Monday, March 26, 2007

The Morning Nightmare

26 March 2007

A correction [to the 23-24 March notes posted 25 March]: Marta Edmisten – whose show, lol, opened Friday night (23 March) at another year in LA – was misspelled/typed into my computer. It’s E-D-M-I-S-T-E-N (not Edmiston). I don’t always proofread these dispatches too thoroughly and I know I should because I certainly can’t type to save my life.

I’m already having a bad morning – and maybe you are, too – if you wake up to NPR news as I do way too often. Have you noticed? It’s become insufferable. The beginning of the end was either the departure of Bob Edwards or the Iraq war – I can’t quite be sure which. Ever since the Bush-Qaeda disaster of Sept. 11, 2001 when the public media honchos decided that ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ coverage of political news and government misdeeds meant giving equal time to both the truth (or a sanitized version of it) and lies (dusted over with quasi-patriotic bromides). Steve Innskeep (ugh – I know I’m making you sick already) is apparently on assignment in Iraq – and the scene is – as well as they try to ‘manage’ or ‘contain’ the picture, the news flow for us – appalling. It’s nauseating beyond belief. The scenes unfold – again and again and again – like a horrifying traffic accident (I guess I have that on my mind, too) where you’re constantly replaying the succession of physical events in your mind, wondering at which point a single action, decision, intervention, correction might have forestalled the disaster about to occur in all its nightmarish (or perhaps, hopefully, not) ferocity, chaos and destruction. There, you think. They should stop right there, pull back right there. No – they can’t go there. Stop. Stop. Now. Oh jesus, now look, listen. Ohmygod no no no no no. I have to go back to sleep right now I can’t sleep I have to ….. It’s become the daily morning nightmare – the nightmare we wake up to even before we look at the front page.

Now multiply that nightmare a million-fold to imagine the on-the-ground reality. This is the nightmare Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, Wolfowitz, et al. have unleashed upon two countries and two civilizations. Who knew their ambition was to make the Al-Qaeda mission a walk in the park?

It’s apparent again as I go over my fair notes how this war and surrounding events have marked on one level or another the art of our time – not necessarily explicitly, sometimes very obliquely, tangentially. And personally I can’t say my taste runs towards protest art – more like, runs away from it. But at what point does every thought, movement, gesture become inflected (I want to say inflicted – afflicted) with the whiplash reverberation of these crimes? At what point do we react to the toxic overload to the body politic? At what point does it change the chemistry – the way we think and behave; and the way the art gets made? I need a few moments in Noah Sheldon’s pink-and-tan room (see Friday's Roberta Smith review). Or maybe just a white room with white noise. I’ll put on the Goldberg Variations (G. Gould) now. I have to try. Try to forgive my poor spelling, proofreading.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fire and Ice

25 March 2007

[By now everyone knows I’m in automobile limbo which in L.A. is hell which seems to be a constant in this writer’s life so what else is new so I’ll just get on with a few quick notes on the last couple of nights.]

23 March 2007

Yeah, yeah, yeah I’m on deadline and in crisis – so why not escape – at least for a minute or two, uh, hours – hey it’s L.A. where a minute is purchased only by a half-hour’s commute time – especially if I’ve already made a promise – as I did in February when, after a quick survey of the goods in David Kordansky’s space, I promised him I would check out his space in Chinatown. It seemed nothing short of amazing that I’d actually missed it in the course of many routine tours of the galleries along Hill, Chun King, Bernard, etc. Streets. Though it seems clear now why I consistently missed it – tucked away in that upper corner of Bernard, just barely fenced away from a freeway exit that you have to walk through a parking lot to get to – along with neighboring Daniel Hug – who I’d also seen on Pier 94. So here I am finally: so are a lot of other young, very chic-looking people. I feel like Stephen Prina (here on sabbatical from Cambridge) and I are the oldest people in the room. Mari Eastman also here. After a quick chat with Stephen (I’m curious what he might be working on here during sabbatical), I 360 the aggressively matte minimalism of Gaylen Gerber and, already feeling old and isolated, move on to David Kordansky who is showing Alan Michael, an artist from Glasgow (he’s exhibited in L.A. before – at Roberts & Tilton), who also takes an aggressively matte approach to the bright and shiny world of glass, steel, concrete and neon. I wouldn’t begin to attempt to pin him down – though the heart of his fascination appears to be with the chimera of transparency in both the physical world and language. It’s photorealistic painting – mostly Glasgow apparently, nowhere near London’s West End or New York’s Times Square – but seamlessly laid out in the most precise and driest brush and finished within an inch of its almost claustrophobically cropped life. The name of the show is “Decamp” – the word being the dominant motive of one of the paintings – and it may or may not apply thematically to the rest of the canvases. An adieu? Alan Michael has apparently decamped to London. The bright shiny world beckons.

