Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dazzle and Desolation: the Coen Brothers and Carole Caroompas

Well, reader, I'm at that odd place again -- looming deadlines, catastrophes (alright -- calamities; the catastrophes are all cultural), the hols (I want to say the Huns -- it feels like an invasion). I've hesitated posting these notes -- and why? A film already discussed to death? Paintings I've already written about in print? Obsessions (surrealism, political/conceptual work) already worried to death? I didn't go to Miami; and today, for the first time, I feel alright about it. For once I am happy to let someone else blog the fairs (The New York Times alone must have a half-dozen staffers on it -- but as far as I can tell not one of them is Roberta Smith.) while I attend to hard print copy obligations. Besides Jonathan Biss is in town to do the Beethoven 4th with the L.A. Phil. and I'm slated to hit New York for the next big contemporary sales. (I almost said 'market corrections'.) Speaking of 'corrections' -- did anyone else do a double-take at that Business Page Sunset Boulevard-gone-Miami (or Palm Beach) story Monday? It had everything but the art collection; and the story is far from over.
Perhaps double-take is not quite it; it's a story far too familiar to me -- and not just because I live in close proximity to Sunset Boulevard.

24-25 November 2007

Before I talk about Carole Caroompas (and how can I not talk about Carole Caroompas?), I have to say a word or two about the film I saw last night, the Coen Brothers film of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. I almost want to call it The Texas Terminator; it has a similar exterminating angel – though as a performance, these roles are in no way comparable – no more than an actor of Javier Bardem’s gifts can be compared to that robo-homo-sapiens who somehow got elected governor of California. (We’ll set aside the fact that he’s only marginally more robotic than Gray Davis was, and with a slightly better temper.) The film is more about the pitilessness of the land itself, and the incongruous, insupportable piteousness of its inhabitants, than the almost absurd plot that pits its characters, directly and indirectly, and almost at random, at one another. It’s almost ridiculous to even address the element of conflict that ensnares (or not) the few characters who have managed to put themselves in the path of Bardem’s implacable, indefatigable reaper. They scarcely signify more than the helpless by-standers, trapped in their unexamined assumptions, their unspoken, inexplicable expectations, at the mercy of this demonic killer’s blackjack-binary moral code. As played by Bardem, whom I first had the privilege of seeing on screen in his revelatory performance as Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s movie of Before Night Falls, the character of Anton Chigurh is a shade or shadow hanging over the film, like a dark drift of storm clouds sweeping gray over an already desolate, sun-scorched landscape. The opening scenes with their brilliant establishment shots perfectly set the tone for this upended Hamlet. This is the ‘undiscovered country’ itself – with (unlike Hamlet) nary a soul left alive. (The final scene seems to allude to this disconsolate dream-like domain.) Mere clarity or comprehension offers no defense against this fate, this self-contained keyhole into the apocalypse – the principal example of this being the cool annihilation of Chigurh’s smart stalker, Carson Wells (a witty, perfectly judged performance by Woody Harrelson). I’m at some disadvantage, not having read the book; but there is something inadequately played out here; or maybe it’s disappointment at not having enough of an appealing character. Pity is the screw in the coffin, individually and collectively. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, also excellent) seals his fate almost from his first such gesture – again, something presumably borne out of a dream. Tommy Lee Jones’s role as the sheriff’s detective Ed Tom Bell is both foil to Chigurh and fulcrum in this fatal triangle, his moral compass ‘tempered’ both by a native pragmatism and a wistful, respectful nod to the power of the unconscious, as well as the severity of the landscape. There can be “no certainties” in this landscape – or any other – an essential cognizance of which demarcates the intersection between Bell’s and Chigurh’s moral “codes.” The Coens wisely avoid forcing any play-out or pay-off in the drama (I’m tempted to call it a dram-edy); but the near-perfection of the film’s close couldn’t entirely compensate for the penultimate ‘keyhole’ face-off between Bell and Chigurh (a brilliant moment in itself) that seemed to effectively blow a hole through the scenario as deadly to the film’s momentum as Chigurh’s air pressure gun is to anything moving on two (or four) legs.

Whatever the film’s flaws, though, it’s almost impossible to deny its power – as a kind of cinematic touchstone, witness to a very dark (and desolate) historic and cultural moment. It has to be one of the Coen brothers’ best films to date. What to take on next? After Bush Country – the Bush dynasty itself? Part of the genius of this (or any) film, of course, is simply casting; and regardless of his own genius versatility, somehow I just don’t see Bardem as Cheney. (Do you?)

Carole Caroompas’s current show of paintings at Western Project evoke a similar sense of the land’s desolation and desecration; but also a sense of dazzle (which I guess she recognized fairly quickly in the process of creating them, since she calls them the “Eye Dazzler” series): there is, literally, a certain shimmer to these paintings owing absolutely nothing to glitter or other non-pigment media (unlike, say, many of Mari Eastman’s paintings). The shimmer is itself ambiguous, mediated between the vibratile zig-zagging color of the Navajo motifs that are more structural armature than mere backdrop to the inter-woven pictorial narratives created by Caroompas’s complex, multiverse iconography, and grisaille sections that float like a mirage on the surface of the paintings. In other words, it’s not simply the shimmer of ‘heat’ – there is in fact a coolness to some of these passages – but a kind of oscillation, an issue (literally and figuratively) of resolution and reflection. It’s as if the surface were dissolved into a continuously shifting and reconfigured array of signal-to-signal (as opposed to signal-to-noise) ratios. Caroompas draws many of these ‘signals,’ (i.e., not necessarily the frame image, per se; there are figures that are simply cut from these still images) from John Huston’s film, The Misfits. But virtually all of these figures – all of the imagery – are ‘misfit(s)’; their connections to each other fraught, tentative, incomplete, tangential or oblique. The figures and imagistic elements reach across a universe of time, space and imagination. A frontierswoman swims or reaches out towards a mounted cowboy who attempts to lasso a roller derby skater. Roslyn (Monroe) snaps her paddle ball like a laser towards a tumbled Barbarella (hard to believe Fonda’s “psychedelic” space emissary appeared on the screen only six or seven years after Monroe’s last commercial film release). Kinescopic cowboys, kitsch children’s fairy and nursery imagery figure as semaphores and footnotes to a text written and re-written only by the viewer. Caroompas literally embroiders some of these onto the canvas; but only as if to contradict the notion that it might fit neatly into a conventional Pattern and Decoration scheme. There is no real connective tissue here; only the yearning for connection – or re-connection. In a sense, the “Carrie” (in her familiar Sissy Spacek incarnation) is as central as Misfit-Roslyn/Monroe – invoking the gods’ wrath just as a circle of tribal Native Americans invoke the gods’ bounty.

What emerges from this shimmer, this ‘dazzle’ and ‘dance’ is above all an evocation of loss (and invocation of some cosmic re-connection), and finally a certain poignancy. Encountered initially, the paintings have a certain formal, almost heraldic, aspect at odds with the feelings they evoke after only a few moments. (Is it the vibratile contrast between reds and oranges of almost psychedelic intensity and super-cooled grays?) You feel those passages, those ricochets of time and space, and certainly their evanescence. Where the Huston-Night of the Iguana imagery of Psychedelic Jungle underscored a certain submerged (and fluid) aspect of the paintings, the ‘Misfits Dance’ imagery here reasserts the surface, a sense of lateral movement across the picture plane, and also – I don’t think it goes too far to say – the sense of light, energy just above the surface – a further irony lost on no one who spends any time with these paintings.

In my first cursory conversations with Carole Caroompas before my visit to her studio, I mentioned how taken I had been with some of her work leading up to and including the Psychedelic Jungle series she had shown at Western Project in 2004; also how distinct each series of works seemed alongside its predecessors (whether they were conceived as series or individual works; yet also (at least in retrospect), how seamless the transitions seemed. That impression held through my studio visit and interview, and to some extent still does. But I now have a clearer idea of this duality. With Caroompas, there is an element of reaching back – to her own past/work, as well as the iconography, cultural references, design elements and cues drawn from both visual and literary (and, arguably, musical) culture that makes her works like palimpsests of a certain moment of the civilization. Here, too, in addition to the rich iconography culled from any number of sources, both pop and canonical (and sometimes a fusion of the two), or a specific cultural tradition (e.g., folkloric or, as in this show, Native American), there is a reach back to work as long as a decade past (i.e., work that would have been seen at the Mark Moore Gallery) or longer – thinking here of the grisaille insets which reference alternately a half-lit landscape or the celluloid universe of American cinema (or even television – something I had a further reminder of this [Sunday, 25 November] afternoon, during Mike Kelley’s and Jim Shaw’s presentation of Dalí- and surrealist-influenced films – which included a kinescope of a surreal and unusually serious segment of the Ernie Kovacs show). It’s a bit as if Caroompas were re-discovering – and re-configuring, recontextualizing – bits of herself as well as the culture; re-positioning them for a fresh orientation, a fresh vantage point.

I couldn’t help thinking of this just a bit at the opening reception at Western Project – which was, of course, packed with everyone from peers and collectors, to fans and students – “Lari’s Night” redux (Lari Pittman was there of course; Roy Dowell, too – he contributed a brief essay to the catalog for the show) – except this was Carole’s Night. It was as if Carole herself had effected that unfinished cosmic connection between Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn and Jane Fonda as Barbarella. (More than one contributor to the catalog couldn’t refrain from mentioning Caroompas’s signature style.) Carole’s personal style (not unlike her painterly style?) continues to evolve; and she looked smashing that Saturday night (the 3rd). Once upon a time, I would have called her look a punk-goth Ava Gardner. Now (after a bit of MM? Fonda? damage), her hair still Monroe-Misfits blonde, she looked like an angel-fish touching the shores of another planet – in a black-and-white bateau/A-line dress and shiny silver ankle boots that looked like the classic ones by Courrèges – updated, say, for Bowie, circa Space Oddity – or Carole Caroompas, circa anytime she goddamned likes. It’s clear from the paintings she understands the Earth; who’s to say she can’t move on? It was fine with us – we were all in orbit that night.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dangerous Curves II

I realize these notes come days after they were promised -- with scarce hard intel to offer the reader -- but I hate to leave anyone stranded whether on the streets of Los Angeles, or the virtual streets of the art world. Happy Thanksgiving, angels.

