UuDam Tran Nguyen likes to break his artwork. And he doesn’t mind if others break it too. In fact, he encourages it.
The Saigon-based, U.S.-educated artist makes rectangular maps out of white plaster and then drops them from staircases and second floors of museums and other art spaces. He also enlists friends and museum visitors to do the same.
“You can do whatever you want with the world map,” said Nguyen, 47. “You cast it upside down, and you smash it onto the ground, so you can redraw the world map, like the old powers used to do.”
Nguyen is one of six artists featured in new solo exhibitions at the Orange County Museum of Art’s temporary space, OCMAExpand – Santa Ana. The 57-year-old museum is now operating in a renovated, former Room & Board furniture store across the street from South Coast Plaza as it awaits the construction and opening of a new, 52,000-square-foot building at nearby Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. A groundbreaking is scheduled for later this year, and the Thom Mayne-designed structure is scheduled to open in 2021.
The first season of OCMAExpand kicked off in October and ended in March. It also featured six solo artists, plus a collection of photographs from the permanent collection.
The second season opened April 7 and continues through Sept. 1. OCMA will continue operating in the 31,000-square-foot temporary space through 2021.
“We are very happy with the response from the community,” said Todd D. Smith, CEO and director of OCMA since 2014. “We’re seeing new audiences for the museum. The location is much more centrally located. And we’re responding as well to the changes in the contemporary art world. We’re much more open to performance at all levels.”
The second season features the following artists and shows: Diego Berruecos, “Only A Shadow”; York Chang, “To Be Wrong with Infinite Precision”; Victoria Fu and Matt Rich, “Monster A.”; Fritzia Irizar, “CaCO3”; UuDam Tran Nguyen, “TIME BOOMERANG California Edition — From S.E.A. Atolls to the Next Dead Stars”; and Hiromi Takizawa, “Open Air.”
Similar to the first season, all of the artists represent work happening in the Pacific Rim. Two of the artists are living in Mexico, three are in Southern California, and one, Nguyen, is in Vietnam.
“This is still an experimental space,” said Cassandra Coblentz, senior curator and director of public engagement at OCMA. “We want to push the boundaries of traditional forms and structures. In terms of time, the exhibitions are of longer duration, and in terms of space, things are physically evolving over the course of the show. And we want people to interact with things.”
Berruecos, a photographer, has two series on view in “Only A Shadow.” The first, “26 Used To Be Gas Stations in Mexico,” features former state-run Pemex gas stations and is done in black and white in the style of L.A. contemporary artist Ed Ruscha’s seminal 1963 book “Twentysix Gasoline Stations.”
“It probably took me eight or nine years to finish them, across the country. They were all made with analog photography,” said Berruecos, who lives in Mexico City. “Some of [the gas stations] were completely abandoned for years, some of them were recently abandoned, some of them looked like new but were never opened.”
There is a psychic connection between this series and the gas crisis occupying Mexico today.
The second series, “Red Bull,” documents Mexican farmers tasting and holding the energy drink for the first time. The juxtaposition of the corporate product — a popular beverage in club culture — with the farm workers underscores a class discrepancy and a certain exploitation at play.
“This is in between the Oaxaca state and Veracruz,” said Berruecos, 40. “I saw it and I thought I need to take pictures. It felt really weird and bizarre and an uncomfortable moment, when the super-brand, the global brand, arrived in the very small local community.”
In his collages, Los Angeles artist Chang juxtaposes images from old newspapers and uses brief statements, such as “common knowledge,” “civilian” and “pursuer, pursued, pursuit” to tease out new and deeper connections and meanings. He also works with reversed Polaroids and inkjet on transparent film.
San Diego artists Fu and Rich paint colorful abstractions on aprons, which visitors are allowed to wear as they walk through the galleries.
Mexican artist Irizar focuses on the pearl and examines its influence as a centuries-old commodity across civilizations. Her media include video, sculpture, illustrated copies of John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” and other ephemera.
Takizawa, a Japanese artist now living in Santa Ana, makes site-specific glass and light installations. In her 2016 piece “Ultraviolet,” she combines houseplants and live foliage with neon glass tubes.
OCMA is also highlighting a handful of sculptures from its permanent collection in the exhibit “Closer Look.” Artists here include Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Libby Black, Chris Burden, Vija Celmins, Judy Chicago, Joel Morrison, Claes Oldenberg and Ken Price.
Some of the works on view in the new exhibitions may not be every visitor’s cup of tea. Not every piece is aesthetically pleasing, or beautiful, or immediately comprehensible. That’s just fine, curator Coblentz says.
“We want dynamic and diverse experiences for our visitors,” Coblentz said. “I think contemporary art is challenging on some levels. One of our goals is to challenge people, to keep them trying to solve the puzzle. Maybe it’s OK if something is conceptually challenging. I think we’re so used to, in our contemporary culture, easily digesting information and having things spoon-fed to us. You step into the museum because you’re choosing to think and look differently than you do when you’re moving through everyday life.”
A number of future performances and public programs are planned. On May 1 at 6 p.m., author and Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff will deliver a talk titled “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.”
IF YOU GO
What: OCMAExpand – Santa Ana
When: Current exhibitions run through Sept. 1; hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays through Sundays
Where: South Coast Plaza Village, 1661 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana
Information: (714) 780-2130 or ocmaexpand.org
Richard Chang is a contributor to TimesOC. Follow him on Twitter at @Ricardo77.