I then shlepped over to Another Year In L.A. for an opening by Brooklyn artist Marta Edmiston. I knew nothing about her and would have probably skipped it if it were not an easy detour on the way home and if I weren’t so hungry for an hors d’oeuvre or something (David and Cathy frequently put out nosh in addition to the two-buck Chuck and I was game this evening). Instead I was gifted with that wonderful moment – preceded as if by a minimalist flourish that can promise either masterwork or folly (the show is called lol) – when you realize you’re surrounded by something important and amazing – not even straightforwardly evident on the surface of the work itself, but the cumulative resonance of which builds structurally, almost harmonically, like great music. The work itself – large graphic high-contrast enlargements of digital photographs – is compelling enough in its presence – but they’re images seemingly under pressure even in this expansive format – and they urge us on into the (refreshingly concise) documentation, the profiles, which build into a document-installation of great power. There’s more – and more and more – but I can’t go on here. Suffice it to say that Marta Edmiston will be seen in the national press in weeks and years to come.

24 March 2007

After a quick reconnaissance of Nicola Tyson’s show at Marc Foxx (Rodney and Lia facilitate most excellently), I stop in at Western Projects to take in Eric Freeman’s minimalist atmospherics and a much needed scotch and water before moving onto what is clearly the event of the evening, Parris Patton’s performance/process piece, Because I Can’t Be Beethoven, at Dangerous Curve – which, as well as I think I know down-downtown L.A., warehouse, industrial spaces, artists lofts and all – seems a bit of a trick to get to. Somehow in this alien vehicle and with no sense of direction, I get there, find a parking space (2 miracles in a row). The spectacle is visible from the street. But then what looks like a 12 foot by 12 foot block of ice encasing an old upright piano (it had to be positioned in this open square by crane) being attacked by one or two flame throwers and 3 men with pickaxes would be. A crowd of about 200 is thronged behind this amazing sight, milling about or seated on folding chairs or at a few tables for eating. There’s a bar inside one of the artists’ studios facing the open space and a couple of guys are doing brisk business at a sausage stand they’ve set up. People are chatting, shmoozing, eating, drinking, and taking many, many photographs. Cameras and digital devices of all varieties are flashing everywhere. Video and film cameras capture the proceedings – visible in close-up on a couple of monitors set back along with the sound mixing board. Beethoven’s complete piano oeuvre plays continuously over the sound system – a statement in itself, considering we’re still routinely showing up for Beethoven sonata cycles. Paige Wery, steadfast handmaiden to this event – I congratulate her on her success – circulates through the crowd with programs. Someone muses as to whether this is the most politically correct sort of art event in an era of global warming. Cathy Stone is here and offers her lucid commentary on Patton’s process art, wondering if it’s supposed to 'fail' – i.e., never quite get through to the piano (and then ritually burn it) at the appointed time – which is fast approaching (it’s been going on since early in the afternoon – and it’s now past 9 p.m.). The physicality of it is daunting – even with at least two well-muscled blokes flailing away at the thing (a fire marshal overseeing the entire proceeding). Parris himself, who takes frequent breaks, is clearly working past exhaustion. What everyone seems to agree upon is the primal power of the image: fire and ice. To say nothing of fire and ice holding, Houdini-like, its precious cargo of what is not merely a musical instrument – but, symbolically, Beethoven’s instrument, hence vehicle of sublime transport?? (I’m regretting the missed Brendel as I think about this.) I drive home to my cats and deadlines – and Beethoven – on the player as I write this – not Brendel, but Maurizio Pollini’s wonderfully lucid rendition of the D-minor “Tempest” Sonata. There’s fire and ice and there’s what lies beyond that.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Midnight in an oasis of modernism

[These notes come relatively unfiltered/unedited because I've been preoccupied with (a) editorial (print-hardcopy) deadlines; (b) automobile insurance, repair, rentals, etc. matters -- very important things in "High-Impact" L.A. -- which have utterly exhausted me. Please accept my apologies. I promise to return in slightly more manicured form after I have these issues under control.]

