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Orange County's Indie Curators

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Los Angeles is renowned for its fine art institutions and high caliber art history, but Orange County just doesn't get the same respect. But the O.C. art scene is growing; the O.C. Triennial Art Fair is taking shape and a slow shift of inventive and edgy contemporary artwork has begun to flow behind the Orange Curtain. The county remains out of international art spotlight, but some local curators may change that.

Four curatorial forces, in particular, push O.C. art to new limits, bringing an interesting mix of low-brow, high-brow, and new-brow (yeah, it's a thing) art to the under appreciated scene here in Orange County. Curation of the future? Here's the hype.

Sixpack Projects is a collective of six artist/curators organizing innovative contemporary art exhibitions and events throughout Southern California. They're a creative "six-pack," (see what they did here?) including Alyssa Cordova, Jennifer Frias, Lilia Lamas, Jillian Nakornthap, Jeff Rau, and Heather Richards. They have been curating exhibitions in and around O.C. since 2009. Each person in Sixpack Projects has a different creative focus in their own artistic career, and together they bring multitude of artistic ideas, interests, and specialties to the collaborative whole. They're the X-Men of art.

Nakornthap's special power is traditional Latin-American art and contemporary Brazilian street art. Richards wields deft mental prowess focused on traditional and contemporary craft and folk works. Frias harnesses new technologies and investigates "new media" of the contemporary art world. Rau keeps it local, exploring the cutting edge of O.C. art environs, but Lamas' looks abroad for international pieces that push the envelope. Lastly, Cordova is in it for the kids: she advocates art education and delves into art practice. Though they don't all live within the same city, or even country, they exist as a curatorial entity/machine more than a collective. They do not work as one curatorial powerhouse, but as six separate artists/curators that have a team with them at all times, for critical discourse, installation and preparation, and idea incubation. Majority rules in the Sixpack Projects, and their regular Skype and phone meetings have become the powerhouse brainstorming sessions that inspire evocative exhibitions and lasting partnerships.

Sixpack started as a student group, but now aims at promoting and pairing established artists with new artists in unlikely or unconventional spaces. They seem to proclaim: "We want to bring art to the people!" Alternative and non-profit spaces have been helpful for them. As a traveling curatorial collective, Sixpack are nomads. They're not looking for a permanent space to end up as a gallery, like most independent curators, but want to always be evolving and changing, going wherever their efforts are needed. They have worked with spaces including Bakersfield Museum of Art, Begovich Art Gallery, Phantom Art Galleries of Long Beach, Andi Campognone Projects, UCR's Sweeney Art Gallery, the Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Ana's Sol Art Gallery, and more. Money-making isn't what drives them and their creative efforts. Community-building seems to be their inspirational inertia; bringing together artists, students, appreciators, haters, and visually inspiring work. Their conceptual community stems from Orange County's sprawling metropolis, and the dissonance that the OC art scene shores upon its neighboring areas.

Their latest show, Trace Evidence is Jeff Rau's brainchild and loving selection for the pack. Trace Evidence features the work of five artists who explore and make sense of the world through systematic processes of measurement, quantification, and documentation. Whether creating sculpture based on body measurements, casting the physical marks left by performance events, allowing the wind to trace its path, or simply scanning donuts; all these artists focus on the record of the fleeting and immaterial.

Kelly Castillo is the co-owner and co-curator of Rothick Art Haus in Anaheim. She and her husband, Nick Rothweiler own and operate a small alternative gallery that is getting a lot of attention for their interesting programming and "Dr. Sketchy's" alternative figure drawing workshops. Rothick aims to showcase great OC art that maybe doesn't have a place in OC. Anaheim's Center Street Promenade area is turning into a great artistic and alternative neighborhood, with the influence of The LAB, and hipster culture (whatever that means), Kelly and Nick got in the right spot at the right time. Surrounded by independent boutiques and gourmet cafes, Rothick fits right in. Centered around low-brow, pop-surrealist art, Rothick brings a fun and successful venue for the alternative art and young trend-setters in OC. Kelly is also the Commissioner for the Arts Council for the city of Anaheim, and has a few curatorial side projects going on that give her name some clout in the area.

Kelly and Nick say that they started Rothick just wanting to show the kind of artwork they liked, and weren't seeing other places. Founded in 2009 and only open on Saturdays and by appointment, the receptions for their shows are impressive. Performers, live music, a community vibe, this gallery is one-of-a-kind in OC. Similar to La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Hollywood, their programming steps outside of normal gallery scene and offers opportunity for the non-trendy but extremely inspiring fine art to come into the OC repertoire. Kelly's feminist art collective project, Splendor Device is acuratorial powerhouse that is taking the area by storm. Splendor Device, only a few months old, has already booked 5 different exhibitions for the near future in the OC area.

