Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Testing the waters --

This is a test -- ONLY a test. So much has happened over the last three years -- what to say, where to begin? There were a few issues. And now there are a few more.... And I can barely keep one blog going, let alone two. And the webmastery/administration aspect has apparently changed. (Blogger/blogspot is apparently under new management.) So.... That said, I realize I need to keep my focus -- what little I have left; and somewhat more consistent track of my notes on what I'm looking at (did I just say that? -- already I'm getting a headache. Please tell me to shut up if I start sounding pretentious.); who's doing what and what they might have to say about it; what, if anything, it seems to be adding up to; the larger scene generally (to some small extent -- anyone who's ever looked at this knows how much I hate it); and how it connects to the larger culture. And the body, uh, POLITIC. (Yeah, that too.) But six odd reviews a year really doesn't quite cut it. I know that. And (well, those issues again) it's so easy to lose (clear) sight of the Big Picture. (I might need bifocals.) The crucial details. The big picture. And the interstices. It's all important -- I realize that. I'm prompted to these thoughts by another blogspot blogger and the (heavy!) notes and reporting that went into my last feature for Artillery. Surprising what you can miss sitting out even a single season. And L.A. moves so fast -- to say nothing of the rest of the world. It's something to think about. One more thing, though. How many of you, dear readers, might be willing to drop a quarter in the box once in a while? Just asking.... As I said, this is only a test -- a pop quiz that won't figure in your final grade. Another issue. I will say it's 'nice to be asked,' as they say. And it's always hard for me to turn away from encouragement. Go ahead -- encourage me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brand Anxiety

11-12 February 2010

As a few of you may be aware, David McAuliffe and Nowell Karten of Angles Gallery hosted a ‘town hall’ style panel forum Wednesday night, led by dealer Marc Richards. (I’m sure there’s quite a bit posted all over Facebook by now – including, apparently, a bit of me.) I wasn’t quite sure what the agenda was going in; but 20 minutes or so into it (and I arrived there late, so we’re really talking about 30 minutes), it was clear that it was rather broad, mostly Marc Richards’ own, as far as I could tell, and as long as his arm. Oh my goddess was it long – as long as the gallery was over-heated (or simply underventillated, given the number of people in the gallery – not blaming David and Nowell who, after all, are new to this space, formerly Blum & Poe’s). An hour or so into it, I was dying under my layers of scarves and silk and cashmere and I was envying those smart people who had just worn T-shirts under their coats, sweaters and jackets. Broadly, the ‘topic’ at hand seemed to be the overall commercialization of the art market (which sounds a bit oxymoronic – as I’ve written before in artillery, it’s simply more obvious, routinized, economically cyclical and, yes, perhaps a little crass) and it’s nexus to public institutions, specifically museums of contemporary art. But, as I said, the larger points got a bit lost in Marc Richards’ endless questions and unwillingness to exercise a bit of editorial control over panelists and audience commentators. (Sure I include myself.) Whether anyone wanted to admit it or not, including Marc Richards, the focal point – or at least the trigger point – seemed to be the appointment of Jeffrey Deitch as the new Director of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art – which seemed, to put it mildly, odd and soooo off the point. Aren’t we all past this yet? Or even if we aren’t – and it appeared that more than one participant Wednesday night had mixed feelings about it, some of them, positively schizzy – you’d think we’d all be willing to just hold back the brickbats for a second (okay, four months) and ‘suspend disbelief’ for a moment. Frankly, speaking as the skeptical soul I am, I think it would be a relief.

Second to MOCA’s leadership, Richards’ agenda seemed to focus on MOCA itself, its management and trusteeship, past and current, its finances – and boy did Cliff Einstein and Dean Valentine both have a couple things to say about that, yet, tellingly, not nearly enough; and finally – what I thought going into this event, was going to be the main topic of the evening – the overall Los Angeles commercial art market, the emerging artists working within the economic parameters of that market, and the local L.A. art market’s and L.A.’s artists’ relationship to the larger, international art world and art market. You would think that last topic – already pretty broad – would be enough, but nooooo. And so I sweltered for well over two hours.