22 March 2007

Arts coverage in the Times leads this morning with stories by Carol Vogel on David Rockefeller’s decision to send a beloved Rothko masterpiece, “White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)” to Sotheby’s (with a reported $46 million guarantee), as opposed to where, once upon a time, he would have been predisposed to send it – MOMA [Rockefeller apparently did consult with them before he did – noblesse oblige – but Elderfield gave his blessing and off it went to Toby Meyer’s eager embrace.]; and Ourussoff’s review of Frank Gehry’s pleated luminaria for Barry Diller’s Chelsea headquarters. Smith makes a modest proposal of her review of Noah Sheldon’s “Pink and Tan” installation at D’Amelio Terras that the Met might seriously consider – which reminds me that people who make this world – or any arena of sensory bombardment within an already fraught, frenetic planet – their main stomping ground, need places to decompress. The Rockefeller/Rothko/Sotheby’s item is of interest – as a kind of lagging indicator of current market conditions – where the market is exerting its influence even on semi-lockstep philanthropic decision-making, where the market is intruding upon or even preempting philanthropic decisions-making. But later for that.

The item that really grabs my attention (I’m not alone apparently) is the House & Home feature on a year-long experiment in “No Impact” living – on lower Fifth Avenue (yeah – right) – the crackpot idea of writer Colin Beavan. He sounds like a brilliant guy – he has a Ph.D. in applied physics – so there’s really no excuse for this harebrained scheme. (No impact?? – he has a blog he expects to be read and he’s writing a book about this. What? You expect people to buy your book; but god forbid if they use toilet paper?). He calls himself a megalomaniac which is either over- or under-stating it. What he actually is is a sado-masochistic fuck. Note to Michelle (the wife): I can refer you to a good divorce lawyer. Only problem is he’s already setting you up for low support payments. But enough for now. The high point of the day (into night) is the Joffrey Ballet – which promises an oasis of modernism (Massine, early Balanchine and Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table – which I’ve never seen – are on the bill) and more or less delivers.

I need some kind of oasis in more ways than one (after an automobile accident just the other day, I’m more of a wreck than my car). I have to wonder as I drive over to opera buddy’s place in the rental car whether all I’m really after is a reason to hope. Obviously what I’m thinking about here (with respect to modernism) is a moment before the disillusionment sets in – or maybe after the disillusionment: what does the period after the first world war express other than a massive, annihilating disillusionment with culture and civilization itself? – a moment after the cultural vivisection when the organism of culture, freshly revived and rehabilitated, takes its first survey of civilization’s scarred (but non-malignant) landscape; when the process of reexamining, revising, restoring or renovating the fundamental intellectual, aesthetic, ethical principles can begin afresh. You have to wonder if modernism – that is, in its early, pristine, proto-classical incarnation – represented a ‘last, best hope’ of western civilization. I’m more depressive than doomsayer; but two world wars and looming global eco-catastrophe don’t seem to have had much impact on the thinking of the governing classes so . . . .

That kind of tug of war between post-war optimism and pessimism appears to be the backdrop for the first ballet – Les Présages by Leonid Massine. The scenery and costumes are by André Masson and, especially in the first sections or movements of the ballet (actually the corps de ballet is characterized in the program as “Movement”), there is a sense of contending forces, competing impulses played out in crossing movements of arabesques and jêtés cross-hatching behind the hieratic, ritualized aspect of some of the soloists (characterized as “Action” and “Temptation”), which was evocative of Hellenistic or Mycaean dance or gesture. The classicism of temple dance and geometric cross-movement is more than a little offset by the music – from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The Funeral March that opened the ballet is both an evocation of romanticism’s legacy and its own overwhelming présage of dark events to come. The adagio pas de deux contends with a mercurial Fate (spiritedly danced by John Gluckman – by far my favorite of the soloists in this ballet) as well as a corps of “Destinies” who seem to alternately signal caution, or point forward, disengaged, to a future already seeming past. In the last section, all the soloists are in ‘play’ – “Passion,” “Frivolity” (beautifully danced by Allison Walsh), “Action” (Valerie Robin), the aforementioned Fate and (alarmingly), The Hero (Thomas Nicholas). The ballet, according to the program notes, is ostensibly an allegory of ‘man’s triumph over fate.’ So why was I consistently engaged by Fate’s and Frivolity’s intercessions into the proceedings, and put off by The ‘Hero’s’ proto-fascist posturing. As the other soloists and corps circled around him, his arm and palm raised in what looked like a fascist salute, the Hero seemed less like the triumphant common man or the eye of Fate’s hurricane than the traditional (quasi-fascist?) leader of his swirling (and lost?) individual destinies. Optimism or pessimism? – you had to wonder.