Consisting of more than 60 members, Splendor Device is an all-female artist collective that puts on feminist events and exhibitions aimed at building camaraderie among female artists. They seek to help professional creative females to make a name for themselves. A traveling collective that curates, juries, installs, and promotes their own exhibitions and events, they are partnering with female-run art spaces and organizations to support the feminine artistic community in Orange County. Splendor Device is becoming very important to her, and with their monthly meetings, open invitational exhibitions, plans to globalize Splendor Device, performances, their women studies community engaging feminist workshops, Splendor Device is going big and doing it quick. Check out their upcoming show at F+ Gallery in Santa Ana that opened on November 3.

Curator and Director, John Spiak is changing the game in the OC art scene with his complete overhaul at Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) in Santa Ana, and his increasing involvement with Dan Cameron's OC International Triennial Art Fair. Spiak joined GCAC from Arizona State University Art Museum, where he was Curator for over ten years. But Spiak got his start in OC, at a frame gallery in Tustin when he was attending California State University, Dominguez Hills. Spiak's interest in curation and programming stems from his research and degree in Sociology. Spiak's new focus for GCAC is leaning toward Social Practice artwork, relational aesthetics, and community engagement art practice. This is a pretty big shift for GCAC's long-standing pop-surrealist history, with partnerships with Juxtapoz Mag and Hurley brand for years.

Spiak spoke to me about his love of Social Practice work, and stressed its engaging sustainability and all-inclusiveness, "It's a lot about discovery," he says. "It's about being around amazing people. Every day it's inspiring. You get connected with so many interesting and talented individuals; it's awe-inspiring. In a town like Santa Ana, which has existed as a disjointed area with different cultures and organizations acting separately, this kind of community-spirited programming is a long-awaited shift for the Artist's Village. GCAC has been noted as a critic pick in Artforum , and recently received a very large grant to do a project with Matthew Moore on the Los Angeles Aquaduct, for their 100th anniversary. Artists like Matthew Moore inspire Spiak, creating artwork that evokes reaction and critical thought in people, social practice artwork is art for everyone. Their L.A. Aquaduct project is going to a huge project for Spiak and GCAC, and will hopefully give OC recognition it deserves for contemporary art and innovation.

On the end of the 55 freeway, as you start venturing into Newport Beach, if you take a right down any street, you'll hit the coast. A beautiful rich view of the beach, and a surprising new location for Coastline Community College. A gorgeous building situated right on the beach made of concrete, steel and larger than life panels of glass can make anyone think about going back to school. Inside this amazing structure is the Coastline Community College Art Gallery, run by David Michael Lee, a bright and smiley curator who seems to be always doing 3 things at once. Lee is also the Chapman University's Permanent Art Collection Manager (Phyllis and Ross Escalette Permanent Collection). The Coastline Gallery Director and Curator for just over a year now, Lee has been putting together really great exhibitions that showcase interesting and contemporary work that can resonate with the community of Newport Beach, young and old. Lee said about curating and running an art space, "I always knew it was something I wanted to do." A proud Orange County local artist as well, Lee has a way of treating the gallery space like his own personal artistic sketchbook, collecting pieces he finds interesting, and pairing unlikely works and artists with one another.

Lee has been involved in OC's art scene for as long as he can remember. He started his obsession in Chicago, at art school, and began pursuing leadership roles in student organizations, curatorial projects and administrative roles in exhibitions, and it carried over into Grad School at California State University, Fullerton. "It really is amazing how small a big place like Orange County can be. The connections and community spirit of Orange County are much stronger than L.A., and people don't forget when do something great. Lee worked as a Preparator for years, keeping part-time hours at multiple jobs, and was originally part of the Santa Ana Business Council (which later turned into Downtown Inc.), and was able to give over $10,000 in grants to artists and art organizations during his three year stint there. Lee is also consulting with Irvine Valley College to start a certificate program for the arts, teaching students how to install, handle, and ship artworks, in order to help students be more prepared to further the OC art scene jobs. The current exhibition (scheduled to open November 2, 2012) at Coastline Community College's new location is an amazing hodge-podge of nautical-themed art, contemporary works about the Newport harbor life paired with historical paintings and photographs of the original Newport harbor and the Commodores and Seamen that called the shoreline home.

Orange County may be a slower, cleaner and calmer artistic hub, but that's what makes it exciting. Much of the O.C. edgy art scene is not based on sales -- starving artists, we've got plenty -- so creativity reigns king.

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