To address this last topic presumably, Richards brought, in addition to Dean Valentine, television executive, collector, and Hammer Museum trustee (and, as I learned this particular evening, a former MOCA trustee), Sarah Watson – who most of us have known from the Gagosian Gallery here and who has taken over directorship of the L.A. outpost of New York’s L&M Gallery, which is still under construction – to complete his panel. Those of us who have known Sarah from her long stint at Gagosian know her to be engaged by and supportive of local artists. It would have been nice to hear her weigh in further on a subject she is probably uniquely positioned to address – and there were a few emerging artists in the audience who were there for just such input, including an irrepressible Yun Bai – who, once based in Atlanta, held forth at some length on the dazzlements and disillusionments the politics of the Los Angeles art world has thus far presented to her. (Richards asked her if she might be available for a future panel.)

What is interesting about gatherings like this one is that you find out that people you think you know – or at least feel familiar with as ‘ known quanities’ in one context or another – turn out to be, something not quite completely ‘knowable’, whether in the art world or any other other social world they might inhabit. Some seem puzzling indeed, perhaps unknowable even to themselves, with a raft of tics and insecurities you might never suspect from seeing them at openings, auctions or museum functions. One common lingering insecurity is – incredibly, and, less-than-relevantly in 2010 – L.A.’s status as an “international” art center. I sat next to roving collector Lenore Schorr and directly in front of Don and Mira Rubell of Miami, who seemed to agree that L.A. has a kind of ‘second city insecurity’ problem – both respect to its status and its attitude towards its own L.A.-based artists – attitudes, as the Rubells were quick to observe, not unrelated to each other.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


30 - 31 January 2010

I'm on DEADLINE, of course. But before I entirely crash out -- a few notes from the last day or so. Saturday night saw openings at both See Line and Carl Berg Galleries, upstairs from the fair, as well as the usual reconnaissance. I missed half the X-TRA "1 Image 1 Minute" event organized by Micol Hebron -- which took off where Hebron's regular X-TRA magazine column/feature left off -- offbeat view/contemporary art history moment morphed into the equivalent of a 1-minute comedy stand-up or poetry reading, I couldn't decide which; but except for the three of the more entertaining stand-ups (Tim Ebner, I understand, was one; I have no doubt architect Benjamin Ball was another), I guess I didn't miss too much. (And where was Artillery Editor, Tulsa Kinney -- any of whose regular artist lecture features would have served handily for this purpose? That, I thought -- my own bias to one side -- was a glaring omission.) I thought Margaret Wappler's poem was quite wonderful (though I don't even remember the image she selected); and Shana Nys Dambrot managed to send up the whole thing while remaining remarkably pertinent and articulate about her subject -- a gritty Rodchenko photograph that retains a wonderfully sustained resonance for contemporary image-making. I wandered back to the fair where I returned to tempt myself with a few things just out of my reach.

This afternoon, I was back at the Pacific Design Center for Frank Escher's lecture in conjunction with the show the Escher-GuneWardena firm co-curated for MOCA, Folly.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Closer Look

30 January 2010

If you’re thinking I headed straight for the Oscar Tuazon’s at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair yesterday, you’re right and wrong. After the further delay of various errands, I finally made it over to PDC only to be waylaid by a figure in an International Klein Blue sweater (!) – Richard Hertz, the oral art historian (Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia; and The Beat and the Buzz – to which – full disclosure here – I contributed the instroduction), in the very pleasant company of Kim Light, Rachel Lachowicz, Alex Couri and Patrick Marcoux. Having just wrapped her colloquium on women in the art world (in which Rachel was one of the panelists), Kim felt free to chide me for my absence from the discussion. (As readers of this blog may recall, I offered a criticism of a group show Kim presented in New York, based partially on the absence of women artists from the group. I later learned this had more to do with art world politics and logistics than any curatorial agenda, which, knowing that world as I do, made perfect sense to me; and any criticism of that show must be (and herewith IS) qualified by those circumstances.) After an entirely salutary scolding, Richard and I shared our enthusiasm for the Sage Vaughn work in Kim’s space before I moved on – to the Intelligentsia coffee bar. (Believe me, I needed it.)