18 November 2007

I was almost ready to leave by the time the other art stars and the Hollywood demi-monde began to file in. Suzanne Somers was in the front gallery, dressed almost entirely in black, except for a spectacular pair of gloves in a creamy peach kidskin with bows at the wrists. I had to know where she got them. “They’re Prada,” she told me; and “they really cut down on the Purell.” Good luck with the shrimp and gazpacho shooters, I thought. Lauren Hutton came in on a tear with Ed Moses dangling off of her – or was it the other way around? It was as if they couldn’t wait to get into the back rooms. Following Fearless Leader’s orders, I tried to get a shot or two of them, but they hardly stopped moving. Or dangling. Or staggering. With Ed sometimes it’s a little hard to tell. After a fond farewell to the Ruschas and Hamiltons, I stepped outside to wait for my car. As the valet pulled up with my Volvo, Dennis Hopper, solitary and looking a bit forlorn, walked past me into the gallery.

Fourth Place and Molino is one of those L.A. twilight zones – in theory, more or less of a piece with the neighborhood of warehouses and artists’ lofts in which it’s situated; in actuality, a small indeterminate island of something born out of its past and carried into an equally ambivalent future – a bit more pressed and polished than it needs to be. I always feel I’m on the verge of getting lost each time I come down here and once or twice have actually parked before I was even aware that I was just around the corner from my destination – which was probably Dangerous Curve (readers of this blog may recall the performance I attended here in March – Parris Patton’s Because I Can’t Be Beethoven). It’s close to the Fourth Street Bridge – one of those erratic demarcations between downtown and East L.A. (not the East Side of Los Angeles or the east side of the L.A. River but EAST Los Angeles – part of L.A., yet physically, ethnically, culturally a thing apart and unto itself). It was the perfect place for a performance piece like Parris’s – I literally imagine Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock television-style scenarios unfolding in these not-so-mean-but-slightly-unnerving streets – but it’s also a cool place for a party (or for that matter a shoot); which is why, in addition to its program of exhibitions and performances, Dangerous Curve also hosts parties and events – this one for artillery – already a bit past its first-year anniversary (and IN THE BLACK) – but then it’s never too late to celebrate. The entertainment was music by the Mad Gregs and Forward Energy, who somehow found their way to this twilight zone from San Francisco and readings by several artillery writers, including (inevitably) that dean of dissipation, that arbiter elegantiae of L.A. inertia (and artillery’s poet laureate), John Tottenham (The Inertia Variations); that boho refugee from the Balboa Yacht Club, Gordy Grundy (who has a way of making even a downtown L.A. twilight zone into his own private Newport); and Mary Woronov, whose Retrospect column is almost always the first thing I turn to when I pick up a new issue of the magazine. I always think Woronov’s ‘retrospect’ is light-years ahead of most people’s notion of the next decade’s prospect. Woronov, who first seared her way onto this civilization’s Rosetta Stone with her performance as Hanoi Hannah in Warhol’s Chelsea Girls and graced the punk decade of L.A. performing in movies by Roger Corman and Paul Bartel, among others, wrote an instant-classic memoir-cum-fantasia on her years in the Warhol Factory, Swimming Underground. This came not long after the retrospective of her painting she published as Wake for the Angels, accompanied by a selection of incandescent vignettes, a few of which she would later turn into full-length stories. Woronov sometimes strikes me as a character straight out of a Camus or maybe a Gide novel – or maybe just Gide or Camus, himself. That is, if Gide or Camus had understood L.A., Hollywood movies, punk rock, American consumer culture and the California desert. Amazingly, she hasn’t been nominated for a Nobel Prize – a fact that would have astonished Alfred Nobel who, after all, invented dynamite.

She looked pretty dynamite Friday night, in a shocking pink trenchcoat, with her indestructible cheekbones, and very French-looking, Ines de la Fressange-looking hair. It was all I could do not to throw myself at her feet and declare, à la the Divine Iggy, ‘I want to be your dog’. (Really not such a bad idea at all: she has two fabulous dogs; and she takes fabulous care of them.) Now, having given us the hallucinatory fantasia of Swimming Underground, she’s at work, sans speed or psychedelics, on a more extensive memoir of her life. She’s also working on a novel; and she read excerpts from it – the sections styled as a pillow book of one of the characters – a stripper/exotic dancer, moonlighting in sexual favors for her customers: each more scabrous, scarifying, absurd and hilarious than the next.

Tottenham and Woronov are the poets of the magazine and they can never bore me. Tottenham also read new material (he’s a born sonneteer) and a few chestnuts from The Inertia Variations, which reads like the story of my interior life (rendering the toxic actuality of my hyper-active exterior life – or at least the part lived during the daytime half the work-week – utterly absurd).

I have no idea what Jason Flores-Williams was reading – poems, manifestoes, preambles or prayers to his legal briefs (he’s a lawyer as well as a writer), rallying cries (he has a certain track record as an activist – though I’m not sure how effective: the Iraq war still rages on, Bush is still the U.S. president, the Democratic Party slouches towards its ever more Republican Bethlehem), or simply rants – but it was very loud, and somehow deficient in, well, poetry. Or charm perhaps. His piece in this month’s artillery had a similar hectoring quality – and was so far outside the context of actual working artists that it actually worked as a kind of a funhouse mirror of this world – something outside the most outside of Outsiders (the theme of the issue). For someone who styles himself as an Outsider, though, he has a way of putting himself Inside a rather extensive range of places, scenes, movements, publications (e.g., High Times AND Hustler; do I sound jealous??? hey – I work in the Flynt Building – of COURSE I am; I’ll admit my porn reads like a bio-chem text; but I’m sure there are chem. profs who would find it REALLY stimulating.) and people. Putting that Very Big Outside into just about any Inside seems to be his thing (outside his law practice; though I understand he practices in more than one state). Hollywood being a place where such outSIZE egos seem to thrive, I have no doubt he’ll get a deal before he goes back to New York or New Orleans.

Speaking of criminal practice – I mean criminal defense – I was joined briefly, belatedly, by “L.A.’s Dopest” – and artillery advertiser – Allison Margolin and her very charming driver for the evening. Flores-Williams told me he had actually been in contact with Allison (which somehow didn’t surprise me), but had yet to meet her and wanted an introduction. I would have welcomed the opportunity to nudge him Allison’s way; but there was no way to tear him from the microphone and Allison had yet another stop for the evening.

Between Woronov’s brilliance and the attentions of Flores-Williams (and Allison’s driver), and perhaps an abundance of clear and red libations (this was the second bar for the evening), awol was about was wol as awol can be without losing her mind or getting arrested. Photographers Tyler Hubby and Lynda Burdick (who’s also a brilliant designer) got all the incriminating evidence on film. (Hubby managed to take a truly great portrait of Marnie Weber. Jim Shaw was a no-show for the evening; somehow he wasn’t missed. Mr. Shaw will be heard from here soon enough – with Mike Kelley (& Salvador Dalí?) – hopefully a bit later today.) Paige Wery was there, too – sans Parris – and somehow let slip the fact that before she became an artist, she had a budding career as a GOLF PRO. It was an evening for such OUT-of-the-box revelations. I made a date to play golf with her and her fabulous sister, Jill. We want to play at Hillcrest; but we’ll settle for Rancho Park.

I haven’t mentioned the art on the walls – which was by Max Markowitz. There were also charming sculptures in chicken wire floating through the space – but on this evening the abstractions were easier to see. He has a great color sense – which doesn’t really surprise me: his father is Barry Markowitz. It’s all in the DNA, isn’t it?

And I haven’t mentioned Huffington Post regular Michael Simmons who was the MC for the evening. Here’s another surprise: he was just fine.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Storyboards and stick-ups: an evening of dangerous curves

17 November 2007

Before I jump to Caroompas, Susan Silton (her Solway-Jones cannot be closing today – not while I’m still recuperating – not while my head feels this way), Barbara Zucker and Salvador Dalí – a note about last night. The evening was more or less evenly divided between events at Gemini G.E.L. and Dangerous Curve, each in very different ways oddly anti-climactic, each offering surprises, each smashingly successful. The Gemini event began on the early side of the evening – or did it? The guests of honor didn’t show until what was supposed to be (and at the very earliest) the last hour of the reception; and a number of quasi-celeb and art star invitees seemed to directly follow them over the next half-hour, so I have to wonder if there was some MOCA-sponsored (not sure why – but I know Stephanie Barron and Ann Philbin were there long before Jeremy Strick arrived with Dagny Corcoran) dinner or something beforehand. The show was a dual exhibition by that dynamic duo. . . . . that L.A. power-couple of fine art lithography and print editions. . . . . uh, not exactly. I was sort of prepared for the Ed Ruscha – I mean the new lithographs – because, if I’m not mistaken, Gemini already had one or two of these to take to Art Basel this summer. These were more in the same vein – a series Ruscha calls Cityscapes – a deliberately obtuse, sadistically ironic title; an abstraction; mordant yet opaque in its near transparency; an anti-map, an ‘anti-mask’, a cipher. ‘Meaning what?’ I had to wonder. The faint – as if delicately penciled in – inscriptions reinforced the ‘anti-map/anti-mask’ aspect – the implied violence carrying an urban ‘mean streets’ connotation. (E.g., “Stick Up” or “Listen If You Ever Tell,” or “If I Was You.” The actual inscription ‘clarifies’ the ‘context/content’; e.g., “LISTEN IF YOU EVER TELL, I’LL HURT YOUR MAMA REAL REAL BAD. THIS IS NO JOKE. I’M AFTER YOU STUPID PUNK.”) With one or two exceptions, these were mostly 3- and 4-color lithographs in grainy, earthen or heathery tones, with the imprint of what looked like sheer gauzy fabrics, or a digital output that might be a grassy surface, on paper or board, perforated in somewhat irregular rows or configurations by rectangular or squarish white spaces. It couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. They resembled nothing so much as storyboards with blank cards. So I suppose in a strictly L.A./Hollywood sense, these could be ‘cityscapes’ – the mean streets, the naked cities of police procedurals yet to be written, much less filmed or taped. Or ‘forget it better still’ – just like D.A. Fred Thompson, who seems to be recycling his old Law and Order lines into his stump speeches. Is it too much to ask, to dream, that within a few months, that gasbag will not only be off the campaign trail, but off the American political landscape and off of our airwaves for good? I’m not too concerned about the ‘cityscapes’ – as long as we can keep him out of New York and L.A., I’m happy – happiER.