It was a relief to step into the sunlit domain of the Balanchine/Stravinsky Apollo, which I’ve seen in a New York City Ballet production some years ago. Apollo is an allegory of the birth of a god and awakening of his sleeping muses. The program note indicated the deletion of a prologue – but it actually seems to have been folded into the rest of the program. The Mount Olympus ‘birth’ prelude or prologue unfolds on a mounted platform (Wolfgang Laib’s staircases and ziggurats – see my 2006 SITE Santa Fe coverage – would have worked well here) as Leto (Britta Lazenga) stuggles to give birth to Apollo – one of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen. Apollo (Calvin Kitten) is presented as a gauze-swaddled cocoon – which is then unwrapped as his awakening begins. With a long key-like lute or viol, Apollo then draws out his muses, offering them the symbols of their arts – the scroll to Calliope (beautifully danced by Maia Wilkins – a lunar presence to Apollo’s sun), a mask to Polyhymnia (Julianne Kepley) and lyre to Terpsichore (Emily Patterson). The dances of mutual fascination and seduction begin, culminating with a pas de trois among Apollo, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore. Terpsichore is (inevitably) the favored muse here – but, as they ascend to the Olympian platform, we are aware that there is no inessential dream element here.

The Green Table is a more literal piece of dance theatre – not surprising as it takes its inspiration directly from a dance re-played for us year after year in galleries, conference and ballrooms and banqueting halls of staggering magnificence: the dance of diplomacy – which, also with clockwork predictability, alternately pulls back from or slides forward into the march of war. If it were being choreographed today, I suppose there would have to be some element that pastiched television executives and their news actors – but Jooss’ ballet leaves the media out of it. The ballet begins with a brilliant pantomime of a dozen “men in black”– all masked – “negotiating” over that universal green baize table – which, somewhat raked and foreshortened here, anticipates the coffins soon to be filled with young men. Death – conceived here as a kind of heroic “New Centurion” in the classical mold – reigns (and brilliantly – by Fabrice Calmels) over the ensuing scenes – over the ignorant recruited ranks, their imploring wives, sorrowing mothers, helpless vicitims – interspersed by the machinations of my favorite dancer, John Gluckman (and character?), as the “Profiteer.” The ballet closed over the same green table – this time with the diplomat-dancers unmasked. As we walk back to the car, opera buddy asks me if I was aware that Henry Kissinger had once again stuck his own fright-mask out into the Bush administration policy fray. Indeed I was but, given all that has transpired over the last four years, neither surprised that an experienced war criminal should be consulted, nor especially concerned, given the administration’s overall about-face on Nixon-Kissinger style realpolitik over its disastrous course. So the dance goes on. As far as this dance went – overall, the Joffrey gave a great performance.

Trying to put the horrifying mask of Henry K-- out of our minds, we drive back to opera buddy’s studio where she shows me some new paintings she’s working on. I’m immediately struck by some new abstracted landscapes she’s done – craggy lines of ridges and canyons she says are inspired by a famous Californian engraver and graphic artist who she notes will not be found in the LACMA “Modern West” show of western landscape painting. I immediately see the inspiration in a woodcut she shows me (the artist’s name suddenly escapes me). As we walk her fabulous dog, T— around the block under a heavy crescent moon, it occurs to me that opera buddy has a few tricks up her sleeve to spare – which may yield something magical in weeks to come -- an exciting moment of anticipation. A great evening is its own oasis.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tracking forward, back, and just getting lost

