Castigating America's obsession with beauty and glamor (the old spelling is anathema to Microsoft Word, by the way) is as pointless as ridiculing our other prime directives, money and power; these are innate drives, and we're not transcending them anytime soon. They do make target-rich environments for satire, though: age cannot wither nor custom stale their infinite variety.
The San Jose printmaker Kathy Aoki has made merry with female role-conditioning for years, often taking a Pop-culture angle to skewer her targets, as in her female construction workers who build monuments to, say, lip gloss. In her new installation, The Museum of Historical Makeovers, she continues this strategy, but includes past civilizations that seem to have been retroactively contaminated by ours — ancient Egypt, Age-of-Reason France, and 19th-century industrial America. She also has fun with the conventions of blockbuster shows in the Tut mold: the gallery walls are painted, museum-style, and the labels for Aoki's "mock documents" simulate scholarly didactics almost too accurately.Among MOHM's treasures are artifacts from the reign (2009-2061 AD) of the bearded female pharaoh (and former pop diva) Gwen Stefani, excavated from Melrose, LaBrea, Dodger Stadium, and Hollywood Hills sites: a carved cartouche featuring hieroglyphs for GG, hip-hop, MP3, and Angel Harajuku girl; alabaster coasters for an afterlife of plenteous Indian Pale Ales and Mojitos; "Hollaback Girl" ushabtis or shabtis, small figurines magically compelled to serve the dead after burial; a stela bearing "shopping ankhs;" a flash drive that technicians were miraculously able to penetrate and decipher; and canopic jars that stored only memories and tunes rather than vital organs. The Tomb Room, unfortunately, was closed, due to vandalization of the sarcophagus, but museumgoers could examine the large, skylighted gallery (a tiny model, in reality) through a small peephole, a nice foil to the spirit doors in Egyptian tombs.
Aoki pokes fun at Euro-American cultures as well, with ink drawings ostensibly prepared for Diderot's Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, but lost, such as "Le Tatouage Bas de Dos (Lower-back Tat)," and etchings documenting 19th-century cosmetic procedures ("The Brazilian," "The Anal Bleaching Lesson") that may remind you of grimly heroic dissection paintings by Rembrandt ("The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp") and Thomas Eakins ("The Gross Clinic"). The Museum of Historical Makeovers runs through October 25 at Swarm Gallery (560 2nd St., Oakland). Also showing: Chris Sicat's sculptures of lustrously graphite-covered branches and stumps of redwood, pine, maple, cherry and ash. SwarmGallery.com or 510-839-2787
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