I was quoted in this recent article about the gallery exhibition inspired by my recent book Amerikan Krazy.
Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald in corporate suits shake hands as the Twin Towers burn behind them. A little boy carries a machine gun and wears a helmet and boots, his colorful clown costume dissolving into military camouflage. A neon sign that says “TREASURE FREEDOM” but blinks “R U FREE.”
Mark Chamberlain has run BC Space Gallery for more than 40 years, and said this current exhibit, “Amerikan Krazy: Life Out of Balance” has been an easy one to pull together. It’s a distillation of many of the shows he and his late business partner Jerry Burchfield have held in the space, one flight of stairs up from Forest Avenue in downtown Laguna Beach. Not only that, but it’s a collection of many Orange County artists who have long worked with or known Chamberlain, a fixture in the area’s art and environmental scene for years.
“Amerikan Krazy” is provocative, and no topic is off-limits, from Disneyland to war to corporate power. Most of the artists in the show have been featured at BC Space before, and the works range from the 1980s until now.
“I’ve done a lot of thematic shows that deal with social/political (issues), and I come up with these concepts and I send the word out to a few people that I know are politically attuned or environmentally attuned or something, and they come through,” Chamberlain said as he walked through the gallery recently.
“Amerikan Krazy: Life Out of Balance” takes part of its name from the new book” Amerikan Krazy” by Henry James Korn. From 2008 to 2013, Korn worked at the Orange County Great Park. He was responsible for the creation of the Palm Court arts complex and culture, music, art and history programs.
“The book is very much about total corporate control of public and private space,” Korn said. The story follows a wounded Marine veteran haunted after having missed the chance to assassinate a presidential candidate who later causes massive human suffering and wreaks havoc on America’s wealth and democracy.
It’s a way of understanding what’s happening in politics now, Korn said.
“Because if ever there was a recognition that our public life and politics have gone crazy, it’s this moment.”
The central setting in the book is modeled after a dystopian Disneyland. But it also parallels the development of the Orange County Great Park, which was formerly the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Korn said. As a nod to Korn’s ties to the Great Park, Chamberlain included art about the park in the exhibit.
Photographer Tom Lamb took aerial photos of the park. One, “ET Courts,” shows the officers’ tennis courts from the former Marine base seen from directly above. The surface is broken up by dirt and debris. A palm tree sprouts in one court, perhaps where someone once stood to serve a ball.
“The courts was actually a wonderful image that I found while flying,” Lamb said. “It really shows the change of time. There’s layers and layers of information.”
Chamberlain and Burchfield had their own involvement with the Great Park. In 2006, they created the world’s largest photograph, 11 stories wide and 3 stories tall, of the control tower and its surroundings. “The Great Picture” was meant as a document of the land’s transition from the El Toro base into a park.
Chamberlain at one point was an advocate for the Great Park’s creation, he said.
“The Great Park was a grand vision created by the public as to what we were going to do with this former Marine Corps air base, the swords would be pounded into ploughshares. And now it’s become a developers’ haven.”
Development and corporate power is a theme throughout “Amerikan Krazy.” Mickey Mouse’s face pops up throughout. Sometimes he’s wearing a Nazi uniform. In one work, he’s the representative for Playboy.
Aritst Jeff Gillette takes aim at Disneyland. His paintings in BC Space Gallery include one that has replaced the Disneyland sign with a common expletive and another with the Magic Castle as a flimsy, cheap facade in a field of trash. His “Dismayland” paintings in part inspired a massive installation last year in England by street artist Banksy, a macabre take on the famous theme park.
“The perpetuation of fantasy, sheer fantasy, and as if that’s the American Dream, when the reality is more like this,” Chamberlain said as he walked by Gillette’s “Desert Debris Dismayland Castle.”
Lynn Kubasek’s “My Father’s Flag” and “Flag of My Brother” are versions of the American icon that she created in the 1990s. It’s not an anti-war statement, she said.
“They were created during a period of time when people were burning flags, and I’m thinking, ‘That’s ridiculous. Let’s create something new.’” She used her brother’s Air Force fatigues to make a flag and emblazoned it with little military aircraft. She made “My Father’s Flag” out of baby blanket fabric. That kind of turns the flag as a military symbol on its head.
“We don’t show work predicated on its salability,” Chamberlain said. “We focus on art that we think needs to be shown.”