Funk It Up

MMA’s John Rexine with Clayton Bailey’s “Robot,” a fantastic mixed-media sculpture the size of a human 6-year-old, made of aluminum, chrome and electric lights.

Two rooms, about 35 pieces – all contemporary California artists, all funny, satirical, or at least absurd. A new exhibit at the Monterey Museum of Art showcases a lot of eye-pleasing, lighthearted, colorful treasures, such as David Gilhooly’s “Food Descending the Staircase,” which is, well, exactly what it sounds like – a hand-colored etching of eggs and cheese and ham and bacon and a lot of sliced bread on a short staircase.

These donations reflect the taste of the area, and the fact that Monterey County was smitten by a Bay Area arts movement that, by the late 1960s, was named funk art.

“One of the donors was friends with Gilhooly growing up,” MMA Collections and Exhibitions Director John Rexine explains. “The artist would send him things all the time.”

Rexine has been looking at these “funny” pieces in the museum’s magazine for years, and meaning to finally share them. The core of the exhibit is made up of work by Gilhooly (1943-2013), William T. Wiley (born 1937), Robert Arneson (1930-92) and Clayton Bailey (1939-2020). The first has the largest number of pieces within the exhibit, while the last has just one piece – “Robot” (2002) – which was chosen for the exhibit cover.

Not all funk art is funny – some is satirical commentary. Examples include Valentin Popov’s “St. Batman,” where a superhero meets traditional Orthodox iconography, and Arneson’s provocative “Study for a War Memorial” (mixed media on paper, 1983).

Among these Bay Area giants of absurdity sit two pieces made by a Monterey artist. As opposed to visual jokes about contemporary culture, Gail Hodin Reeves developed her own art of portrait – see “Portrait #68 (Steve and Dolores Gunia).”

“She takes actual people and does portraits,” Rexine says. The faces are theirs, but the rest is the artist’s imagination. “When they meet, she decides: ‘Oh, I see these people as Civil War heroes,’ or something like that.”

The couple in this large acrylic on canvas were Monterey residents and the first owners of the painting. They can be seen until the end of July – him in a navy blue uniform with epaulets and shiny buttons, her with a parasol and in a Victorian pink dress.

“It’s very funny,” Rexine says.

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