News From the Edge

Call it the state of the union. Call it paranoia. But young artists have serious stuff on their minds.

Given how insistently that functional design insinuates itself into the world of fine art these days, it's surprising that the exhibition features so little of it. But the work that's included is generally first-rate. Christopher Roberts' 3 Piece Red Oak & Aluminum Set, which got an honorable mention, consists of a surprisingly pleasing boxy chair and tiny accompanying ottoman, and his Folding Chair is really more of a futuristic chaise longue fashioned from red oak and brass and acrylic rods. Both made me want to sit on them, and Marcela Corzo's nearby Stand Lamp, with pale rice paper wrapped around a wood and metal frame, rounded out the relaxing mood.

Along with all the mediocre work influenced by video games, cheesy animation, and pop culture in general, there's an abundance of hip-hop culture on view. Perhaps most amazing of all is that Best in Show was awarded to Jose Garcia's double portrait Ludacris & Scarface. Yes, it's impressive that the level of attention to detail suggests that the image was digitally created when it was actually done in colored pencil. But the snarling, in-your-face attitude projected by the cigar-smoking subjects represents hip-hop at its least engaging, especially when there are other pieces that might have made more sense as the top work in the exhibition.

Take, for instance, either the first- or second-place winner. The former, Juan-Carlos Velasquez's charcoal drawing Let's Study the Master, incorporates an homage to Dali into a richly layered composition, while the latter, a digital illustration by Christopher Maslen titled Attack of the Teddy Bears, is a sly, slick, nightmarish scene out of Spielberg's War of the Worlds by way of Walt Disney.

Better yet, consider a second Maslen digital illustration to the right of the first, this one called Censored. In it, realism and distortion join forces to create an image of a straitjacketed person of indeterminate gender in a blood-spattered padded cell. The figure's face features a pair of sunglasses stapled on, headphones locked onto ears, and lips sewn together with what look like thick black cords or bundles of wires. It's as if some unholy offspring of Orwell and Kafka, born at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, had to be locked away to keep it from spilling its secrets. Aside from its sleekly professional execution, this deeply disturbing work has social, political, and cultural relevance that extends far beyond its frame.

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