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ART : Time’s Running Out for 2 Bold Exhibits

Cathy Curtis covers art for The Times Orange County Edition

You know how it is. A show sounds interesting and you mean to see it . . . and then all of a sudden you discover it’s over and you’re out of luck.

In the interest of attracting the stragglers to a couple of exhibits that are closing this month, we offer an 11th-hour recap of some high points of “Spiked Tongues,” at the Saddleback College Art Gallery in Mission Viejo, and “Sculptural Innuendos,” at Security Pacific Gallery in Costa Mesa. Now, it’s not that these shows have all that much in common. But both offer a certain fearlessness and freshness that’s hard to find on the Orange County art scene these days.

“Spiked Tongues” is an hour-long compilation of videotape works by seven artists, organized by Michelle Hirshhorn, assistant director of the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies. Each tape deals in a different, non-preachy way with issues of racial identity. The brevity of the entire program, a rare quality in video programming, is one of its great virtues. You hear a spectrum of voices in a manageable length of time, and some of these voices are hard to forget.

In “12 Years,” Joseph Santorromana--a young man of Filipino descent--unemotionally recounts moments from a lifetime of being the butt of racial taunts. In “All Orientals Look the Same,” Valerie Soe simply lets her camera rest, one by one, on the faces of many young Asians of different geographic backgrounds, thereby clearly and calmly disproving the cliche.

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Other tapes range from a rap tribute to 19th-Century black activist Frederick Douglass to a rather repetitive discussion by experts--illustrated with a few film clips--of how Hollywood films distort the roles of American Indian women.

Best of all, because it is such a quietly devastating portrait of the banality of evil-doers, is “Do Y’All Know How to Play ‘Dixie’?” by Susana Aikin, Lisa Guido and Carlos Aparicio. We watch a homey scene of white people--a couple of whom wear Ku Klux Klan outfits--making music in somebody’s kitchen. Meanwhile, a continuous series of bulletins about Klan activities against blacks streams across the bottom of the screen.

“Sculptural Innuendos” is an uneven show of recent work by young Los Angeles sculptors, marred by its lack of a strong curatorial viewpoint (the exhibit is a grab bag of traditional and contemporary styles, and includes some work that is distinctly below par). But promising work by young artists who communicate through irony and deadpan humor saves the day--and offers Orange County viewers a first peek at work they’d normally have to travel north to see.

Jacci Den Hartog gives the ‘70s notion of serial imagery (identical, minimal, manufactured units) a subversive spin in some of her installations. “Untitled (6 Hacked Trunks)” consists of six identical plaster elephant trunks--just the trunks, minus the elephants--arranged in a circle on the floor. In “Untitled (6 Dropped Pants),” six identical pairs of drooping pants pool around six identical pairs of shins and shoes, also arranged in a circle. Group activity in a circle connotes a mutual trust, but this complicity can appear trusting, vulnerable or lewd, depending on the circumstances.

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Lauren Lesko’s work deals with the ways gender identity is established and sustained by cultural forces. “Femininity-Lecture XXXIII” consists of a gold-painted portion of the gallery wall (adorned with an elaborate braided gold tassel), a footstool sheathed in gold chiffon, and a lecture by Sigmund Freud that is lettered backward on a blank portion of the wall.

In the lecture, Freud remarks that women have made few contributions to civilization, except for the techniques of braiding and weaving, which he links to female anatomy. In retaliation, Lesko flaunts women’s supposed sole area of creativity with a theatrical swath of gold (the ultimate symbol of power), a piece of intricate handiwork (the tassel) and an object suggestive of the intimacy of the boudoir (the footstool).

What: “Spiked Tongues,” a video sampler at Saddleback College Art Gallery, and “Sculptural Innuendos,” at Security Pacific Gallery.

When: Saddleback College Art Gallery: 12:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 12:30 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Fridays (closed weekends); through Dec. 20. Security Pacific Gallery: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; through Dec. 28.

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Where: Saddleback College Art Gallery, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo; and Security Pacific Gallery, 555 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: Saddleback College Art Gallery: Exit the San Diego Freeway at Avery Parkway, turn left onto Marguerite Parkway; the college will be on the right. Security Pacific Gallery: Exit the San Diego Freeway at Bristol Avenue and turn right on Anton Avenue. The gallery is on the first floor of the bank.

Wherewithal: Admission is free for both galleries.

Where to Call: Saddleback College Art Gallery: (714) 582-4924; Security Pacific Gallery: (714) 433-6000.

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