Anyway, as much of a departure as these are from previous ‘word’ pieces, the Ruscha 5-card/10-card/etc.monte/storyboards were the dry, witty, elegant works one might have expected them to be. Who would’ve thunk that these might just be a teaser for the real graphic, textu/r-al – textile – drama yet to come? And who’d’ve thunk that drama might be coming from Ann Hamilton? Do I sound surprised? Mmmmm. . . . .well . . . just a bit. I would never exactly write off someone like Hamilton. But two points: until relatively recently, her most characteristic work has been both unusually (a) body/boundary-conscious and (b) installation-oriented; with, for the most part, the two characteristics inextricably bound up with each other. Oh yeah – one more thing: it didn’t always work. Now consider one or two other things: Hamilton has some background in textiles. Her B.F.A. was in textile arts. (I only noticed this recently.) Now, go back to the Ruscha's for just a split second and consider their tactile/textural aspect. (I know – I’m building this up into just another TEASE.)

As with previous events like this, Gemini had opened up its entire space, including press, engraving and work rooms. The bar/buffet tent began filling up relatively early, but, minus my companion Gemini, and not seeing any familiar faces, I began to meander aimlessly with a lovely glass of merlot through the back-rooms, sighting here a Ruscha, there a Baldessari, here a Nauman, there a Serra – and finally in a printing room just behind the front gallery, where I found myself facing an ethereal matrix (odd to juxtapose those two words) of blue, pooling, whorling, eddying, as if in tidal motion, subdivided into separately configured sections. Mounted against another wall was a simple, more or less A-line coat in ivory-white wool, with black piping. On the opposite wall, an exquisite work on paper that, to look at it from only a couple of feet away, registered as fabric – a silky gauze in a kind of puce-plum with blue, green and brown undertones (even after examining it closely, it registers in memory as fabric) – transparent, and similarly whorling and eddying across the surface, not unlike the multiple-sectioned print hanging only a few feet away. Then I saw a pair of long bronze ladle-like implements in a box (a sculptural edition I was already aware of) and put it together. But it was still later, as I was noshing on the fabulous tortes, terrines, and shrimp-gazpacho shooters, that I considered Hamilton’s original background in textiles, and for that matter, the relationship of this work to more explicitly body/boundary-conscious (and mostly installation) work.

An odd, lucky coincidence, I thought, that the Ruscha lithographs should present a similarly membranous aspect (which of course harmonized beautifully with the stocking/ski mask implications of a title like “Stick Up”). But much as I admired the almost sadistically sardonic Ruscha’s – their wit and elegance, I felt, at least for the evening, transported by the Hamiltons. They easily eclipsed almost everything in sight. At least on the first floor. (Yeah, I know – this is a non-stop TEASE.)

No, I’m not forgetting the Gehry lithos. Do I really have to say ANYTHING about those cocktail napkin scribblings? I’m sure they were perfectly charming – on those original cocktail napkins – but I still wouldn’t pay a price like that for them. Not even with the cocktail thrown in.

(Hang on with me just another moment, angels. MORE DANGEROUS CURVES COMING THIS WAY.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fette's Fête (a brief detour)

14 November 2007

I have to return to fette for just a minute – to mark the occasion of her gallery’s first anniversary, which was celebrated last night at Robert Berman’s gallery at Bergamot Station. If anyone wondered why she might throw such a party at the Berman space or a comparable site, the evening demonstrated exactly why it could be nowhere else. Had she thrown it at her own gallery, the crowd would have spilled out of the house and filled her entire Culver City block. Even as I left, sometime after 10 p.m., hordes continued to descend upon the gallery. The party magnified Fette’s talent for spotting and supporting talent, and for networking generally. Artists, curators, collectors, other dealers, journalists, media, friends and fans; artists and pals from France; from elsewhere in Europe; and artists and pals based here in L.A. and elsewhere on the American continent. It was as if there was no part of L.A. she had failed to reach; and with any luck, in a few years we may be saying that about the world.

This being fette’s night, I assumed we would be toasting her with Champagne – or at least some good French wine or, well – almost anything would do (maybe they could have broken out some Beaujolais Nouveau). Vodka might have sufficed – unsweetened and unaccompanied by concoctions manufactured by Starbucks, which concession was apparently allowed to sub for the bar. (Whose decision was that? I refuse to believe it was fette’s.) Between the hors d’oeuvres – which were not, but instead some confectionary nosh on the order of tiny dessert cakes or biscuits – and the libations (I use the word loosely), I thought I was headed for a diabetic coma. Fortunately there was also beer, which, in addition to saving fette’s fête, probably saved lives that evening.

Of course there had to be a show to accompany the libations, and Fette decided to apply her proven networking approach to curating it – offering her artists and collaborators the opportunity to select works from among their own friends and colleagues or to develop their own ideas for independent collaborations. Not a bad idea in theory – and certainly very democratic – potentially offering a glimpse (not least to fette herself) into the direction of future shows or her own artists’ development. Art, alas, is not a democracy; and the results here were far from even in quality or originality. A few artists (e.g., Erika Eyres) more or less punted on this, by simply exhibiting hitherto unexhibited work (unless, perhaps, her drawing was actually selected by another artist). It would have been interesting to know which artist or curator selected each piece exhibited; but I’m assuming Fette, Berman, et al. were too pressed for time to include this information.

Time was the keynote here. This was a show that was intended as both backdrop and forecast; but the forecast had already been made – reflected in the gallery’s shows and in fette’s ever-roving and ravenous eye – what ends up on le flog; and, so far, fette’s prospects are pretty bright.

It occurred to me that Nicolas Sarkozy, who professes to admire and emulate American values, could learn a thing or two from fette’s one-woman cultural embassy: specifically, that there is absolutely nothing immutable about such 'values'; that the most ‘American’ value of all may be to ignore or act in spite of one’s received notion of them, always reaching beyond the visible horizon line toward something not merely new, but unknown and untested. Sometimes you end up toppling right over the edge and into some dark sludge, but sometimes you find a new source of illumination.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Toxic Clouds and Molotov Cocktails: The Human Stain

9-10 November 2007

En route to Fette’s (this is the evening of the 2nd, remember), I thought about where Emin might take her “Tracey Emin” project next (besides the fairs, of course). She’s not ready to do a film yet (yes – I know she’s done one; it’s not something I would look at without a (well-compensated) assignment). Television? With the writers strike on, a reality show might be a good vehicle. (Could an audience be persuaded to bypass Nip/Tuck or Project Runway for her? Hard to say.) Or she might go back to her “Tracey Emin Museum.”

Having considered the “performative” aspect of Emin’s work (which seemed almost the only possible way to excuse it), it was interesting, chez fette, to be confronted with work whose performative aspect was similarly available and, in one instance (or more precisely several short instances), explicit. Of the two artists whose work was on view, Erika Eyres (Canadian, but now based in Glasgow), was perhaps the more ‘performative’ – but only slightly. Each artist’s work was presented under its own evocative title. Eyres’ matched the near-brutality of her drawings: ShutUp Shut Up Shut Up Shut Up. Her medium – not merely pen-and-ink, but specifically ball-point pen – emphasized their severity. They were not portraits so much as poses – more or less realistically treated, but with a specific exaggeration or distortion: shadowed eyes apparently sunken in a pillowy mass of white; lips and mouth bee-stung or stretched and compressed into a slash; bodies pushed hard against an absent wall or simply slanted – neither standing nor reclining – against a banquette; figures bled of their integrity – almost not figures at all. They might be taken from life (e.g., faces that looked like cosmetic surgery victims from Brentwood) or entirely imaginary. The sense of distortion was emphasized by the deliberately(?) irregular edges of the paper – nearly but not quite square or rectangular – appearing to have themselves been ‘slashed’ from larger leaves or a sketchbook.

The videos featured the artist herself in a variety of brightly colored synthetic wigs. In a few, she appeared to play more than one role. The effect, however, was not to set one character off against another, visually or otherwise, as a kind of foil, or to create an opposition or contrapuntal dynamic, but rather to repeat and compound the effect – the ‘message’ – which was virtually without content – the message entirely reduced to ‘massage’ (if a ‘stress position’ can be considered a massage – tears will be shed). Consider the source material: “info-mercials”; Jerry Springer-style emotional (and sometimes physical) head-butting/head-banging; Oprah-style harangues; personal injury lawsuit mills with their principal huckster-lawyers; etc. In short, a succession of disinformation-breeders. What is performed here is a kind of disinformation chain reaction. (Hence the title?)

While some of Erika Eyres’ drawings had the intensity of paintings, many of David Ostrowski’s paintings (oil on cotton or paper, those on cotton being somewhat larger) had the effect of pen and ink drawings – swiftly drawn out and brushed, sometimes boldly and sometimes tentatively, with larger patches of gray washed over portions of the panels not as a tonal modulation or contour shading, but a kind of stain. The subjects (inasmuch as they could be discerned), some taken apparently from photographic (and perhaps film) sources, appeared to gaze through a toxic cloud, or in other instances, were partially enshrouded or not-quite-blotted out by the ‘cloud’ or ‘stain.’ Studied closely, some of them looked like film stills. (Films of Tennessee Williams plays seem to figure disproportionately here – e.g., A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; why? If Ostrowski weren’t German, I’d be tempted to call it a Caroompas influence (see next posting – or her show (at Western Project). Even through a toxic haze or blotted out behind a cloud, there was no mistaking the iconic figures of Stella with her weeping Stanley, or Maggie the Cat begging Brick for attention.) 1960s- and 1970s-vintage papparrazzi glamour shots appeared to be another source for imagery.

Ostrowski’s title for the show was How to Look At Homegrown Terror, which, not unlike Eyres’ title, seemed to invoke a dual irony. I’m not sure, as one friend of mine put it, this has as much to do with the way Americans see things “post-9/11”, as it does with the way Americans (and others no doubt), consciously or unconsciously, construct a world – or a world-view – calculated to evoke (and perhaps provoke) terror. On one hand, one is inclined to say to that terrified gaze – it’s only Death; and on the other, to inquire/admonish – why are you so eager to invite it in?

There is something in the air at the moment – perhaps not just in L.A., although quite visible here – preoccupied with this kind of imagery, (heavily) filtered through a kind of scrim of contemporary angst and anxiety – a kind of poisoned nostalgia. Some of the work I saw just the other night (the 9th) at the Hayworth Gallery – by an artist named Miller Updegraff – seemed to partake of this same sensibility. (I’ll come back to that show – which also featured two artists – in another posting.) It’s not lethal – but you know you won’t be ordering that cocktail for some time to come.

Later that same evening (the 2nd again), I went to the Smart Building (as it’s called) in Venice for the launch of the new Rojo number – but more on that in a bit (or I would simply refer the reader to the magazine). I’m anxious to jump ahead a bit. The following evening, as some may be aware, saw the much-anticipated opening of Carole Caroompas’s show at Western Project, which was overall pretty great – and in which needless to say I took great interest. (MORE TO COME)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Glamour shot: the vibrant city; the dying planet

6-9 November 2007 (cont'd.)