I’ve already mentioned the trend – very much on the wing – in avian subject matter in variously representational and abstracted painting and other media (in addition to the aforementioned Sage Vaughn, one thinks of Lisa Adams and Comora Tolliver). Another trend, which has probably been emerging for at least a couple of years – the sort of thing that ebbs and flows with the Zeitgeist – is photography-of-photography – the variously deliberate and random collage and (re-)configuration of photographs and photograph fragments, sometimes utilizing photographs of a particular subject or motive. My most recent encounter with this type of photography was at the Italian Cultural Institute here in Westwood, where Walead Beshty exhibited his most recent photographs in collaboration with the architectural firm, Johnston-Marklee in a joint show they titled “Later Layer” – which related (with mixed success) architectural maquettes of various housing developments designed ‘serially’ or in a layering process by the J-M firm with Beshty’s similarly serial and layered photographs (which presented as vivid shafts of colored light criss-crossing at various oblique angles – the original ‘subjects’ of which were largely abstracted architectural elements). Andrea Longacre-White does something similar using photographs of her studio, configured and re-configured, photographed and re-photographed until a satisfactory configuration of layers is achieved. Longacre-White’s photographs have not undergone the kind of darkroom manipulation Beshty’s apparently did, and (within the constraints of her studio subject) are far more monochromatic. (I believe there may have been some of these Beshty photographs available in another gallery booth, but I did not re-encounter them yesterday.)

I also re-visited the Charro-Negro Galleria (Guadelajara) space, whose overall roster of artists and gallery program interested me somewhat more than what they had available to view. (Maria Jose Lopez, the Galleria’s director, is so intelligent and completely charming.) I’m probably going to have to wait until I actually visit their gallery in Guadelejara – and I cannot wait.

Karyn Lovegrove, who I’d sort of lost track of a bit since she left the 6150 Wilshire complex, was showing work from her own roster, including Karin Apollonia Müller and Anna Sew Hoy, who, interestingly, may have a few new tricks up her sleeve. In addition to a few objects I saw inhabiting Karyn’s desk, I noticed what looked like gouache/ink/watercolor works on paper in one corner, which I learned were also by Anna Sew Hoy – a departure towards a new kind of abstraction for her: elaborated “blobs” as Timothy put it, in pen-and-ink and colored pencil – quite successful and very reasonably priced.

I stopped in briefly at Steve Turner’s space to have another look at a large painting by Jennifer Wyman, which in my slightly inebriated exhaustion Thursday night left a kind of paint-by-numbers-on-acid impression on me. Its overall design and (abstracted) subject did in fact reference camouflage-type pattern (an effect I learned she achieves with a turkey baster, (I assume) squirting these ‘camo-blobs’ in brightly hued acrylic pigments directly onto the canvas. The title more or less ‘filled in the numbers’ – “Combat Drag” – an ambiguous figure – soldier or devout female civilian, who could say? – in something that read as a “camo-burkha”.