[The Tuesday New York Times (20 March 2007) has hit my desk as I continue this narration – and the first thing I always turn to as soon as I scan the frontpage heads is the Science Times (“Arts?” – are you kidding?) – and I immediately have cause to wonder if my ‘scan’ of this latest Lowe show is just a bit too breezy. I’m looking at a ‘mandala’-like (not really) object/illustration (I almost wrote 'illusion' – and perceptually, that’s almost closer to the truth – as in illusion that reveals a truth) on page D2 and read the piece – about Lie groups (which are sets of continuous transformations that leave an object unchanged in appearance – the simplest example is a sphere) and their exceptions – one of which, rendered in the illustration, is the 57-dimensional E8 Lie group. It is a rendering – and a set of calculations (about, uh, “200 billion” – go ahead and read it) – almost impossible without supercomputers. And as I peruse the rest of the section (fascinating story on primate, maybe ‘prime,’ morality; Angier on the equinox, etc.), including one on ‘snowballing’ crystal formation in snowflakes, I begin to think that I’ve shortchanged those ‘mandala’ paintings in the third gallery (overlooking her “baby-grand piano-ice-chest”). Well of course I have – which doesn’t mean I would not have gone back to them. But to preview that moment here, it occurs to me as I copy out my notes that these (slightly skewed) ‘mandalas’ – not unlike the glossy, quasi-schematized renderings of cover/graphic illustrations in the first gallery – contest in a similar way the schematized, conventionalized way of seeing, absorbing, internalizing ‘popular’ ideas, notions, and ‘developments’ (from the micro- to the macrocosm) teased out (rigorously, pitilessly) in those ‘book’-objects and panoramic ‘views’ in the second gallery. It occurs to me that Lowe would push us some distance from our Cyclopsian (forget about 3-D) perspective on things – but it’s a struggle to pull us away from our bromides (or analgesics?) even as the multi-dimensional actuality all but engulfs us. Obviously I take this stuff pretty seriously. (Can I be forgiven for having a headache?)]

17 March 2007 (continued)

Before I leave Bergamot Station, I’m reminded by Tetsuji Aono and Ron Faranovich (perceptive collectors as well as artists, the both of them) to check out Cindy Kololodziejski’s exquisite ceramic objects at Frank Lloyd (“Reversal of Fountain” – which doesn’t tell quite the entire story). I do. They are – almost hearkening back to a Renaissance sensibility (I’m think of something along the lines of Pollaiuolo (sp?) or something like that.). The abstract truncated ceramic ribbons in matte subdued colors by Wouter Dam are pretty interesting, too. But I really don’t have time to consider any of these things. From Santa Monica, I head directly to West Hollywood for openings at Richard Telles (a Roy Arden video installation) and Seyhoun Gallery, for an installation of photographs and documents from one of Martin Gantman’s “tracking” projects – a conceptual endeavour that has marked his work practically since I’ve known him in Los Angeles (that is to say, before I knew him beforemany years before: we were at university together – a second degree for this polymath). In so much of his work – even before he segued to this conceptual framework – Gantman’s work has been preoccupied with trajectory; not simply the traces an object or objects (or even more abstract – a motive, an idea) will leave in their passages through time and space, but the particular paths they take, the map of their passage and the process of mapping this voyage, passage, itinerary. (Or am I getting this completely wrong, Martin? Or am I missing the point?) Juxtaposed with this is the notion that one’s awareness of the physical (or non-physical) coordinates or attributes of place, positioning may be skewed or in some counterpoint with the salient details, the perceptual field, narrative context or facts about the place itself. (Absurd to try to sum up a decade’s (or more?) work like this, but it’s not like this is a memorial in stone.)

I should have worn my ‘tracking’ visor cap, which Gantman sent to a number of people in a previous project, but I left it on my piano bench, so I arrive bareheaded. With Martin, you get Abbe – Abbe Land, his politically engaged (and always terrifically engaging) significant other, who is completely fabulous and who actually – this could be considered cruel – gives me something like political hope. (Not only do I find it unacceptable, almost inconceivable, that she lost her State Assembly bid last year, it amazes me that L.A. hasn’t sent her to Congress. On the other hand, that would keep her away from L.A. most of any given month; so I have to look at the bright side. She always does.) For this project, Atmospheric Resources Tracking, Inc. (or is that simply the corporate name for the project?) Martin enclosed a number of survey cards in an envelope, attached the envelopes to gold, helium-filled balloons and released them to float over the city, documenting their point of descent and landing (almost as a crime scene) through the details given on the completed cards returned to him – photographing and mapping the sites. The cards are mounted here alongside the photography of the various locations, which are fairly random and mundane, but impressive in their penetration of outlying neighborhoods – an almost city-wide, albeit uneven, distribution.