The night before I met a collector pal downtown for one of the Central Library’s events – an interview/conversation with the architectural photographer, Julius Shulman. It’s almost impossible to visualize most of the Case Study houses and the most famous of the Neutra and Schindler houses without thinking of Shulman’s photographs (though I don’t mind trying). Fortunately, the discussion (to the extent there was one) did not really focus on the iconic architecture and Case Study showcase houses so much as the urban and architectural evolution of the City of Los Angeles. I appreciated the absolute absence of nostalgia from Shulman’s perspective and reminiscences – as much as he clearly cherished some of his childhood reminiscences of a much smaller, self-contained Los Angeles, with the areas beyond its limits, however variably defined, far more easily characterized as rural or agricultural than suburban – it hardly deflected him from his sanguine view of the City as it now stands – sprawling yet far more dense, the downtown skyline now ‘filled in’ with high-rise buildings verging on skyscrapers with more to come, even as older office buildings are re-purposed for residential lofts, and its population density begins to exceed its 1930s levels, with development continuing apace all the way into the warehouse and light manufacturing areas on its flanks (something I’ve had the opportunity to personally observe on my last couple of trips to artists’ studios on the downtown periphery). Even as Wilshire Boulevard continues its unbroken march of high-rise buildings clear to the Pacific. Even as the Valleys Shulman himself once knew as orchards, ex-urban villages and small agricultural tracts have become sprawling suburban tracts annexed to the City or small cities in themselves. (It’s hard for me to conceive of the San Fernando Valley as a separately incorporated city, notwithstanding its proponents, for that very reason. Setting aside its chaotic pattern of development, its interminable sprawl, the S.F. Valley already seems to have organized itself (in the loosest sense) around a scatter of suburban ‘centers’; e.g., Van Nuys; Granada Hills, Northridge and Reseda (I call it the ‘Devonshire Division’ area – with the police precinct station and the CSUN campus as its anchors; the palm-ier suburbs of Sherman Oaks and Encino anchoring the Valley’s southern end – with Ventura Boulevard becoming a kind of Wilshire Blvd. North; etc. In other words, there are probably somewhere between four and six small “municipalities” here.)

Perhaps Shulman’s somewhat upbeat view of all this is to be expected. His photographs are “staged” no less.than some of these houses (many of them once conceived, democratically, as a kind of idealized ‘middle-class’ suburban housing) are now “staged” for sale – to a distinctly upper-class clientele. Many of his photographs glamourize the San Fernando Valley’s ‘carpet of lights’ no less than they glamourize the houses in the hills and canyons above it (and the lifestyle they represent). Consider the Case Study Houses, many of them perched in the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains, many of them designed with generous, sweeping views of either the Valley or the Los Angeles Basin. Shulman’s photography showed off those views. But beyond that, they encapsulate and glamourize a certain lifestyle: casual but leisurely; domiciled behind glass walls yet at some remove from one’s neighbors – high above or discreetly set apart; dramatically sited (and sometimes precariously perched), yet impeccably constructed, built to endure (I think especially of Pierre Koenig’s magnificent Case Study House 23). Or consider Shulman’s famous day-for-night photograph of Neutra’s house for the Kaufmans in Palm Springs – luxe, calme et volupté. Shulman’s photography enshrines a standard of sybaritic luxury that engendered a certain notion of the southern California “good life.” That this is a standard unattainable to most of the people who have flocked to the state in the succeeding years is one issue. The more troubling issue is that the consequences of these ‘advertisements for the good life’ have been far from happy.

The San Fernando Valley is a living advertisement for out-of-control development – with the land carved out into one suburban subdivision after another with no end in sight. How difficult is it to imagine the ecological catastrophe of the Amazon with that increasingly thick and shaggy carpet of lights at our feet? The Los Angeles basin could never have sustained the population and economy it had circa 1930-1950 without water conveyed from the Colorado River and, as it has evolved since, from points north. Arguably, L.A. required the density it has reached since the 1970s and 1980s to become what it is today – and perched, as we were that night, in that splendid auditorium, in that splendid library, surrounded by the splendor of that privileged quadrant of downtown L.A., who would wish it away? But how far can we expect it to continue? The problem is not simply Los Angeles; it’s state-wide. But I sometimes wonder if, like certain forest or brush-fires that are allowed to burn within limits until the fuel is consumed or a natural fire-break is reached, perhaps we should simply let particularly vulnerable residential areas go – by fire, flood, quake, etc. Certainly developers should be liable for the drain they impose on natural resources.

Should architects – and their photographers – be deterred from encouraging them? We (the entire planet) need a new standard – and maybe someone to glamourize it. I would never call Julius Shulman’s photography real estate or shelter porn (something I admit to having quite a yen for). But – I think of him drawing an elegant signature Wednesday evening across the skirt of the woman’s dress in his famous night-time photograph of Pierre Koenig’s dramatically cantilevered Case Study House 23 – imprinted on my friend’s tote bag – let’s face it and just enjoy it for what it is: it’s glamour photography.

I seem to be specializing in the side-track. Where was I? En route to Fette’s? Yes – but I haven’t even said anything about my dinner with M--. It was sublime. We were through with Shulman for the evening; but we managed to cover just about everything else – from art to the social and cultural zoo that is contemporary Los Angeles. The wine was from the Loire – we toasted Fette (hey – it’s her gallery’s first anniversary) – but the conversation was pure L.A. I might lament L.A.’s on-going development; but with no assist from Shulman whatsoever, it looked pretty wonderful Wednesday night.

Speaking of fette . . . . . (don’t worry, I’m almost there. . . . .)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Feux d'artifices: Argerich, Dutoit and the city aglow

6-9 November 2007

That’s the thing about L.A. One minute it can drive you (literally) to despair, and in the next to exaltation. I interrupt these notes (overall more times than I can count) to return a call to a pal in deep despondency. Goddess only knows I’ve been there. We toss Topic D back and forth a bit and discuss pharmaco-therapeutic strategies. Then I join him up on that razor’s edge for a minute – to talk us both back off of it – easier for me because I’m just coming down/coming back from an absolutely terrific high which he would have no problem relating to; but also because, at least within the practical workaday dimension, it’s within his grasp. (Translation: he’s the one with the book deal.)

I’m not sure if “the beauty” (as one of my psychologists once put it) is what keeps us going; but it sure doesn’t hurt. D—is never going to be too far away (especially given the abundance of external triggers – personal, political, etc.). But once in a while, the stars glitter a bit more brilliantly here in our cosmopolitan gutters. I’m still coming down from the exhilaration of this evening’s performance of the UBS Verbier Youth Orchestra at Disney Hall. A performance that began a bit anti-climactically yielded one climax right after another, each a bit bigger than the last. It would have been worth going to see and hear Martha Argerich alone. It was a bit stunning to see Argerich on this kind of bill to begin with – but maybe not. In the years since her recovery as she's returned to concertizing, she has become increasingly involved in mentoring youthful pianists and other musicians, sponsoring competitions and symposia and fostering music education for talented youth worldwide. It was just a bit less stunning to see Charles Dutoit as the conductor; but there was no getting around the fact that these were two high-wattage names committing their prestige to this enterprise (they’ve embarked on a world tour with this orchestra). Argerich has worked frequently with Dutoit over the years, and it was hard not to imagine something good coming out of this musical chemistry – even if it only involved the two of them. There was at least one other factor working in their favor. This was music they both knew in their bones – almost too well. Dutoit worked without a score the entire program.

And what a program: the Prokofiev Third piano concerto in C major for the first half and the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz for the second. Not exactly giving the kids (or anyone) something easy to warm up to. All virtuoso-level stuff – and you sensed the kids’ tentativeness at the start of each half. But that’s another thing (I didn’t know) about Dutoit. On top of being a great conductor and knowing the music as if he wrote it himself, he’s a great music coach. Working with a full orchestra right down to a full percussion section (for the Berlioz), he managed to rein them in and whip them up to peak performance. He was so physically engaged with each section of the orchestra, there were moments when I thought he was going to jump right off the podium and into one or section or another of the orchestra. The strings, being closest, really came in for a trouncing. It was a kind of deliverance framed as their worst nightmare. The audience had to stifle a sympathetic laugh or two as Dutoit all but hectored his cellists with his baton. But why bother about what it looked like? It worked.

Maybe they needed it. Maybe Argerich needed it just a bit. As tentative as the orchestra may have sounded as the violins picked up the clarinets’ sentinel in the first movement and began their ascending cascade, Argerich jumped right in – but maybe just a fraction off the beat – seemingly feet (or fists?) first – missing a few notes and actually hitting a couple of clinkers in the first movement’s opening staccato fusillade and wild tarantelle over the keyboard before somehow regaining her balance in those deliberated chord progressions and meshing back with the orchestra’s jagged rhythms now wonderfully articulated by the flutes and woodwinds. As Argerich began that oriental figure that descends down the keyboard to the recapitulation of the movement’s opening, I shared a sigh of relief with my companion. What briefly threatened to be a casually slapdash rendition would be nothing of the kind. Argerich was back to her sublime self with that enchanting reverie/rhapsody of the second movement – the conductor of her piano as she steered her way securely through the variations – as Dutoit’s orchestra followed with equal assurance. The third movement saw each through to that Elysian domain of the sweeping, haunting, almost Rach-like figure that closes fast upon the swirling staccato cycloid that drives the final movement to its fiery finish. No lighters or cellphones required – the audience was on fire and on its feet. Who expected an encore? This was love – but Argerich returned it in full – first with a Scarlatti sonata – dazzling; then with an improvised excerpt of the Schumann Kindersehnen. Pure poetry. There was nothing (musically) left to say, but the audience kept her returning for one curtain call after another until the lights came up.

The Symphonie began just a bit slowly (but then, it’s supposed to be a ‘dream’, right?); but the kids were warmed up by now and Dutoit kept them exactly where he needed them. It soared, swept, (slept?), and scared (just a little) – in all the right places. The Walpurgisnacht movement left everyone as fired up as we were after the Prokofiev; and the Orchestra rewarded itself and us with an encore they had clearly planned with some savor – the Ravel Rhapsodie Espagnole, which fireworks they set off as easily as Argerich rolled out her Scarlatti and Schumann.