Virtuosic painting abounds – Wyman is nothing if not technically adept; and I already mentioned the sweeping painterly lyricism of Monique von Genderen the other day. But sometimes you need a closer look. And it was great going back to The Breeder (Athens) to look at the work of L.A.-based Mindy Shapero. The Breeder has a phenomenal loyalty to Shapero and it is largely well-deserved. Speaking of my ‘on-acid’ impressions, I had a similar kind of first encounter with Shapero’s sculpture – an open construction in steel rebar with a ‘body’ mass of feathered, hand-cut, shaped and clustered plastic and, dangling at one end of a vertical extension of rebar, a ‘face’ plate or ‘mask’ of flat steel – ‘sheep’ or ‘ostrich’? – who could say? – but it did leave a very bird-like (that trend AGAIN!) impression. After the intial dazzle of that ‘thing’ (thank you, Hammer Museum), I was now able to focus on the painting – what from a distance resembled dramatically enlarged microscopic views of cells or organelles, in deep pigments heightened by goldleaf. (One panel had a entirely goldleaf backdrop.) Upon closer inspection, some of these (including the goldleaf panel) did look very ‘cellular’; others took on a mask-like configuration; still others in various abstractions of eddying waves and interior structure and incident – all very beautiful, almost breathtaking, taken (closely) in sum.

There were a few other events on my agenda for the afternoon and evening – including a vist to the (speaking of reconfigurations) ‘replicated’ Ferus Gallery around the corner on La Cienega. There were some beautiful things on view there, I will say that – including a great Billy Al Bengston, a lovely Joseph Cornell and classic Craig Kaufman (I’m forgetting a few other beauties – but go check it out if you’re in the neighborhood). I skipped a few other things, which I deeply regret, but, uh, I got waylaid again – by great conversation. John Kinkead hosted a barbecue for the painter Angela Dufresne, who will take up a one-month residency with Kinkead Contemporary in the coming month. I’m on fairly extensive record as a huge fan of Angela’s painting, so let me jump a bit here to say, (1) she’s been working in portraiture a great deal lately and her project with Kinkead will also deal with portraiture; (2) she’s also a phenomenal cook (and really knows her way around a grill, too); and (3) the pleasure of her conversation was not easy to break away from – though it was made easier by segue to another conversation with another local painter with whom she shares certain affinities – Matty Byloos – whom I also had the pleasure of introducing to her. I would have liked to have made it to Country Club – John Knuth’s new salon – but it was a terrific evening nonetheless.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Immersion and Encouragement at the Big Blue Whale

29 January 2010

That last bit in my last post – if anyone even remembers (or even READ) it now was my impression of Wallis Simpson, the late Duchess of Windsor. Before I back-track so much as a week, much less to that particular Saturday evening’s scene at RAID Projects (a terrific show, by the way – “That’s the way I see things” – which is still up) and Duchess Marlene and the ensuing hi-jinks – I’m just going to jump straight into the RIGHT NOW (or at least last night) and lead off with what’s immediately on the horizon – which is, uh, whaddayaknow? – ART. I’m not sure if it’s “Art Week” or “Art MONTH” here in L.A.; all I know is we’ve been IMMERSED in it – and people like me are finding themselves out almost every night, getting no sleep – and, uh, no blogging – which is not to excuse myself, but I’m still learning trying to master the skill of sleep-writing – and with my laptop you never know what you’re going to wake up to find on your screen. Yeah, yeah – there’s a bit of art-and-culture political biz to discuss (both MOCA and LACMA) – but it will keep for now. Let me just allow that I am cautiously optimistic about Jeffrey Deitch at MOCA. He thinks creatively both curatorially and financially (the latter of which MOCA has a desperate need for); seems to have a pretty good handle on this level of administration and understands collections (the suggestions that he divest himself of a large part of his collection are simply rubbish). That’s pretty encouraging right there.

The best encouragement of course is good art – and there was quite a bit on view last night at the opening of Art Los Angeles Contemporary at Pacific Design Center. First, let me just say that the layout of the gallery booths was compactly but brilliantly arranged with gallery booths opening out and grouped behind the glass panels and vitrines of the PDC’s showrooms, giving almost every gallery great visibility while helping to channel the traffic between the booths and display areas (which was a bit heavy at times last night). It was also very sociable – you could nosh and chat with your pals as you strolled through the corridors between fair sections while glimpsing what you might want to investigate further in the booths without having to jostle drinks and hors d’oeuvres plates amongst the fair-goers having a closer look.