There are shows opening at Carl Berg’s, Mary Goldman’s and Tom Solomon’s galleries; but pain has a way of tracking me to the bitter end. As I drive eastward, Martin (and Abbe?) have me thinking about networks and networking (which take me back to the earlier DiBenedetto obsessions) – and my inability to reach the end of this one. My cats usually manage to forgive me, even if I can’t always forgive myself.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Transcendental Aggravation" (w/ apologies to Lowe)

I'm aware I'm zapping forward with this post -- before back-tracking as I'd promised. I will pick up those notes as quickly as I can; but I thought I'd deliver this before the health department starts knocking on my door to check expiration dates (specifically my own). You'll have the preceding notes in due course.

17 March 2007

“ANYTHING IN THE WORLD”?? I’m thinking as I breeze through Monique Prieto’s Stonehenge-font text paintings at ACME. The ‘anything in the world’ I’d like right now is a quick fix to my migraine headache which continues apace. (Obviously this is not a really bad one as these things go; else I’d be at home on my couch with something over my eyes. Although I’m obviously setting myself up for potentially rude visual surprises.) The show actually takes its title from another canvas, “The Gates Shut But No Guard” (a metaphor for life in Los Angeles – or just my own?) The 6150 openings are tonight – but I know I’m either going to get stuck in Culver City or West Hollywood or the headache is going to chase me home, so I’m doing a little p-reconnaissance before I head out to Santa Monica. I’m drawn to the Nicola Tyson paintings at Marc Fox – but even more to the drawings which seem like a lens onto her process. The painting style is a kind of elliptical figurative (oh – like you’re supposed to know what that means): what I mean is that it’s a style of figuration where the notion of ‘completeness’ or ‘completion’ seems to be deliberately short-circuited, left slightly open or in suspense or partially intersected with another ‘version’ of the figure or image – or simply another figure or partial figure or image. The ‘persona,’ the ‘mask’ is itself disfigured, the pigments abraded or scraped to the canvas or support surface. By way of analogy, I’d suggest the kind of distortion Bacon introduces to the subject – but Tyson’s is a completely different kind of distortion and physical treatment of the materials. And much more preoccupied, as I said, with persona (or perhaps lack of persona) or mask, than someone like Bacon. The drawings – in what look like charcoal and gouache (collage too?) are fascinating in their intimacy. They even have a slightly different aspect – like a fragment of the ‘narrative’ that gives birth to that moment of nascent image-making.

Okay I’m not making any sense and I’m going to have to go back to look so forget about this for the moment. I’m a little disappointed with the Charlene von Heyl small paintings at 1301PE – and why? What was I expecting? Maybe just a bit too low impact. But look – I was set up for it. The first gallery I hit was actually Dan Weinberg’s just next door where Steve DiBenedetto’s vivid paintings and dense charcoal studies really knock one back a bit. The canvases (and works on paper) are dense with incident – perhaps too much so; it sometimes looks as if he’s trying (too hard?) to pull the composition together by filling it out with something tangential to the heart of the matter. Which is what? One of DiBenedetto’s favorite motives or devices is the octopus, and more broadly, the multi-tentacled web or network – variously a metaphor for governmental apparatus, the war machine, the metastasized urban grid of the contemporary megalopolis, or simply media (with an emphasis on the mass media) itself. War has definitely had some impact here. Helicopters whir distinctly above these richly worked, mapped surfaces, vibratile with a palette heavy with orange, green, brown, red and cerise. It’s an eyeful – and I have to go back to really give a serious look.

It’s something to see with a migraine, even a relatively mild one. The colors can’t help but shake you up a bit – no less when you consider the anniversary we’re approaching. (I suppose I should really be marching in front of the Federal Building.)

Thomas Kiesewetter is showing some marvelous proto-Dada-Cubist constructions at Roberts & Tilton; but again, what I’m drawn to are the (mixed media) studies (not really for these constructions) on paper which have a kind of virtual presence to match the three-dimensional sculptures. There’s an energy, a dynamism – almost a kind of animation that I don’t, can’t, see in the sculptures. (The bases for the figures are great too.) Again. I have to look AGAIN. I don’t know what’s in the project room. And I didn’t even mention Carter Mull in the Marc Foxx second gallery. Later. Again. I will return.

I have to confess to being a bit of a fan of Jean Lowe – which doesn’t mean I’m going to be blown away by everything she does. (Her last show, for example, didn’t have quite the same impact as her stunning Empire show did.) But her shrewd intelligence and abundant wit are irresistible. She’s an artist who’s deadly serious about her art and unabashed about its potential for sheer hilarity. Anyway – my next stop is Rosamund Felsen for her opening there. (By coincidence, the first person I see (after Edward) is Alexis Smith, with Scott Grieger – flashback to last week – to whom it occurs to me that description might equally apply.)

