ups of media imagery: flowery fields studded with gas masks and stalked by fashion models carrying automatic weapons; classical statuary juxtaposed with racist “Oriental” caricatures; the nose of a bomber jet painted with snarling teeth flanked by images of women sitting on sea turtles and alligators. Each piece stands on its own as an indictment of war, the excuses we dream up for it, and the ridiculous media circus that distracts us from its atrocities.

The show also features a by turns angry and poignant series on the WWII Japanese American internment, a slew of orange label pieces on everything from slavery to baseball to bush meat, a series depicting fantasy airplane nose art, and some hilarious 1980s paintings skewering the pretensions of the art world. Most are small barbs that flit across the mind to be quickly replaced by the next clever insight, but taken together, they paint a picture of an inveterate contrarian ever cognizant of the hypocrisy beneath the stream of media that passes for everyday life.


More art reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- Sharon Mizota

Cardwell Jimmerson, 8568 Washington Blvd., (310) 815-1100, through April 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Photos, from top: Ben Sakoguchi, ‘Untitled,’ circa 1968. Credit: Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art.


Ben Sakoguchi, ‘Yellow Hordes Ravishing Western Art,’ 1981. Credit:Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art.