A few highlights. Some dealers really know how to do this sort of thing. Thomas Solomon (whose booth was so outstanding at last year’s artLA) is one; David and Nowell at Angles are another pair; and apparently, Kim Light – who everyone knows will almost always have something to show – is another. Her space was given over to Sage Vaughn, a painter and, more recently, animator of his paintings (which seems to be something of a trend). His subject might be called the tragically corrupt and transcendently beautiful natural world – in other words nature as altered by human activity, but also ineluctably cruel on its own terms – and the locus of endlessly varied beauties in a continuous cycle of bloom and decay. In his video and paintings, robins, bluejays, cardinals, songbirds (another trend here, no? BIRDS) soar and fall amid the dappled skies and urban decay of a drab urban backdrop. I couldn’t tear myself away from the animation; and the larger paintings were also very beautiful. His collages play up the uneasy yet serendipitous intersection between human-made and natural worlds on a material and slightly grittier level.

Speaking of beautiful painting – there was a beautiful Monique van Genderen at Michael Janssen’s (Berlin) space – a looping abstraction in luminous yellows and burnished browns that had was like a sunflower gesture or ideogram arching over its panel. Also a wonderfully imposing (in its slightly archaic-look) and vividly impastoed Ruby Neri at David Kordansky’s space. (By the way, David and Nowell had pulled one of the Tom LaDuke’s out of their inaugural show at their La Cienega gallery – it looked almost better here than it looked there. Tom Solomon was showing Analia Saban; he plans to change artists each day of the fair.) Speaking of the gritty urban (more or less the same context as Sage Vaughn’s but to far less transcendent effect), I like Michael Vasquez’s painting (at Frederic Snitzer, Miami); but – between one fair and the next, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s a bit overexposed.

I ran into Skip Arnold, insouciantly resting his glass on an a large glass-faced Oscar Tuazon cube and pouring himself a cocktail as he engaged Jonathan Viner (London) in spirited conversation regarding the methods and merits of Tuazon – an interesting-looking object that seemed (at first blush) both original and clichéd in equal measure. (Skip thinks we should jointly write a piece discussing these sculptures. I’ll think about it Skip – maybe after I have a second look today). They appear to be constructed of glass panels – variously cracked and shattered, steel or wood (for the frame), enclosing various materials limned through the glass panels – what looks like crumpled vellum or some kind of scrim, chicken-wire and assorted debris. I’m not sure Jonathan Viner knew quite how to take our Skip; but I’m sure he’s recovered by now. (I think Skip was enjoying the Tuazon as a prop more than anything else.) Interestingly both Jonathan Viner and a gallery called The Standard (Oslo) were showing Tuazon’s work (which I’m otherwise unfamiliar with). The Tuazon at Standard was equally striking – but I’ll have to get back to it later – as in NOW – I’m out the door and off again to ALAC.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coupling Dramas and Unknowable Others (with apologies to David Humphrey)

8 – 10 January 2010

I never did talk much about the Almodovar film, Los Abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces), did I? Nor for that matter much about The Lives of Pippa Lee, and Robin Wright Penn’s brilliant performance (with a deftly eccentric assist from Keanu Reeves towards the end, and of course yet another brilliant supporting performance from Julianne Moore (I have to wonder if most film directors and casting directors simply think of her now as Julianne “Can-Do-No-Wrong” Moore.), which also had outstanding art direction; and I wish I had (though I’m not going to get back to that right now) because it came up in conversation at dinner with a collector and artist pal after a couple of art events this past evening; but it’s clear that Opera Buddy and I weren’t the only ones who were blown away that the film disappeared after about a week here in L.A. (one assumes for Oscar consideration). Apparently it’s going to be re-released; so I’m giving myself permission to resume my commentary (if that’s what this is) when that happens (or maybe sooner if I have a moment.)

