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Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing

Riding the wave of the surf renaissance in San Jose

Surfing's been an integral part of Left Coast identity for the past half-century, but lately the sport is experiencing a pop culture renaissance. Recent movies like Blue Crush and Step into Liquid, not to mention MTV's Surf Girls, have brought wave riding back into the country's consciousness, so it's only fitting that the San Jose Museum of Art would get in on the action by bringing this mammoth show to the South Bay.

On entering the gallery, you're greeted by twenty life-sized, mechanized hula girls swiveling their hips in time to soft strains of Hawaiian music playing in the background. They look just like larger versions of the dashboard tiki girl-they wear leis and grass skirts, play ukuleles. But upon closer inspection you notice some are crying, bruised, bloodied, covered with gang tattoos; others have put down their ukes in favor of machine guns, grenades and syringes, all while staring at you with eerily lifelike eyes, hips gyrating to the haunting music and the machines whirring so loud it makes you want to bolt. Welcome to Kevin Ancell's "Aloha Oe," an installation that makes one powerful statement about the effects of Western imperialism on Hawaii's native Polynesian culture and makes sure you know this is no ordinary art show.

The rest of the exhibition keeps you wandering- wide-eyed- through the gallery, wishing you had more than just your lunch hour to spend with these awesome pieces. You can view the oldest known depiction of surfers-carved onto a walrus tusk around 1850-and tons of inspired photographs of surfers in the water, like Rob Gilley's stunning digital print "Glass Eye" and Wayne Levin's moving black-and-white underwater seascapes.

More interesting are the 3-D works and installations, like "Surfite," a bright yellow sand buggy with a built-in surfboard rack, created by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth back in 1964. Also check out "The Shaping Room"-which offers a peek into the workshops where surfboard shapers slave away in search of the perfect board design-and "Paul's Room," a recreation of the actual bedroom of a 14-year-old Santa Cruz surfer. "Paul's Room" is a noteworthy meditation on surfing as more than a sport; it's now a full-blown lifestyle replete with its own clothes, music and other accoutrements.

Other notable pieces include an Andy Warhol photo of surfer John Jay Gould, a Dennis Hopper portrait of Billy Al Bengston (aka "Moondoggie"), and a photo of Francis Ford Coppola taken by Mike Salisbury on the set of Apocalypse Now in 1976. Old movie posters, personal scrapbooks, and almost 60 surfboards round out the exhibition-some of the boards are so finely crafted and ornate (one gleams with sparkling abalone-shell inlays) they fit better in a museum than in the water.

"Surf Culture" includes events like a gallery talk with the real-life Gidget (September 21) and an outdoor screening of "The Seedling" (October 3). One of the Bay Area's most mind opening, family-friendly and fun shows of recent months, "Surf Culture" is worth the drive.

Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing
At <a href="/business.php?blId=351">San Jose Museum of Art</a>
Exhibition runs through November 2, 2003

110 S. Market St., San Jose, CA 95113
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 11 AM - 5 PM, closed Mondays
Tel: (408) 271-6840 or (408) 294-2787 (24 hr. recorded info)
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