Mixing art and politics: Vast space projects delivers an ‘October Surprise’

Photo: Checko Salgado

The Details

October Surprise
Through November 21; Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and by appointment. VAST space projects, 730 W. Sunset Road, Henderson

We stand cynical and misty-eyed this election season, looking up at the polished diction and grinning faces of opposing parties, promising with rolled-up sleeves and desperate verve, a deal better than any other, leaving in their wake an exhausted electorate trying to pick through the grandiosity and lies.

Addressing all of that is October Surprise, a politically themed group show at VAST space projects featuring works by an impressive collection of Venice Beach artists: Alexis Smith, Scott Grieger, Burton Machen and Mark Farina, all of whom VAST owner Shannon McMackin met at this year’s Made in LA show on the boardwalk.

The exhibit responds to carefully decided campaign language with words and imagery, portraying a landscape that could best be summarized by Grieger’s minimalist map of the country with the phrase “United States of Anxiety” scrawled across it like chalk on a blackboard.

But art need not be gloomy even when the message is, and this exhibit comes with a colorful pallet and bold exclamations, resulting in thoughtful disenchantment, packaged in pop imagery and an approachable cocktail-party tenor.

There’s Farina’s rendition of Captain America shooting through the sky, hanging next to his atmospheric word works, adding a light sensibility to the exhausting issues at hand. And Grieger’s fluid font spelling out “A drop of truth in a sea of lies.” Machen presents Hunter S. Thompson portraits from his Urban Evolution series, in which he posts large-scale images in cities and photographs the evolution of the work through graffiti, resulting in a sort of community collage. Fittingly included: a collage with the phrase, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Adding to the dialogue are Thomas W. Benton’s campaign posters from Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 run for Pitkin County sheriff on the Freak Power Ticket, and photojournalist Karen Ballard’s portraits of Obama and Romney, showing multiple sides of each candidate. Tying everything together is Smith’s collage “Lonesome Cowboy,” featuring a worn-out photo of a young John Wayne. An idyllic landscape painted on wood juts from his mouth like a cigar, an embroidered portrait of JFK—with his famous “Ask Not …” words—is placed on his hat, and a folded American flag rests on his lapel. Like the exhibit as a whole, “Lonesome Cowboy” tells a story without using the empty partisan sales pitch.

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