Politics and other things by Jeff Sanders

Politics and other things by Jeff Sanders

By Claudia Pardo 12/19/2013

When he is considering an idea for a piece, Jeff Sanders often asks himself, “What would Mort Sahl think of the idea?” Mort Sahl is widely considered the first modern political satirist, and Sanders shares a similar cynical worldview. Sahl was once quoted as saying, “Everything bothers me.”

To some extent, this has been true for the Ojai-based artist over the last 10 years, and it’s evidently true in “Tina’s Toys and Other Things,” his current exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County.

Tina is one of the artist’s four Chihuahuas. The exhibit is inspired by Tina’s small plush toys, which Sanders re-created in massive scale as kinetic sculptures: an octopus, a hippo and a frog are the seemingly prevalent pieces in the show, and indicative of Sanders’ cynical humor. “Bill” is a bright blue plush octopus the size of a backyard trampoline. The averted eyes and plastered red smile seem to mock the viewer as his massive tentacled form rises and lowers on a metal shaft. The giant frog is a bright lime green and rolls back and forth on its motorized belly; its sewn arms and legs flop around reactively. 

“Hippocrapsy” takes center stage as an installation consisting of a mighty pink hippo standing atop the map of China. As its sizable plush form rotates on a raised circular platform, it systematically “craps” out orange Ping-Pong balls that land and bounce off the surface interrupting whatever silence may exist in the gallery.

Elsewhere, a collection of brightly colored fuzzy Hummers are displayed in neat glass cases and titled after fruits that originated in China. Prompted by General Motors Corporation’s bankruptcy of 2009 and the unsuccessful negotiations with China over the purchase and continued production of the Hummer, the installation is a tongue-in-cheek supposition of what could have been.

The menagerie of imagery includes a spinning wheel, a birdcage, a ticking pendulum, a pinball machine, a spinning bloody T-shirt, a glowing map of California and more.

Most arresting are the oversized tapestries of the moon and the planets that hang on the walls throughout the space. “My idea was to make a convex form that the woven image could be stretched over,” explains Sanders in his catalog. The result is an exceptional series of highly realistic circular tapestries with high relief of beautifully rendered celestial bodies.

While moving through the space one begins to realize something: Tina’s toys are really secondary to the political aspect of the exhibit. What the artist refers to as “Other Things” in the title of the show becomes more evident. The visual stimuli are so powerful that one could disregard the political intention of the exhibit or deem it less valuable. But Sanders has brilliantly managed to use copious amounts of eye candy to assert his views on political issues. Rather than aggressively pushing his political agenda, however, he wins his audience over by presenting broad themes that most people can relate to and agree with. He speaks to what interests him and what bothers him — overconsumption, dependency on oil, warfare, homelessness, government corruption, greed and more. The political charge of his work adroitly finds a pathway into an audience captivated by the exuberance of the artwork.

What is most compelling about the exhibit is its utter unself-consciousness. It’s unapologetically in-your-face in scale and visual plenty. The political message becomes a respite to the generous amounts of visual stimulation. It gives pause to the instant gratification of the sights, and allows for some reflection.

Tina’s Toys and Other Things is on exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County through Feb. 2. 100 E. Main St., 653-0323. For more information about the artist, visit jeffsandersartist.com.

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