In the meantime, as I said, I was out this evening and, aside from the driving, I enjoyed it – though I must give an enormous credit to my pal, Marlene (who has appeared in this blog before as The Other Marlene (as in not Dietrich or Dumas) who practically set RAID Projects ablaze with her indefatigable curiosity and wit and had us roaring with laughter over sandwiches at Philippe’s to the consternation of a tableful of L.A.’s Finest right in back of us. She informed us that the preferred nomenclature in these circles today is “law enforcement” personnel; and she should know: although her native habitat is the wilds of the art world, like any writer (which is only one of her talents), she has explored a wide variety of turfs and terrains, making friends everywhere (and maybe a few ‘unfriends’ – you can’t have everyone you have to walk over fall in love with you; she has no enemies – it is impossible not to be charmed by her), and more or less getting what she wants.

Sometimes that’s information (we have that curiosity in common), and sometimes it’s stuff (we have that in common, too). This past evening, we both set our acquisitive eyes on watercolors and a video by Jennifer Levonian, an artist from Philadelphia, who may be a kind of genius. Her painting – which is figurative and naturalistic – has a rough, unpolished yet verismo quality about it – finely tuned to gesture, expression and social, cultural and emotional context. Really finely tuned, as it turns out – she turns out suites of such quasi-narrative watercolors and gouaches (and collage apparently) into brilliant short stop-motion animations that segue from American coffeeshop/consumer culture (à la Starbucks), to odd film clips, to American evangelical Christian culture to American courtship rituals and.what might be called the bleed between the quotidian pedestrian actuality of everyday/Everyman’s life and fantasy. One such stop-motion video was exhibited at RAID, You, Starbucks, which featured individually customized watercolor and collage covers for the DVD cases. The price was so astonishingly low that I won’t repeat it here; and I only hope there’s one left when I call Ryan and David back this week. I almost wrote a cheque on the spot for the Magnificent Marlene; but, well aware of my bad track record with Wells Fargo Bank, she stayed my too-willing hand.

The evening began with a book launch at the Edward Cella Gallery, which is right across the street from LACMA. David Humphrey, who many of us West-Coasters first came to be aware of through the graces of Gary Kornblau and the late, lamented Art Issues, has published an anthology of his criticism (much of it culled from those issues of Art Issues, as well as Frieze, Tema Celeste, and other art publications), interspersed not only with illustrations of the art that is the subject of his reviews and essays, but his his own art. I want to say, ‘accompanied’ rather than simply illustrated or interspersed, because with Humphrey, generally, and, I think quite vividly in this book, Blind Handshake (though I had no more than a cursory examination of it), you get a sense of the dialogue and counterpoint between his approach to his painting and studio art generally and his approach to discussing and criticizing the work of other artists. His own art is so distinctive, so utterly his own slightly skewed, almost whimsical, and very painterly style; yet there is almost no perceptible bias in his critical writing, except within the terms dictated by the art and artist under discussion (though, as he himself pointed out during his gallery chat, he is not unwilling to question the validity and limitations of those terms).

There is probably enough dialogue and dialectic within the book itself, without having to generate another dialogue surrounding it. But here he was, in the cozy confines of the Cella Gallery here in L.A. (he’s based in New York), and there was no reason not to have a taste of it directly from him. I had met David in person at least once before (at a dinner at Fearless Leader’s house), where he was relaxed and convivial (he writes/curates the “Barrage NYC” feature for Artillery). But I could see that, under these slightly more formal (and explicitly commercial) circumstances, he might need to be drawn out a bit; and Benjamin Weissman, a local fiction writer (Dear Dead Person) who also writes about art and artists from time to time (including in Art Issues, as I recall) was on hand to amplify the dialogue by another dimension or two. I wasn’t aware (not really thinking about the Art Issues nexus) they went back a bit together; but they do and Weissman proved to be an ideal interlocutor. Mr. Cella gave a big assist, not only with his gallery space, but by being the perfect host – including full bar and a bit of nosh for those of us on empty or near-empty stomachs. David and Benjamin had apparently already had the benefit of a ski trip (somewhere near Tahoe, I assume) to warm up to David’s book tour and warmed up further with a cocktail shaker of martinis (olives – dirty); and you could sort of tell that they needed it, David perhaps more than Benjamin. I think most of us were expecting the dialogue to focus on the book itself, but the book was as much a springboard for a series of exchanged questions and comments about the dual pursuit of making art alongside writing about art. (It’s clear, though, that Weissman’s primary pursuit is writing; Humphrey’s painting.)

