Ultimate Experience, UFO Sighting, Malibu

Chris Wilder
Ultimate Experience, UFO Sighting, Malibu
Ultimate blue paint, serigraph, modeling paste, enamel on canvas, variable, 1989
Gift of Judy and Stuart Spence, South Pasadena, California
1991.243.A-D

Ultimate Experience, UFO Sighting, Malibu (1989) is a complex piece by Wilder which draws from his surfing youth in Southern California and his art world training at CalArts. Recognized as one of the most progressive programs in the country, CalArts puts a heavy emphasis on conceptual art theory and practice, which Wilder deftly makes grand fun of in Ultimate Experience, UFO Sighting, Malibu.

Wilder links conceptual art with UFO sightings: They both are about the idea, although often there is little physical evidence to support it—or, as the saying goes with conceptualism, it is the idea that’s important, not the object. As with UFOs, where physical evidence is incredibly important, but always questionable, the idea looms ridiculously large. Wilder takes the theme a step further by quoting a letter to the editor that Ed Ruscha wrote to Surfer magazine (1976, Vol. 17, #4, page 24) about a piece titled “The Curse of the Chumash,” which Craig Stecyk wrote under the name Carlos Izan for the magazine in 1976. The words on the canvas of Wilder’s Ultimate Experience: “The Curse of the Chumash is a conceptual masterwork. The visuals were excellent. Except … the only question is … just what relationship has Rick Griffin to Malibu? Please clarify. Perhaps a Bart Bolin painting would be more in order.” – E. Ruscha, Hollywood, California

The quote from Ruscha’s letter comments on a painting that Surfer magazine commissioned Griffin to make for the article. Griffin was supposed to paint a panorama of Malibu Point with Chumash encampments; instead, he shockingly painted a steaming nude draped over the landscape. Griffin’s painting is seen as a metaphor for the “virginal” Chumash culture, a nuance lost on most readers. The irony is that Ruscha, whom is often referred to as a seminal pop and conceptual artist, most probably did not get Griffin’s metaphor, the idea behind the piece. For the most part, and in keeping with Wilder’s Ultimate Experience, this idea of the Chumash culture exists as a modern construct. Ultimately, Wilder’s Ultimate Experience pokes fun at, and questions, our belief systems and what they are predicated on.