They left us breathing (panting, gasping). I’m kidding – and I’m not. I realize I’m getting a bit side-tracked here. It’s such a cliché, but there’s no denying it. There are things that change the way you look at the world. And the last couple of nights have been nothing short of that. Last night, it was simply dinner with a friend (following, I might add, a “conversation” – an L.A. Public Library event – with the architectural photographer, Julius Shulman – but in this instance, the architecture/photography conversation took a back seat to our own). Tonight (which eases into this morning), it was Argerich, Dutoit, and the UBS Verbier Orchestra. The champagne (a single glass – I swear) doesn’t hurt; but L.A., chilly and fog-enshrouded, for a few minutes seemed the most beautiful and luminous city in the world.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I'll Leave You Breathing.

4 November 2007

The reader who routinely checks this space might be forgiven for wondering what awol does when awol is not looking at art (or movies or theatre or dance; or listening to live music); or driving to or from it; or reading or writing – or blogging about it – since she hasn’t been doing as much of it as might reasonably be expected – in short, when awol is not exactly awol. By now everyone has some idea about what happens for me between 9 and 5 (or is it 9 and 9?) on most Mondays through Thursdays. But after 9? And after that? Round midnight?? It might not be midnight. It might just be darkness at noon – could be earlier, could be later. It might just as easily be over lunch as over dinner or a nightcap. It’s what we might call the haunting – as distinguished from the obsession. Of course there are obsessions – the most ordinary thing in the world – and therefore not worthy of comment. There are the concerns, the preoccupations public and private. We can admit the obvious ones: the body personal and politic; the private finance, the public exchequer; personal liberty, civic space; the zeitgeist, the civilization; the biosphere, the planet (I’m not sure where humanity fits into that scheme – all we can be sure of is that there’s too damned much of it – by somewhere between 2 and 3 billion units).

The haunting is something that takes place in three- and sometimes four-dimensional space – oscillating between the physical and the psychological, between the sensory and the purely cerebral, between historical time and the infinite now of consciousness. (Yes, maybe it is something of a Twilight Zone.) I could start by telling you where I’ve been the last couple of nights – but it’s not necessarily the most important thing. (As I was looking this over, I was interrupted by a telephone call from an art world friend who unluckily touched on this very point. I couldn’t offer him the assurance I think he was looking for – i.e., that these were important things, at least for artists or the serious art audience.)

So I’ll start with where I was the last couple of nights. Speaking of obsessions. Speaking of the most ordinary thing in the world. I was actually looking forward to the Tracey Emin show at Gagosian. She represented the UK of course at the Venice Biennale – but I hadn’t seen much coverage of it, aside from some rather pallid watercolors and monoprints; and so I really hadn’t seen new work by her in some time. Suffice it to say that I have mixed feelings about the notion of “confessional” art – and I really think her ‘breakthrough’ work (“The Bed”; the famous Tent that burned along with a number of other Saatchi works in London) went somewhere conceptually well beyond that pejorative. At one point in her career, she reportedly cited Munch as an influence; and one had the sense, not that she was emulating Munch, his particular line or style, or halting, bottled-up but explosive expressionism, but that she was exorcising the Munch of the mundane, the self-evidently abased.

The monoprint is an ideal vehicle for Emin’s project which, as far as I can tell, seems to be in the largest sense “The Tracey Emin Story” (exactly like that, quotes, caps and all). In other words, the cursory, smudged sketch set off again at one remove – the graphic equivalent of a quotation mark; the enigmatic/emblematic gesture reduced to a cipher. There’s little point, however, in any kind of analytic appraisal of the individual pieces or even an overall assessment of this particular show. Emin’s draughtsmanship has never been exactly anything to write home (or YOU, Reader) about; but that’s hardly her point (or maybe it is a point – but I doubt it). But the prints, drawings, embroidered pieces and paintings (there were also standing sculptures and works in neon, including the title piece, You Left Me Breathing) couldn’t carry the feather-weight of their titles. Emin overworked one title for both two- and three-dimensional work – “Trying to Find You” – and maybe it would have been a more appropriate title for the show. With Emin apparently unable to find “Emin,” in a variety of media and treatments, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the crowd at Gagosian wasn’t terribly interested in even bothering to look. An oppressively bourgeois-looking crowd saw no reason to interrupt their pre-strike deal-making (or just posturing) with art-viewing; and having looked it over myself with some thorouhgness, it seemed pointless to try persuading anyone to do otherwise. Looking at some of the embroideries and monoprints, I suddenly felt a spasm of nostalgia for . . . . Feiffer. As in Jules Feiffer – his electric, agile, choreo-graphic narratives of neuraesthenic, neur-athletic pondering, posturing, negotiating, temporizing, expostulating, exasperating, coping and convulsing through thousands of cartoon panels over the years. Sex, exploitation, disappointment, disillusionment – were just four of the hundreds of themes, moods, controversies, conditions he explored over the course of a career that is far from over – with breathtaking, precision and lethal wit.

I have to reconsider Emin’s work – perhaps in its totality. I’m not being fair to the work right now. But there really isn’t a lot here for me to work with. You Left Me Breathing didn’t leave me laughing, thinking, gagging, or …. (Well I guess I’m still alive.) It didn’t leave me because it never arrived. Needless to say I got tired of waiting and soon left – for Fette’s Gallery (more on that in a minute) – but not before finally spotting Emin in the crowd – with someone who looked vaguely like Orlando Bloom. They blended in well with the Gagosian crowd.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Black Out of Hell

26 October 2007

Reports of my demise, as they say, have been exaggerated. Or have they? I wonder occasionally if I have a bit of the vampire in me. (How often am I seen in L.A.’s arts and cultural venues during the day?) In truth I love it when I have the candle burning at both ends – which seems to be a requirement for functioning successfully in this town – either that or at least two personal assistants. You feel tremendously alive, vital, productive. For a few minutes anyway. The afterglow depends upon what is actually seen, heard, appraised, accomplished. But how do you measure or quantify that? And then the candle is spent. It’s all about chasing the dawn. Vite, vite, vite, vite, vite…. I can feel like the Countess Balthory (the fabulous Delphine Seyrig!) in Les Lèvres rouges. Of course she ends up impaled upon some trees along the side of a road – a glam ‘car crash’ (I’m thinking of the Warhol Green Car Crash that fetched a record at Christie’s last spring) if there ever was one – in that fabulous Bernard Perris wardrobe. (I have to hit Barney’s as soon as I get out of bed.) So hard maneuvering from that position. Then you wake up only to find your gorgeous young protégée has stripped you of your glitter and hitched a ride with – well, fresh blood, anyway – to the nearest château. Or the Château M. Whatever.

It’s been more than three weeks since my last appearance in this space. And although I am just getting over a really bad cold, it was really only the last week-end that saw me seriously demobilized. Not that I was exactly where I should have been. (No I did NOT go through a looking glass at Harvey Nick’s en route to Regents Park. Fortunately I think I’ll be able to pick up some intel from a few interested parties who DID make it to Regents Park (the ever reliable fette was there (at Zoo, under Chung King’s auspices), as was Marc Foxx (& Rodney H??)). But hey – we don’t call it awol for nothing. And it’s not as if you’re entirely cut off from the art world in L.A. – even if half the city is half a world away. You could be stranded at a freeway interchange and find yourself diverted by ….(I was suddenly thinking of Sandra Tsing Loh in those halcyon days when she was playing a grand piano in just such a venue.) … well, by something.

I just left the DMV (I think that’s where I live now) following the press preview of the © Murakami press preview at MOCA. That Arnault-sponsored gala is actually Sunday night (I’m glad I’m not the only one whose schedule seems to be almost turned upside down by the sheer press of business) – not the usual Thursday or Friday night dinner. The press materials make a big deal out of the Louis Vuitton boutique embedded (or maybe embunkered is a better way of putting it) in the show – the sprawling Geffen space is just cavernous enough to accommodate it. But I’m happy to report that – although it announces itself somewhat oppressively in its white antiseptic cube overhanging the central space – it’s just out of the way enough not to interfere with the rest of the show. Paul Schimmel actually smiled at me from the reading room (where he was steering the scheduled one-on-one interviews with Murakami and, I guess, himself) as I entered the main space of the show. Anticipating my relief? And yet I begin to see his point – inasmuch as he’s encapsulated it in the show’s title, i.e., that Murakami's studio production is largely of a piece with the rest of his mass-manufactured production. Walt Disney meets the Land of the Rising Sun. The famous floating DOB or Mr. DOB avatars – which have always struck me as a kind of anime hybrid of Alfred E. Neuman (“What Me Worry?” – from MAD Magazine) and Mickey Mouse seem to have undergone a similar evolution to Disney’s immortal rodent. Murakami’s L.A. otaku will have a chance to reacquaint themselves with other Murakami/Kaikai Kiki characters such as “Miss ko2” and a host of ‘superflat’ progeny including Kiki and Kaikai, Inochi, Stew, and Mr. Pointy, and of course more mushrooms and floating ‘jellyfish’ eyes than you’ve ever seen together in one place in your life.

Regardless of what you make of the totality of Murakami’s various enterprises artistic and commercial, he cannot be dismissed. The show is impressive and, setting aside the Vuitton excrescence, beautifully installed. Unlike Disney, Murakami is willing to push through the glass darkly just a bit – even with his mass-manufactured toy biz – and also retains a sense of what he comes from in the largest, most generous sense – the entire Japanese legacy of culture and history, beauty and atrocity. Miss ko2, along with his hyper-lactating Hiropon and hyper-ejaculating My Lonesome Cowboy (take that Andy Warhol!) were flanked by the elegant paneled ‘screens’, Milk and Cream (natch) which in their surreal minimalism evoked both Miro and Ruscha as well as the entire tradition of the Japanese screen. Walking through the exhibition, it was impossible to miss the affinities Murakami shares with Dalí, and, more specifically, the affinities between this show and Dalí: Painting and Film at LACMA – each instinctively surrealist, endlessly inventive, relentlessly commercial. If Dalí begins with an interior, contradictory chaos of the unconscious, externalized into a kind of pictorial declamation, Murakami begins with an exterior, historically contextualized but almost ritualistically declaimed chaos, and abstracts it into a realm of absurd and outlandish fantasy.that might well be the stuff of a child’s id-centered unconscious.

