Carolina Caycedo works with printed fabric and video, depicting local rivers and bodies of water in their untamed essence. Daniel Duford paints and tells stories according to “tree time.”
Ximena Garrido-Lecca uses silicon to create panels that look like stained glass and ceramic vessels. Mulyana creates large, playful installations from yarn that look like extraterrestrial octopi.
Robert Zhao Renhui uses hundreds of dead insects and live butterflies in his work. And Yang Yongliang transports visitors into three-dimensional landscapes via virtual reality.
These are the six artists who comprise the Orange County Museum of Art’s latest series of solo exhibitions, on view through March 15. All hailing from the Pacific Rim, these artists — mostly between their 30s and 40s — are exploring the complexities of humankind’s relationship to nature.
“The theme for this season is human intervention with nature,” said Sarah Jesse, OCMA’s deputy director of programs and operations. “It’s the theme that is definitely on people’s minds, and a very clear theme across the project.”
“This season” is season 3 at OCMAExpand — Santa Ana, the name of the temporary home for Orange County’s largest and oldest contemporary art museum. As it awaits its long-planned move to a new, $73 million building at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, OCMA has been operating out of an airy, two-story, 31,000-square-foot space across from South Coast Plaza that used to be a Room & Board furniture store.
The new museum, which broke ground in September and will be 53,000 square feet, is scheduled to open in fall 2021.
In the meantime, OCMA staffers and artists are discovering and exploring the dynamics available to them in the OCMAExpand space, which seems more open and conducive to installation and performance, compared to the old Newport Beach location, which shut down in June 2018.
According to Todd D. Smith, director and CEO of OCMA, there’s a “continued emphasis on diversity of material and approach that we’re trying to strike here for each of the first three seasons.”
“Some work is more conceptual-based, and some is more craft-based, to give the audience the widest array of expression of what’s happening in contemporary art right now,” Smith said.
Art that’s interactive
One of the first things a visitor might notice is colorful, rectangular fabrics hanging from the ceilings, across galleries and above the two staircases.
Colombian American artist Caycedo has crafted these fabrics to represent local rivers and waterfalls. Her exhibition is called “Wanaawna, Rio Hondo and Other Spirits.” “Wanaawna” is the Tongva name for the Santa Ana River, and Rio Hondo is a tributary of the Los Angeles River.
“Her ‘Water Portraits’ are resistant to the idea of a traditional, colonial view of the landscape as a framed, singular perspective,” said Cassandra Coblentz, OCMA senior curator and director of public engagement, who curated Caycedo’s exhibit and two others in season 3.
“They are multiple and active and expansive,” Coblentz said. “They’re not static and just on the wall. They’re malleable. The patterning relates to a certain kind of shamanistic hallucination.”
In addition to the fabrics, Caycedo has crafted videos of bodies of water, and installed decorated, snake-like cushions where visitors can sit and watch. On the second-floor walls are satellite images of the Itaipu Dam in Brazil, the second-largest hydroelectric plant in the world. One can interpret the impact the dam and other development projects have had on the surrounding land by studying the images.
Based in Los Angeles, Caycedo has been featured at the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial and at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Portland-based artist Duford has created several groups of representational paintings which collectively are titled “Underworld Stories Told in Tree Time.”
Inspired by Gary Snyder’s poem, “The Way West,” Duford’s exhibit conjures forgotten narratives about man’s relationship to the natural world. His paintings — done in watercolor, acrylic and charcoal — attempt to release myths and ancient stories “trapped under the pavement” of urban growth.
“It’s really about locating the stories that are listed in the land, and the land itself is speaking those stories,” said Duford, 51, a recent Guggenheim Fellowship recipient. “It’s about being able to tell a much more longer story of history.”
Duford collaborated with his wife, Tracy Schlapp, on a watercolor and letterpress series called “Resistance is Necessary.” The images are taken from contemporary photographs and current events. The hand-printed words are slogans and pithy sayings taken from contemporary politics, current events and social movements.
“They were directly about the Trump administration at first,” Duford said. “We were going to do the first 100 days. And then we realized that you can only go so far with that. We decided to think about a much bigger image world.
“We wanted connections to something much larger. So we decided to take this news feed and turn it into something else. It was a way of altering the story that’s being sold to us.”
“Mulyana: A Man, A Monster and The Sea” is a collection of the Indonesian artist’s work, curated by guest curator John Silvis. It comprises three immersive environments depicting oceanic life, and it is Mulyana’s debut exhibition in the United States.
Mulyana, who goes by that singular name, uses yarn as his medium, weaving together fantastical and colorful installations of fish and octopus-like creatures — some with singular or three or more eyes — hanging from the ceilings and the gallery walls.
“His project is probably the most popular; it’s the show that draws people in,” Jesse said. “The craftsmanship is amazing. It’s amazing how visually delightful they look — the exuberance, the playfulness.”
Robert Zhao Renhui’s “Effect” is also a U.S. premiere, guest curated by Silvis. The show examines the hundreds of methods humans use to control and decimate fly populations. A series of black-and-white photographs strive to capture the beauty and elusiveness of the monarch butterfly.
A highlight of season 3 is Yang Yongliang’s virtual reality work, “Eternal Landscape” (2017). The Chinese artist has adopted new technologies to “paint” a Song Dynasty shanshui landscape.
Visitors who wear a VR headset can immerse themselves in the black-and-white landscape, touch a turtle or a deer, stand on the edge of a cliff and watch birds fly by. Be careful, however, because there is an “electrical” boundary — represented by a green rectangular grid against a black backdrop — that should not be crossed.
While admission is always free, OCMAExpand will host a Free Family Day on Dec. 7, with hands-on art projects, family-friendly tours and story time in the galleries.
Also coming up is a new presentation of the museum’s permanent collection, to be guest-curated by featured artist Duford. That exhibit will open Jan. 11.
OCMA officials are encouraged by the public’s positive reaction to the museum’s temporary Santa Ana space. According to Jesse, at the close of a recent public event, “People left here saying, ‘That was so much fun.’ While contemporary art is talking about important, serious issues, we’re trying not to forget the role that an art museum can play in giving the people a playful, fun, exuberant experience in the galleries.”
IF YOU GO
What: OCMAExpand – Santa Ana
When: Current exhibitions run through March 15; hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Where: South Coast Plaza Village, 1661 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana
Information: (714) 780-2130 or ocmaexpand.org