What came across in the dialogue was the sense of someone not so much writing (reviews or critical essays) in a determined fashion (though a good deal of determination is certainly involved here), but making the writing ‘happen’ sometime after the encounter and intial response in a way not unlike the way the book was constructed – as an “organized wonderment”. But if the book was thus organized under an “umbrella of variety and levity”, Humphrey characterized the process of writing the individual reviews and essays as “painful.” “I truly hate it,” he flatly admitted. That his art writing – from his earliest work for Art Issues to the present – has always conveyed so much “wonderment” and so little pain is testimony to a great capacity for invention and extraordinary skill – qualities which, it could be said, are also found in his painting. Looking at the painting (and there were some good examples of Humphrey’s work in the rear gallery space), though, you see the evidence of a freer hand, a freshness and exuberance that need no coaxing or organization. When he is writing on assignment, Humphrey says, painting feels like a “truancy” – which may sum up the qualitative difference in freedom and invention. Painting takes him to a place of his own – something either appropriated or entirely invented.

It was interesting that the two writers whose names came up – as influential or simply objects of admiration (for both Humphrey and Weissman) – were William Gass and Mary Gaitskill – interesting because I’ve read so little of either (and, incredibly, almost nothing of Gaitskill), but more importantly because it was hard for me to make a connection between them and Humphrey’s (or for that matter, Weissman’s) work, written or painted. The only Gass I’ve read has been some of his essays in The New York Review of Books (and possibly elsewhere) and a few stories in (I think) The New Yorker). Gass is obviously brilliant on so many levels and I’ve always wanted to read some of his novels, but is he really, as Humphrey put it, “the living incarnation of Gertrude Stein”? As someone who made a study of Stein at university (I wrote a thesis on Stein and Picasso) and read her in some depth, it’s hard to make a direct connection; but then I haven’t read Gass’s novels (though reviews I’ve read convey little of the sense of the kind of perceptual field available in Stein’s fiction and poetry). I haven’t read Gaitskill either; but obviously I’m aware of her work and I could easily see the affinities Humphrey might share with some of her work to date – especially as it’s expressed and packaged in Blind Handshake. “Mixed up love acts” seems to describe the kind of cross-pollination that takes shape between the art and essays of the book. It’s as if Humphrey were finally recognizing how his work as a painter and writer might dovetail in an enterprise that draws on both but takes him into a far broader, more encompassing cultural sphere. Humphrey draws his subjects – which include Lucian Freud, Amy Sillman, Mary Heilmann, Tony Oursler, Richard Prince and John Currin (and many more) – into loosely (but very perceptively) themed sections which include “Coupling Dramas”, “Unknowable Others,” “Collective Solitudes,” “Prosthetic Selves” and “Good Liars.” (Interesting that the aforementioned affinities they cite with Gass and Gaitskill seem to float up to me out of these section headings.)

It was funny watching David wrestle again with issues he has obviously addressed many times before and in considerable depth – but that again echoes a kind of circling (and occasionally annoying) non-judgmental quality we take from some of these reviews. But, as he said, he’s willing to accept the possibility that one might positively judge something on the same criteria as another (possibly himself) might reject it. Although Humphrey evinces a slightly edgy distrust of the kind of post-historical ‘anything-goes’ contemporary art world of the last several years, Blind Handshake (and, I would venture to say, most of Humphrey’s critical writing) manages to present a kind of overview of the on-going evolution of art and cultural criticism in the kind of post-canonical/post-historical context that has taken shape since Warhol. I’m not even sure what Humphrey meant by ‘blind handshake’ – but it is a kind of ‘blind handshake’ effect that transpires between the artwork and/or artist and the culture that we find ourselves addressing again and again as cultural and technology continually and sweepingly ‘refresh’ the perceptual ‘screen.’ It is liberating and unsettling in equal measure. Pour me another, David.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