It’s absurd to invoke Freud in a discussion, however cursory, of Murakami – and I think I’ll end it right here for a moment. (Let’s see if I come back to it.) Nevertheless the permutations of each vocabulary – Murakami’s aided notably, it would appear, by digital manipulations – appear to be endless and often surprisingly subtle.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Swerving off course (or 'sleight of blog')

30 September 2007

I know -- you're waiting for me to track back. Believe it or not, I actually do have something more to post about Allison Miller (I made a quick reconnaissance over ACME last weeek just to make sure I hadn't lost it between galleries and autostrada that particular night; I have a certain distrust of my own enthusiasms and obsessions); and there were the other shows I mentioned. Then there was the sleight-handed Whitney Bedford's show I saw that Friday night (the 21st) at Cherry & Martin which was notable (though perhaps alarmingly perishable), as well as the Vincent Valdez at Western Project the previous week, where I ran into my old L.A. Weekly pal, Lynnell George and met my new Weekly pal, Daniel Hernandez. (Kidding -- though I wish he were. A moot point in any case: he's off to Mexico City to write a book taking off from the feature on Mexican electoral politics he wrote for the Weekly this past year. He was a model for some of the Valdez paintings.] Oh yeah -- Ry Cooder ... [sound of my heart stopping] ... was there. What a gas.

And no -- I'm not going to spend much time right now on the Francis Älys show at the Hammer. Yeah, I went to the opening (though not to the press preview; I haven't read the catalogue, which I'm assuming is either written entirely by, or at least features an essay by, Russell Ferguson; he co-wrote the Phaidon monograph on Älys). It's both a little too 'interactive' and perhaps not interactive enough (if you can grasp that paradox) to give a meaningful or coherent précis of its various components and presentations, much less a critique of its overall success as a show. By that, I mean I need to play with it a little more; and I hope I'll have an opportunity to do that.

And I missed the Swerve festival stuff, the openings downtown and in Westwood (I mean, besides the Hammer). I'm exhausted, of course; but beyond that, I'm absorbed in a magazine feature I'm writing on an important L.A.-based artist, whose work has such a sweeping and richly resonant cultural compass, that it seems to be threatening a breakdown in the electric grid of my synapses and vacuuming up every bit of cultural intel and awareness (okay I didn't say it wasn't limited) around them. It's like summer in my brain with less than adequate air conditioning. Or something like that. Anyway, my brain's smithereening in a zillion directions from Calvino to the Clash, Barbarella to La Notte and everything in between ('so what else is new?' you say), and I'm just trying to pull it all together so a reader can follow it on the page. Does that make any sense? Anyway, bear with me. Hopefully, it will be worth it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Light Night (The Priss-tine Collection)

28 September 2007

Before I track back to the 21st (and the 8th and 15th before that), a note about last night. Kim Light hosted a reception for the curator and artists of the group show up at her gallery – styled, I would say, as much as curated (a good thing) – a Janus-look, as much forward as backward, at her own legacy, that is to say the legacy of the Kim Light Gallery which staked out a trend-setting spot on La Brea Avenue in the early 1990s, much as Blum & Poe, in many ways its godchild gallery, staked out its place at the Culver City end of La Cienega, setting the pace for the gallery development both at Washington and La Cienega Boulevards and throughout Culver City – a trend which, some might say inevitably, included Kim Light herself. They are neighbors within half a block of each other.

Everyone was there: artists, including the somewhat reclusive (in recent years) – or maybe just busy with her day job, Fatty’s & Co. – Kim Dingle. I had no idea she was still deeply involved in the enterprise, but is she EVER. No silent partner – but up to her elbows – maybe her eyeballs – in icing and pastry dough. The pastry motifs and preoccupations of recent work (Sperone Westwater – and presumably to be seen next month here at Kim Light/Lightbox) are NO COINCIDENCE. It was funny, having arrived at the Gallery completely frazzled and fit to be pissed after an encounter with opera buddy in the parking lot. [“How do you think [I am]? I’m exhausted and a little aggravated. But you know where I just came from.” OB (laughing): “NO – where are you coming from?”] I just walked away rolling my eyes – to a welcome glass of champagne in the back room, where Gary Garrels was holding forth on the very handsome Sol LeWitt – one of his monochromatic wavy line paintings, prominently featured in the retrospective Garrels organized for S.F. MOMA way back when the world was young – or 2000. (Am I the only one who sometimes thinks 2001 is the new 1963?) I’d never noticed the handsome George Rickey before. Wow, Kim. Then to the office – to borrow a digital camera (I’d left mine – barely out of its packaging – at home) – thanks Kim. And seated right before me – Kim Dingle. I was thrilled to meet her – especially after that amazing triptych Lightbox was showing only a couple of months ago – the ultimate angst-envoi to a pretty terrific group show. We related perfectly in our shared EXHAUSTION. (But I can’t imagine anything that powerful coming out of MY exhaustion. It made me wonder: what’s the legal/financial/forensic equivalent to that bit of Priss-pastry-Lord-of-the-Flies rage?). Curators, collectors, other dealers (e.g., Natalia Tkachev of Balmoral) (was that all just one run-on sentence above?), L.A. Weekly people – it felt like high school homecoming week. (I left my pom-poms at home, too.)

Jeff Poe was conspicuous by his absence. The show was really a tribute to the two of them, Kim Light and Jeff Poe, beautifully, meticulously curated by that über-curator, Carole Ann Klonarides (who put together the brilliant Without Sun show this past spring at Christopher Grimes and Chung King Project. But as if to exemplify the spirit of that pivotal moment, Skip Arnold was there, the contrails of chaos streaming behind him like smoke from the cigarette he held clenched in his cigarette holder. The video (and other) documentation of his performances (e.g., “Hood Ornament,”the “Axis Powers Tour” – a kind of existential picaresque) retain a good deal of their tense, anarchic power. So were Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, Monica Majoli, and Gregory Green. The main gallery was book-ended by Chris Wilder’s “painting” of white (synthetic) fur on canvas.(executed this year) and the Yonemotos’ “Achrome III” matrix of squares wrapped in silver projection screen material (for sale!), the Anya Gallaccio “Red on White” seemed to both sink and levitate between the two.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Boadwee’s – but his work circa 1993 – those targets and enemas – becomes more interesting in retrospect in terms of its foreshadowing (though not necessarily directly influencing) work that has only seen light in the last few years. (e.g.., Gallaccio’s more recent work). In that light, I would take issue with the notion of “Red on White” as being either exceptionally a ‘vanitas’ – a great deal of Gallaccio’s work plays on this notion (cf., “Red on Green,” “Intensities and Surfaces” – which shares a certain affinity with Karen Finley, of course); still less as something that “def[ies] stereotypes of femininity” (though Gallaccio’s feminist ‘cred’ hardly needs amplification). “Red on White” certainly alludes to decay with some finality (though not necessarily through appearance), but also to the indelible human stain (although technically, uh, cow’s blood – as Klonarides pointed out in her amusing intro Thursday night); also, dematerialization as a function of performance (cf., Skip Arnold).

The more explicitly feminist strain here was evoked by Dingle’s “Priss Room Installation” (1995) reconstructed here in all its scatological shrieking rage. (From controlled anarchy to controlled chaos.) Green’s mock explosive devices (1992, 1997) seem neither ‘pruriently thrilling’ nor particularly threatening – though they indicate another tendency, again foreshadowed by Boadwee (and possibly Dani Tull, too): towards a clinical deconstruction of the obscene or, more simply, the prurience of kitsch (cf., Tull). Monica Majoli alone has gone on to really plumb these motives to their depths – though it’s interesting to see again where she started with them.

None of this is to diminish what I think is a pretty fabulous show and a wonderful recapitulation of a certain moment. It breathes fresh here and the resonance with what is happening now in 2007 is all the more remarkable considering that watershed date I just alluded to.

As great as the show is, though, it was hard not to be distracted a little by the people, the great food and the dirty martinis. Though, as readers of this blog will already know, politics is never too far away from the scope of my concerns near or far, and something I hardly shy away from, I would have thought they might have been set aside to some extent for an evening like this. Especially this early in the season (I sigh). Alas art world politics never sleep. I would have liked not having to think about fairs this particular evening – though it was good to hear promising things about an upcoming fair. But here were two dealers strutting and fretting (respectively) dealer selection (and the all-important selection committees) and their booth/space placement in the fairs. Basel-Miami Beach and its many satellites may represent an inescapable force in this respect. But – and here the spirit of Jeff Poe was very much present – ‘if you build it,’ so to speak, ‘they will come.’ Presumably, these dealers advertise in the right publications (artillery, hopefully, among them). If you have what collectors are looking for, and you’re within a reasonable distance from an international airport, surely those collectors will make their way to your door. Alas, this very convenient end of La Cienega is rapidly filling up. Lucky, I think, to be Jeff Poe or Kim Light.

More later – though hopefully not about fairs (for a while).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Autumnal equinox and 'New Image' abstraction

21 September 2007

It’s an appropriately autumnal day – cool, overcast, threatening rain – but unusual for this time of the year in L.A. (related, I think, to some hurricane activity in Mexico and the Gulf). The autumnal equinox passes placidly here (discounting real estate uncertainties in the hills just above me and on the far sides of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys), even as another sort of equinox seems to pass with some violence, yet almost unnoticed by an American Congress that is almost perfectly oblivious to any political or economic actuality – to say nothing of history. The currency revaluations (the dollar at a new low against the Euro), the Blackwater diplomatic shuttle massacres (American diplomats and apparatchiks apparently can’t move without Iraqis dying) are really just the tip of this iceberg heading straight for our Titanic of a Republic. It was almost hilarious to listen on the radio to Lindsey Graham (the Republican senator from South Carolina) justify his vote (in line with the cowardly, possibly pre-senile, John Warner) against the bi-partisan military appropriations bill with the Webb amendment that would have slowed the pace of deployment and given troops additional recuperation time away from battle zones – effectively phasing out this bloody debacle by saving the military for another day (and alas another war, I guess). After considering the Petraeus testimony, Graham decided it was worth “taking a second look – politically or on the ground.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one coughing up my coffee on that line. “On the ground” – is he kidding? The ‘politically’ was implicitly (oxy)moronic – maybe he slept through that part of the Petraeus testimony. Then there was Chuck Schumer holding forth, absurdly, on Borse-Dubai’s purchase of a 20 percent stake in NASDAQ, one half of a double-barreled assault on American capital and equity markets, the other being the Carlyle Group’s sale of a discounted 20 percent interest to Abu Dhabi. If they didn’t grasp the concept and implications of peak oil a few years ago, they do now. (Alan Greenspan’s blunt remarks justifying his support of the Iraq war were as amusing as they were appalling in that regard.) Gee, somebody better invest in the American infrastructure because it’s clear the American government won’t. Apparently, they draw the line at destroying another country’s infrastructure. On borrowed Chinese money. And to think once upon a time, I thought America only knew how to entertain and/or sell products. I’m not sure how effectively we do that anymore, but apparently America is still good at blowing stuff up. (Come to think of it, that sounds like a lot of Hollywood summer movies.)

