SJSU Students Discuss Contemporary Surrealist Work Seen at SJMOA

The Todd Schorr show at the San Jose Museum of Art was popular and well received as indicative of contemporary directions in art. Its content was not without controversy while its style had inevitable appeal to a young generation of artists. I went to the Museum with a group of San Jose State undergraduates wondering what they would have to say about the work. It was a delight to learn that students appear to be much better prepared to express cogent opinions on art than they were in an earlier epoch. What they took away from the show revealed that they engaged it seriously. Many of their observations were enlightening to me. Here are a few that were submitted in writing:

Erin Goodwin-Guerrero, Editor

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Todd Schorr’s Antidote for a Troubled World exists in the context of the nuclear threat looming near.

Bopharandeth Em: Schorr was a unique child with a surreal sense of imagination. He says that when he was a child he was exposed to a lot of popular culture, comic books and a collection of National Geographic belonging to his parents. His work conveys all this, and the overlying threat of nuclear war. Schorr has rejected boundaries and emphasizes playfulness. By rejecting boundaries, his work causes controversies.

Lizzie Orr: Todd Schorr’s work is a clear example of Postmodernism because it tackles the concepts of political correctness and gender rolls cynically, while using traditional painting techniques‚Ķ. The painting, Domestic Turmoil in Punkinville, shows Mr. and Mrs. Potato head fleeing the scene of a domestic dispute. This piece can be seen as humorous because of the involvement of the popular childhood toy, but in reality, in today’s society, it is no laughing matter. The painting is very realistic except for the heads of the two characters, which are giant spuds with many ‘eyes’, and their home — a pumpkin. ‚ĶThis juxtaposition of realism versus pop culture in two distinct styles makes this piece, and others in the exhibition like it, Postmodern.

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The Evolution of Superstition by Todd Schorr, references his childhood as do many of his works

Michelle Ikemoto: Schorr’s pop cultural criticism is based in stripping the unquestioned, or the dismissed, or the “pure” attributes from popular icons (ranging from Mickey Mouse to Santa Claus), and asking the audience to consider what these characters — and often what products they sold or what stories they told — represented, outside the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia.

Alyce Vazquez: In The Clash of the Holidays, Schorr confronts the meaning behind religious holidays. A robust and angry Santa Claus wields a bloody axe. In opposition is a vicious knife-bearing Easter Bunny. Each character is fighting for the celebration of their respective holiday, while a submissive and almost unaware baby Jesus sits in the bottom right corner of the painting happily nibbling away the head of a chocolate Easter Bunny. ‚ĶOne of the reasons The Clash of the Holidays is controversial is its portrayal of Jesus. Typically Jesus Christ is portrayed as a tall wise and strong character, not a doe-eyed, feeble and barely cognizant child. In the painting Jesus seems not to care in the slightest about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny’s quarrel. One might ask why this is if both holidays have to do with Christianity? Wouldn’t Jesus find both holidays of importance? Perhaps Schorr is questioning the very relationship between Christian holidays and Jesus Christ himself. He could be saying that it matters very little to Jesus because both holidays have nothing to do with him. He also could be suggesting that Jesus himself is another character rather than a real person. Whatever the case, Schorr makes viewers question issues they might otherwise never have contemplated.

Then again, Todd Schorr could be creating such paintings simply to satisfy his inner child.

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Todd Schorr’s controversial Clash of the Holidays

Ronnie Montoya: It could very well be that Schorr did not intend Clash of the Holidays to be a religious painting as much as a painting expressing a battle between two commercial entities. The two holidays have been commercialized so much that they no longer have anything to do with their original intentions. ‚ĶA clash of the holidays it is, a competition for people’s money, where the true message has been forgotten, much like Jesus in the corner.

Roan Victor: A Fanciful Missing Link Hypothesis is my favorite painting in the show. It’s the first one on the left as you enter the exhibit room. This painting speculates how a male ape and a female alien from outer space could bring forth a human offspring. I really enjoy Todd Schorr’s humor and colorful imagery. His work reminded me of another amazing exhibit San Jose Museum of Art showcased awhile back, Goya’s etchings. Even though they live/d in different time periods, they both have the same irony and tongue-in-cheek humor in their subject matter, poking fun at their culture and society with the use of beasts and monsters in their imagery.

Schorr’s use of different images from pop culture such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny has provoked some controversy. And although he has been said to deny any intentions to offend anyone by depicting such icons engaged in a brawl in one of his paintings, I personally think that he meant to cause a stir. He could not have conceived the idea without thinking about what message it would send to the public. But anytime a piece of artwork carries any form of social commentary it almost always causes a stir because someone is certain to be offended. I guess, even if the artwork does not mean to address any issue, as soon as it is put out under the scrutiny of the public it is bound to offend someone. This is because images have established connotations and the viewer’s associations with certain images elicit emotions which may be different for different people, and likely different from that of the artist’s. Often, an effective piece of artwork is one that a viewer is able to relate to. That is why Schorr’s paintings are so successful and engaging. They are images that we all know, we all grew up with, we all like or dislike. The public relates to them so well because they are the very images that make up our popular culture.

Most of his paintings are sarcastic and some are autobiographical. I noticed his use of the same or similar composition and layout all throughout most of his work. That was actually one thing I did not like. The abundance of brightly colored characters all lined up and spilling out of something forming a large circle in the center can be seen in paintings such as The Spectre of Monster Appeal, The Spectre of Cartoon Appeal, The Hydra of Madison Avenue and Into The Valley of Finks and Weirdos. I find the repetitiveness a little boring. As much as the characters are painted so well and so brightly colored, they all start to look the same. Also, because everything is colorful and detailed my eyes tend to move around too much and in the end were too exhausted to appreciate the work. He could have tried to used the movement of the viewers eyes to draw them to just one or a few parts of the painting by making some images not as sharp as the other ones or not as colorful. Each part of the surface seemed to be important and therefore became too overwhelming. I appreciate the hard work and the talent but it was all too much to take in.

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The Hydra of Madison Avenue, a jam-packed commentary

I think that Schorr’s work can be categorized as Post-modern because of his use of pop culture in his imagery and some of his controversial subject matter. Post-modern art such as the Dada Movement, which may have been the turning point from Modernism, likes to bask in the glow of controversies. This is because Post-modern addresses questions mostly about what art is and dives into unconventional means of art-making. Furthermore, Schorr’s art is Post-modern because he breaks the boundary that separates high art and low-brow art. Like Marcel Duchamp’s urinal or Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can prints, Schorr takes images as mundane as pop culture icons and hangs them up on the walls of a museum.

Adriel Tong: When Todd Schorr puts a few big brand mascots together on a multi -headed dinosaur, we see these brands are really like a dinosaur invading our lives, sending out so much media information, saying how good their product is, “you must buy it!”, and — as Tony the Tiger would say — “They’re‚Ķ. Great!”

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Todd Schorr’s Sweet Tooth

Leslie Anderson: His controversial painting points to flaws in the way we live, who we worship and what we cherish. Smokey the Bear, becomes angry at other characters and is seen spitting fire out of his mouth. Schorr reminds us that even Smokey will revert to his natural instincts; we can not all be expected to follow the rules at all times.

Perhaps the painting with the most controversial imagery for this viewer was The World We Live In. Satan leans ominously and solemnly over a television set from the days of the creation and deployment of the Atomic Bomb. Featured on the screen is an image of the A-Bomb dropping. In front of the TV, a simplistic cave man (even dopier than Fred Flintstone) scratches his head and grasps his primitive human weapon. Is Schorr implying that even Satan, who bows his head in this painting, would not do the damage that we humans are capable of?

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