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On Art and Surfing / Malibu

The Depart Foundation — a West Hollywood-via-Rome nonprofit — opens their current show even further to the west, in a former Banana Republic storefront in the high-end Malibu Village shopping center. The forty-six-artist exhibition is called “Sea Sick in Paradise,” and it’s curated by artist and surfer Amy Yao.

All the classic surfer signifiers are there: a barrel wave pavilion by Matthew Lutz-Kinoy (who is in something called the Horny Surf Club with Yao), documentary photos, boards aplenty, a sandy mattress by Samantha Jane Clark, beachcombed trash, environmentalist expressions, and loads of work by surf-art legends and insiders like Barry McGee, Billy Al Bengston, Jeff Ho and Alex Knost.

Yao’s personal surfing history gives the show that clique-y vibe — and it’s common knowledge that surfers don’t take well to outsiders. But there are plenty of entry points here, due in part to the humor and excitement implicit in surfing, and partly owing to the curation itself.

The show is reminiscent of “Swell,” a three-gallery exhibition held at Petzel, Nyehous and Metro Pictures in New York in 2010, but “Sea Sick” diverges from that in a few significant ways. For one, it isn’t exclusively populated by works from “artists who surf,” nor by “surfers who make art,” but by a unique fusion of both. Most striking, however, is the pointed emphasis on gender and race; the show includes voices not often heard in surf culture, let alone in art that has to do with surfing.

The exhibition can sparkle at times because of this: a video by Eve Fowler and Mariah Garnett looks at surfers who identify as lesbians in the context of a hyper-hetero beach scene; a painting by Cristine Blanco vibrantly depicts cool surfer girls draped on a car (Blanco is a surf instructor and makes flyer art for Bay Area collective Brown Girl Surf); and Hawaii-born artist Sarah McMenimen sources flotsam from her uncle — the former keeper of Mauna Kea, who was exiled near Parker Ranch in the 1980s — and hangs it on mic stands.

Like McMenimen’s sculptures, “Sea Sick” happily jumbles together overlooked treasures and gives them the amplification they deserve.

by Maxwell Williams