Where was I? Allison Miller? That’s right – she has a show up at ACME. I can appreciate the distance I have now on this particular show (though I know it annoys some of the readers who check in here routinely who are looking for the info/intel NOW, not two weeks later). Miller’s abstractions grow on one. Viewing the show that Saturday night – if not on the run, not exactly contemplatively, either – so much of the impact was sheer scale and shape – these deliberated, purposeful ‘doodles’ arrayed on an imposing scale (e.g., 4x5 sq.ft. were typical dimensions). ‘New Image Abstraction,’ I summed it up to myself then; and in a way, I think the appellation almost holds. There’s a kind of Guston-ish reliance on a few dominant shapes – whether abstracted from a figurative source or purely non-objective – repeated, extended or extrapolated, and/or reinterpreted – by way of size or rendering, color modulation, division or abrupt discontinuity; and therein lies its departure from the ‘Guston’ type image or motif, which usually builds into something more concrete or readily identifiable. Miller’s work dispenses with – I would go so far as to say, discredits – the concrete. The ‘concrete’ here may be a separation, a ‘divide’ – but this is exactly where her brand of abstract veers off ambiguously into the domain of illusion. The process is fascinating and I would love to get into her brain while she’s working. Her work (though I really haven’t seen that much of it – here at ACME, some group shows, etc.) has come in for comparison with Bart Exposito, with whom she shares certain obvious affinities (coloristic, among others). But her work is soooooo different from Exposito’s. It almost challenges the very foundation of such ‘hard edge’ type work (though I don’t mean to simplify Exposito’s work quite to that extent either). Consider, by way of example, the image on the announcement card (which is what is sitting in front of me). (I’d never do a critique on that basis – or even my memory, which I don’t entirely trust; but it will serve in this context with respect to Miller’s use of shape, the non-/anti-concrete, etc.) In “Trumpet,” Miller gives us a succession of swagged crescents gradually settling over a dark trapezoidal form which bisected both vertically and, near its top edge, horizontally (an allusion to something ‘concrete’? -- an extrusion, a bevel? Miller teases us with a line, a color gradation – as the bright yellow of the ‘trumpet’s’ bell ‘sinks’ beneath that line, that ‘lip’; and all the while, the graduated swags – in umber, mauve, white, blue (and yellow) – rise to the very top and extend to the width of the panel. But then the eye is drawn from these contrasting geometries – the trapezoid ‘base’ (bass?) and ‘trumpet’ parabolas off to the side. Miller has a certain fearlessness with the way she uses black and white, light and dark space; but here it’s as if there’s something else going on altogether in the lower half of the painting, a sequence of ridged tissues of pigment (oil I assume) in vertical strokes, ranging from inky black at the bottom to slate and steel blues tinged with violet and pale graphite or grays fading to sheer smoke. What – brushes on the snare or cymbals? Strings? It’s a different mood, a different episode in the same tune, the same ‘story.’ There’s no way to reconcile the contrasting zones, masses, geometries – and no need to. It somehow holds its own tenuous balance, the strength of those shapes, the mystery of those more ‘painterly’ passages, the balance between what is revealed and what obscured. I have a bit more on this, but I'll leave off for a moment. Hold that paradox if you can.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lari's Night (2); Bernie's Party -- Luxe without Calme

15 September 2007

Good morning – and it’s off to the DMV (again!). I fell asleep reading The New Yorker (what else is new?). It felt appropriate somehow lullabying the kitties to something titled, “Fame” and then something by, uh – Joni Mitchell?? – but uncannily suited to a week when it was disclosed that there was now a completely navigable route through the Arctic Sea, essentially confirming what we’ve feared for the last decade or so: the Arctic Sea is now liquid year-round and the polar icecap is melting. Oh Amelia – this is no false alarm. (FORGIVE me, Joni.) The Regen second space was aglow with that dubious aura last night. But also the aura of talent, originality, genius. A number of Pittman’s Regen peers made an appearance, most notably, Raymond Pettibon. Also artists like Tom Knechtel and Nancy Riegelman (looking sensational) and Roger Herman. Also k.d. lang. Collectors aplenty, including Eileen Norton, Barry Sloane. The aforementioned culture commissars. Which is where I believe we left off. I would have much rather talked about Pittman – and Michael Duncan was not too many steps away; I needed to pick his brain about his own chat with Lari Pittman about the series of smaller works on the west wall – but Shaw was on the table for the moment, as I was recalling for Paul Schimmel that moment when his Donner Party was on the block at Christie’s. I assumed (or maybe just hoped) at the time that MOCA had someone either in the room or on the phone. I apparently assumed/hoped wrong. “We don’t have anywhere near that kind of money; we can’t compete in that arena.” The Donner Party wasn’t exactly a bargain, of course; actually the price set a record, or perhaps just under a record, for Shaw. That said, although you don’t exactly go to an auction house looking for a bargain, not all auctions are pitched into the monetary stratosphere (as the Spring New York sales were by and large). (Interestingly, a lot of Shaw drawings failed to sell that evening.) In fact, the Huber hammer prices were not wildly out of scale with the rest of the market. There are a number of factors and circumstances that influence and motivate this market; but I don’t think it’s oversimplifying to say that the most important motivating factor is essentially: you go to get what you can’t get anywhere else. I thought back to another moment that month: the three Blums – Irving, Jackie, and Tim (no relation) – joined by Schimmel in the Armory lounge. I don’t know what the revenues were like for the Armory (or the Armory uptown, Scope, etc.), but there were probably enough loose dollars floating around that room, let alone the Pier, to put together a bid. I sure hope somebody is working to build up MOCA’s acquisitions funds and overall endowment.

Since we know it was François Pinault who acquired the Shaw, I felt comfortable moving from Pinault and his luxury goods zillions to Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods empire, specifically one of his flagship brands, Louis Vuitton. Setting aside the debased standard of luxury Vuitton’s brand of status-retailing more or less pioneered (which is above all retailing the brand; who needs sizzle when you’ve got a pedigreed logo?), and some rather dark episodes in its retailing history, it was hard not to feel dismayed that what would amount to a small free-standing Vuitton boutique right on site at the Geffen would not share some percentage of its revenues with MOCA. Who, I asked, was responsible for this disastrous decision? (I left out the adjective – but it hardly needed to be spoken aloud.) “It was absolutely, one hundred percent my decision…. I mean, it’s [meaning Murakami’s commercial style ventures and commercial production] already there….” Schimmel seemed to confirm what I knew only as a rumor – that the Vuitton products or boutique would not only function as a museum/souvenir/etc. shop, but actually be an integral part of the exhibition. (I give him credit for sheer bravado.) But shouldn’t the museum be at least granted some profit participation in what amounted to a dual promotional/retailing windfall for LVMH? Here, Schimmel seemed to implicate some aspect of Murakami’s artistic (or perhaps just business) practice. But surely the museum (Schimmel or Strick) could simply have said, no. Is the intention here to erase the line between art and commerce altogether? “Anyway,” Schimmel continued, “[LVMH] will pick up the cost of the [opening] gala.” This could conceivably run up more than a few pennies, I realize. (MOCA’s patrons no doubt have some fabulous schwag coming their way.) But let’s get real here. LVMH is a US$17+ billion company. Arnault probably has sufficient funds parked somewhere offshore to fuel a dozen such galas. This ought to go down as smoothly as a flute of Dom Perignon; this will impact Arnault about as much as a draught of L’Heure Bleue across a cool room; he’ll feel this about as much as . . . you get the idea.

Added to which – Arnault and Murakami will be making some money from this venture. In other words, it’s a wash on the LVMH balance sheet. It almost amounts to a free promotion. On a certain level, Schimmel is right: Murakami’s commercial enterprises are part and parcel of his artistic practice. (And certainly no one makes art to lose money.) But a museum is hardly obligated to embrace every aspect of an artist’s practice any more than it is obligated to include every variety or period of an artist’s output in a show. Moreover, setting aside Murakami’s practice/business, the Vuitton bags were designed as bags, not as art. The trademark Murakami icons and motifs, whatever their connection to his art, are here nothing more than design elements, subordinate to the overall style. These are style products – they are aimed to sell as fashion, not as art.

I have no illusions about the art business. It is a business. Art may even be on some level about business. But it’s mostly something altogether different. Although (like any other commodity) the stuff of commerce, livelihoods, financial leverage, it has a much larger and open-ended mission in culture, communication and society that largely transcends its status as commodity or even as sheer idea. It is apprehended, decoded and hopefully enjoyed entirely without reference to commercial valuation, currency, decimal points or micro- and macro-economic models. Don’t get me wrong – I love commercial galleries. Commerce is an essential form of communication. Some of the most acute, insightful and passionate people I know in the art world are dealers (auction house people, too – Amy Cappellazzo and Toby Meyer come to mind). But I also cherish the museum (and kunsthalle) as a refuge from commerce, a place to take the measure of an artwork, to examine and cross-examine it, entirely outside the stream of contemporary culture and commerce, the noise of the commercial context. Luxe or not-so-luxe – I don’t need the noise of LVMH brands (I include the ones I use) buzzing about in a museum.

Oh yeah – and the buzz. Schimmel took some delight at the thought of the crowds of new museum patrons the show might attract – presumably among the chic, the aspiring chic, status-seekers, and the merely clueless. (What next? – a K-Mart Blue Light special in the middle of an exhibition? I think I’d prefer that to Vuitton.) But museums cannot just be about heads, attendance. Museums are not for absolutely everyone – sometimes not even for those of us who love museums. Not everyone takes the Kant seminar at school, and not everyone is going to need to join a museum – or even visit one at all. There are other ways of engaging the culture; other means I daresay of asking the same kinds of questions we ask in a museum or kunsthalle.

Getting back to business for a moment, though. Considering the apparently threadbare state of MOCA’s endowment or acquisitions fund, wouldn’t it be prudent to look to a corporate/commercial sponsor (or in this case beneficiary) for more than just the cost of the opening reception? Assuming the gala runs less than half a mil, I don’t think 2.5 or 3.5 million would be unreasonable. Yes – $3.5 million. That would be about six Donner Partys. Speaking of parties.