For Your Consideration:

28 December 2009 – 2 January 2010

Okay – obviously (see recent posts) I’ve been looking at a lot of movies lately. Well, as they say (in L.A. anyway), ‘tis the season. (I think the Oscar nomination ballots went out a couple of days ago.) Academy members are already receiving packages of screeners, scripts, notes and other “for your consideration” promotions, touting this or that writer, director, actor or actress or just the film itself for Academy Award nomination. I’m not an Academy member, but I know a lot of people who are and occasionally go to Academy screenings at AMPAS’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre – which is one of the best if not the best screen in town. I no longer have the movie-going/viewing habits I once had (when it seemed as if I looked at a new (to me anyway) film at least every other day; sometimes every day or more than once a day for extended periods); but sometimes I’ll just arbitrarily pick a film or two to compare and contrast on one basis or another – most frequently writing or cinematography and editing, but occasionally on somewhat more ‘incidental’ (not that anything in movies is really incidental) grounds. And so, over the last week or so, I picked a pair in the ‘art direction/production design category’. I could have used other criteria, of course; but (1) everyone knows Nancy Meyers is obsessed with art direction in a peculiarly L.A. Westside way; and (2) Tom Ford – who sleeked up and all but re-branded Gucci, before moving on to – sacre dieu! – the house of Yves Saint Laurent – promised to be a new and very wild card in a business that – setting aside award ceremony red carpets – was worlds apart from couture and boutique fashion. I did not necessarily have high expectations either way. Nancy Meyers (with or without Charles Shyer) has never exactly given me a lot to chew on (though she’s a perfectly capable maker of filmed entertainment); and – well, Christopher Isherwood seemed a pretty ambitious undertaking for someone I viewed first and foremost as a fashion designer and merchandising wiz. But the advance word on the Ford movie was surprisingly good and – well, if the script was good; and we certainly might count on Ford’s eye for the film’s overall look – who could really tell? As for Meyers, Manohla Dargis, had already given It’s Complicated – let’s just call it a very ‘gentle’ review – and, at worst I thought it might go down like a milkshake, with a giggle or two about the Westside women’s world that I only know from some (increasingly rare) parties I’ve been to where they preside.

Before I really get into it – just a word about ambition. What I thought interesting and very smart about Ford’s approach to the Isherwood material was that he didn’t push too hard. It’s not necessarily a soft-sell, soft-focus sort of thing – quite the opposite; in Ford’s hands, very crisply told, with almost every frame deliberately composed and sharply focused. (In some sense, you can see the fashion-photography and merchandising sensitive hand a bit here: the precise lighting of each framed image, the balance of lights and darks in each frame, the pacing and articulation itself balanced in the sequencing of alternately light and darker chiaroscuro-laden shots.) But Isherwood’s story is allowed to play out more or less in its original judiciously articulated, well- (but not funereally) paced, nuanced, gently inflected (as opposed to ‘soft’) voice. Here in this sunlit Santa Monica (actually Glendale stands in for some of Santa Monica here – by way of the John Lautner designed Schaffer House) setting – at moments seemingly a suburban idyll – Isherwood’s tale of a real paradise lost – Isherwood’s tale of the mortal struggle for connection against the double barrier of depression and an isolation reinforced by social stigmatizationt unfolds over a single day and night broken by haunted memories, flashbacks, and epihanal moments that mark a kind of spiritual progress towards a transcendence that seems at first beyond reach. Colin Firth plays the English professor who, devastated by the catastrophic death, eight months past, of his long-standing lover, by early morning has determined that the day will be his last. He goes about his scheduled routine with stoic deliberation,