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“Corporate Crime/Malicious Mischief: Power and Mediation: A...

“Corporate Crime/Malicious Mischief: Power and Mediation: A Fin de Siecle Tautology” is the burdensome title of a group show on view at Installation (930 E St.) through Dec. 19.

San Francisco artist Armando Rascon is the guest curator, and the show suffers from the same syndrome as its title. Its substantial ideas are merged into an incoherent mass rather than channeled through forms with concise, effective impact. The result is a very mixed show, marred by deep forays into hyper-intellectualized self-indulgence.

The show’s 20 artists--from San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York--are said to be unified by their concern with issues of power, particularly that held by the corporate-controlled information industry and that withheld from those outside of that structure.

Most attempt to focus attention on societal conditions and the channels through which information is disseminated by using the media’s own tools: word/image combinations and graphic clarity. But what the work lacks is advertising and the mass media’s verbal and visual sophistication, the very dynamism and slickness that enable them to grip the public’s consciousness.

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In the main, the work in this show is excessively dry and painfully short on visual impact. But conceptually, much of it is quite pointed; it simply takes time and patience to sift through the show and find the nuggets.

Among these are works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Peter Nagy. Both assume the role of chronicler, austerely calling attention to the monumentalization of material culture, at the expense of social, humanistic concerns.

Gonzalez-Torres’ text panel “1987" gives equal billing to Reagan’s 1985 Bitburg Cemetery visit, the 1979 introduction of the Walkman and the 1971 invention of waterproof mascara. The tragic and the trivial are leveled and mockingly shown to be equally significant landmarks of the era.

In Nagy’s illustrated timeline, “Entertainment Erases History,” the invention of television, the portable video camera, the digital watch and other technological wonders supplant major works of art as the preeminent milestones of the century.

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San Francisco-based writer and performance artist Michael Peppe presents the most consistent and compelling work in the show. In his text panel “Ad,” he writes in characteristically snappy, chatty advertising lingo, but from the perspective of the advertising industry itself, wittily alluding to the methods used to pull the strings of the public’s desire.

In “Information Whiteout,” a collaborative video with Lynn Hershman, Peppe delivers a brilliant performance. Sitting at a table, he spews a monologue of sorts, an amalgam of newscast, sermon and sitcom composed entirely of snaps, bells, beats, whistles, claps and fragmented phrases. This tapestry of sound epitomizes the ceaseless, senseless aural bombardment provided daily by the information and entertainment industries. Even Peppe walks away at the end scratching his head.

Industrially produced objects, machine-made, functional and impersonal, have traditionally stood in opposition to works of art, romantically characterized as unique expressions direct from the hands of heroic visionaries. The art of recent decades has done much to soften the boundaries between these two opposing realms, and in the past few years, the few remaining barriers have been eradicated.

“Industrial Icons,” at the San Diego State University Art Gallery through Dec. 16, presents a selection of work that demonstrates just how intimate art and industry have become of late.

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The photographs, sculptures and paintings in the show “critique the ideology of mass consumption or employ the materials of mass production,” says an announcement for the show. Ironically, in most of the 15 artists’ works, the condemnation and celebration of mass production look suspiciously alike--slick, authoritative and self-consciously lacking in originality.

Curator Tina Yapelli’s use of the term “icon” in the exhibition title reinforces the notion that these artists worship, whether blindly or purposefully, the machine and its products.

Christopher Wool’s large painting on metal, “Untitled (P.31),” replicates a floral wallpaper pattern. Maxwell Hendler’s painted pegboard work, “Blue Boards,” like Wool’s, mimics the format of large-scale contemporary painting while remaining insistently devoid of the artist’s personal imprint. These works, and several others in the exhibit, successfully challenge the romantic notion of art as individualistic and emotional. They substitute the current truth that one can be a human photocopying machine (a la Sherrie Levine) and still be considered an artist, as long as one’s work is thick with conceptual underpinnings.

The work in “Industrial Icons” demythologizes the art-making and exhibiting processes, mocking the cult of originality that has inflated the current art scene. But much of the work being produced in this vein is shallow and spiteful, fulfilling its own prophecy that art has reached a dead end. Both the conclusion and the work supporting it are disheartening, but easily dismissed.

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