But this was Lari’s party – and I was enjoying it – piqued by a taste of something new in (what appeared to be) the gouaches on the west wall – something implied to some extent by motifs in the larger panels and canvases – but here isolated, elaborated and developed into something entirely new. They reminded me alternately of magnified fragments of medieval illuminated texts and orientalist hour book pages (or something that would take its cues from Persian or Mogul miniatures). I lingered too long here. I would have happily spent an hour with them. So I missed Barry McGee’s show downtown at REDCAT. And I haven’t even said anything about Allison Miller, yet. I’ll come back to her – and Lisa Adams, Dan McCleary, Lucas Reiner, George Stoll, Lauren Lavitt, et al. I’m always one party behind with yet another down the road; and I’d rather just go home to my own party of three – and attend to my own (politically) Red Cats.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lari's Night

14 September 2007

Where was I? Allison Miller? Okay – but it’s Friday night and I have to add a note about the show I just came from – Lari Pittman at Regen Projects’ second space on Santa Monica Blvd. – apparently the event of the evening. It almost goes without saying that it’s a must-see (please don’t EVER confuse awol with that sometimes ridiculously off-the-mark column). Who knew the opening was also going to be a must-attend? EVERYONE was there – even one of my docs. (I knew he was interested in art; but had NO idea he was collecting at this level until I saw him and his wife zoom in on Yasmine (one of the associate directors) for details on a piece. Well.) No, I’m not on life-support yet; but chances are by the end of the season (or if I have one more crisis at the Flynt Bldg.), I will be. The work on view seems to have evolved fairly coherently from the most recent work included in the Hammer’s Eden’s Edge show this spring/summer; although the palette seems to veer towards a slightly more autumnal, vegetal range. The compositional architecture evolves as well, not necessarily less complex – and certainly with as much transparency as ever – but more plainly subordinate to a dominant overall structure or motif or figure(s) (whether that be a body or bodies, organic or vegetal forms – e.g., apples, pumpkins (jack-o-lanterns?), cacti); also a sweeping fluidity to some of these forms. It’s a little freer – but no less controlled. There were a number of cacti – an opening for Pittman to visually pun on the spines. There were other novel motifs within the quintessentially Pittman-esque transparencies – roundels and foils that had an oriental quality, later echoed in some of the smaller gouache (I think) panels on the west wall of the gallery. These were some of the most interesting pieces here. But I can’t get into them just yet.

At one point in the evening, I came into proximity with Paul Schimmel. He was chatting volubly with Ann Philbin and Russell Ferguson. I was of course dying to know what they were talking about. But that’s one threesome I knew would not be thrilled to have me eavesdropping so I gave them a wide berth. It was impossible to pull away completely, though, simply because of the crowd. And so I found myself almost face to face with Paul Schimmel. There was no point in avoiding it. I HAD to ask him a couple of questions about the whole Murakami, Vuitton business. The revelations in the Times and Mitchell Mulholland’s artillery column begged for a response – and, well, there I was notebook (and artillerys) in hand. (By the way, just to set the record straight – I am NOT Mitchell Mulholland – though I sure wish I had his sources.) I decided to open on my home – and slightly friendlier – turf, and asked him about MOCA’s bidding posture with respect to the Shaw Donner Party installation that Pierre Huber sold at Christie’s last February. But I’ll have to leave you there for a few minutes. The two grand duchesses (my cats) are driving me crazy and I think I have to read them a bedtime story to get them in the mood for their 9x40 winks. (They’re not the same since late night television disappeared from their lives.) I might need a few myself.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Summer's twilight; The Night of 100 Openings

9 September 2007

It was the night of 100 openings. If we count Thursday, Friday and today, it was probably the week-end of 500 openings. Okay, I’m exaggerating – but it sure feels that way. The L.A. Opera – with Fidelio (I am dying to see it) and a one-night only performance of the Verdi Requiem (uh – make that one afternoon only, if I’m hearing this right – I’m listening to it on the radio – hmmm…); a slew of theatre openings; the usual raft of concerts and club dates; and, according to one maven’s count, exactly 85 art openings. I think I’d call that a full lid. (And I think Curb Your Enthusiasm starts up again tonight. Right?) Oh, and by the way, that show/movie/exhibition/exposition/dance/concert/recital/club date/record release/event you were going to catch before it ended its summer-whatever run (you know which one(s))? It’s closed, baby. Look – you needed that week-end at the beach. Or the hospital. Whatever.

I got a giggle from Fearless Leader’s editorial letter in the artillery just out. Setting aside the perennial (or bi/quint/dec-ennial) summer fairs, festivals, and international exhibitions – which for the most part take us either some (more often that not, absolutely magical) location in Europe or resort location elsewhere – which we have half a chance of turning into something of a vacation (however illusory that seems to be for most Americans), summer used to be the slow season, with August all but dead except for late summer movie releases, blow-out rock concerts, and (in L.A.) the Hollywood Bowl (that’s Mostly Mozart/Tanglewood/etc. for the rest of us). But not anymore. I’ll admit August (in L.A.) was a little slower – and the last couple weeks gave me some much needed breathing room (if you discount that killer heat wave that all but did me in). But that’s about it. Hey – they don’t call it Arts & Leisure for nothing. I’m thinking we need a moratorium on art production at least one month out of the year; otherwise it’s going to take a global village to resuscitate me for the next season (assuming I make it through this one). I mean – my therapist is out of town, and I have a stack of unread books next to my bed. Leave me the fuck alone already! will ya?

She asked rhetorically. I guess that’s what I miss – the summer stuff. I actually haven’t been to the Hollywood Bowl this summer. I haven’t been to Dodger Stadium. I only just finished a Vidal novel I started years ago – which makes me want to dip into Mailer (go figure). (Coincidentally, did you notice Norris Church Mailer’s new novel in the Review today? She uses the Mailer name now. It was just Norris Church when she was painting. Well. A guilty pleasure? Maybe I’ll stick to Norman. Or maybe not.) Want to know what I’m reading now? Daphne Du Maurier (House on the Strand) and Colette (La Chatte). And there are literally twenty more I’m dying to read/finish.

Okay it’s officially a rant. Where was I? Bergamot Station, to begin with. Or I should say, circling the perimeter of the entire old railroad yard neighborhood looking for a parking place. I GAVE UP. It’s never happened before. I always found SOMETHING (at least) on the other side of Cloverfield. Not yesterday. I really wanted to look at the Francesca Gabbiani collages at Patrick Painter, the Brad Spence show at Shoshana Wayne, as well as the shows at Felsen, Faure, Heller, etc.; but they’ll have to wait. By that time, it was too late to nip over to Christopher Grimes for the Kellndorfer photography, which I probably should have run to from fette’s gallery Friday night. I had already made the painful decision to forego the Ann Hamilton/Joan Simon (both of whom I admire tremendously) conversation at the Hammer (WHY did they have to schedule it on that night – OF ALL NIGHTS??)

I overheard fette chatting with Robert Berman Friday night (he brought Sophie, his completely charming pug, with him) and wondered if there might be something to the group show there, as well. But it will just have to wait along with the rest. I was already feeling over-extended – which was one reason I decided to skip Suzanne Vielmetter and Kim Light. With any luck, I’ll follow up during the week (it’s a bee-line down La Cienega from the Flynt Building). But I still hadn’t SEEN ANYTHING. It was back to Wilshire Boulevard. I figure the only reason the mob was more or less penetrable at 6150 was because it was entirely impenetrable at Bergamot.

After the Gabbiani and Kellndorfer shows in Santa Monica, the Jessica Stockholder show at 1301PE was a priority. She’s one of the most brilliant assemblage artists around; and my fleeting taste of something new of hers at one of the New York fairs this past winter (Armory – the Mitchell-Innes space) whetted my appetite for whatever she had coming next. The title was intriguing, too (or have I just been spending too much time in the Flynt Building?): Sex In the Office (the announcement image: a braided raffia or wicker urn, two yellow sponge brushes (the kind used on toilet bowls), a bright orange traffic cone, one wastebasket poured into another, etc.) – but in fact, if you examined the list, you noticed the actual Sex In the Office was another piece altogether and far more elaborate (unless it was still a work in progress when the photograph was taken). I almost thought one of the pieces – on the order of Rauschenberg combines, but far more elaborate (even towering), aggressively extemporaneous in an almost Dada/Schwitters/Merzbau manner (which tends to cancel out the more passive, random Tuttle-esqe aspects which she clearly has some affinity for) – was that sculpture I saw in New York – juxtaposed rectangles of Plexiglas (it looked like a Tele-Promp-Ter screen) and carpet swatches mounted onto a plant stand. But that sculpture had a more distinctly figurative silhouette. This was more explicitly abstract, a play on frames, screens and squares, projection, tactility (sheer tackiness, too). Aluminum frames were a common element in at least three of the sculptures – as if to underscore some notion of what this kind of sculpture might be: a picture, conceit, exploded out of its frame, screen – randomly, messily, carrying along anything in its path. The use of color was interesting, too – now bright primary synthetics, now deliberately drab, the dead colors of dead objects (e.g., a pale yellow lamp shade over a banana palm leaf lamp base (or plant stand) collapsing into some box-like construction, the whole mounted onto a nightstand with fluted legs. Lights and mostly plastic mechanical parts (e.g., refrigeration or air-conditioning) appeared elsewhere. There were only five pieces; yet I longed for more space. However they may have been curated/coordinated to work with each other, I felt they needed a more ample surround space, even isolation, to be taken at their full measure. Two of Stockholder’s Pace Edition monoprints were hung in the office.

(Oh yeah – that was the Requiem performance – just in case any of us were thinking about cruising over to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – offered, in part, as a memorial to Luciano Pavarotti. Domingo conducted – fitting tribute to one of the unique and unforgettable voices of the last century.)

I hopped over to Karyn Lovegrove to check out a show of Benjamin Butler – New Trees. Same as the old trees. And then it was back downstairs. . . . Alright. I guess the thumbnail description I kept overhearing was “Pattern and Decoration.” But it’s misapplied here; Butler’s work is much more willfully abstracted – which is a good thing. (Interestingly, Kim MacConnel, who falls more comfortably within this category, was also opening a show Saturday evening at Rosamund Felsen.). Almost ritually abstracted. The schematic, quasi-iconic or symbolic ‘flowing-fountain’/’weeping-willow’ configurations could have been taken from a 19th century hymnal or devotional text. (They reminded me a bit of Shaker motives.). The palette reinforces the works’ ‘faded text’ aspect – the paint thinly staining the canvas in pale vegetal colors that manage to hold their pale integrity counterpointed against the vibratile, modish basket-weave grid of acid and neon colors undulating through the dominant motif – both surface and backdrop. Sounds clever and it is – maybe too clever by half. Less ‘pattern and decoration, ‘ I think, than the old Arts and Crafts – or maybe something Duncan Grant would have adored – or even painted. Call Liberty of London, I think, walking downstairs. Or William Morris – we’re in L.A. for chrissakes.

ACME was showing new work by Allison Miller. Another kind of abstraction altogether, but I'll get to it in a few. I pause to take in L.A.'s magic hour -- for me that's when it's starting to cool down.