If there is a thematic progression in the work, it would seem to have moved outside the analyst’s or therapist’s office and into the self-help, spiritual/religious/inspirational, and psycho-pharmacological sections of the typical American bookstore which, as you may have noticed (Lowe certainly does), have an uncanny way of overlapping. Or maybe it’s just the ‘Oprah’ effect. (Can I say that? I can count the number of times I’ve seen her show on my two hands. But – as America may be an ‘Empire,’ so she must remain its Queen.)

Lowe calls the show Achieve and Maintain A More Powerful Delusion, which is also the title of one of the enamel painted papier-mâché ‘books’ arrayed on the free-standing painted papier-mâché ‘bookshelves’ that fill the first gallery – a self-help title with a perverse twist (the way one might say the Bush administration is a perverse twist on the American Presidency) – or perhaps a perverse bit of clarity that reverberates through the muddied high-gloss imagery of the book ‘covers.’ (We get the antipode/antidotes amid the titles, too: e.g., “Pharmaceutical Solutions: (subhead) Grandiosity” – in a PDR-generic solid blue cover. I think to myself – we can dream, can’t we?) Perhaps the political is not so far from Lowe’s psycho-social subject here. A bright orange “Way of the Optimist” stands right next to “Country At War” – with a sunglassed woman apparently laughing into a telephone handset. (I suddenly think about Barbara Bush and her “beautiful mind” as I write this. See Frank Rich from the Sunday Times.) There are a number of “Just Ask God” titles, with various subtitles. (“A Common Language” – which would appear to be cash – looms out of the red-orange color field of the cover (Warhol dollar signs over Rothko red? – or is this where we split the difference?) A female silhouette shakes a bunch of pills into her hand on another volume subtitled, “Success.”) Then there is the opposite tack: “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” on what looks like a Duncan-Hines cake mix box. I have a moment when I could use a self-help (book? magazine/journal article? drug?) myself – when I find myself all but reaching for my checkbook. The ‘covers’ with the schematized faces and figures are among my favorites. Also the perversely mixed and matched quasi-academic covers and titles, e.g., “The Philosophy of Binge Drinking” – published by “MIT Press,” or “Transcendental Aggravation” or “Advanced Recrimination” (and I thought my parents wrote that book decades ago), or “Militant Feminist Veganism for All,” with a quite-a-bit-more-than-schematic Venus of Willendorf – even more labially articulated than the original.

I go on. I haven’t even mentioned the mandalas in the third gallery (which – is it just me post-WACKed? – give me a Judy Chicago feeling – no, they’re much more interesting than that) or the shopping mall vistas that fill the second gallery – just the places we might find such bookstores. I’m not alone, ‘lost among the stacks,’ as it were. A few feet away I recognize the unmistakable laugh – and voice – of Sarah Spitz, the publicity director who single-voiced powers all of KCRW’s pledge drives – I’m convinced of this. There are many mornings when I think all I need to push my eyelids open is a double espresso with an IV-drip of Sarah Spitz’s supersonic energy. If it can power that sonic-boom-succession delivery over a live mike, why not? She should mention the show to Edward Goldman, I think as she jokingly grabs-‘zaps’ my arm. I think I can feel my headache disappearing already. Such is her power.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ashes to ashes --

And one week smashed right into another. These next few posts are coming fast, loose, non-sequentially, each jammed into the next -- partially for technical reasons (internet was down in my section of Los Angeles for middle part of this past week), partially because of my own progressive exhaustion culminating in a migraine headache yesterday. Bear with me -- I'll be rounding back to my notes on, among others Robert Russell, Henning Kles, Kathleen Henderson, Scott Grieger, Hope Atherton, Albert Oehlen, Elizabeth Peyton, David Stone, and more.

13 March 2007 – 14 March 2007

I’m exhausted today – so must post tomorrow morning. (Though that has been preempted by Italian or a little music more than once.) Usual late-night-into-early-morning cycle some call life in Los Angeles but which occasionally feels like life in hell. Completely technologically short-circuited day which might have given me some opportunity to post (or just relax?) – but then there are always a million phone calls to make in my before-twilight zone. Had my choice between Alfred Brendel’s Mozart, Schubert (and Haydn, I think) and Kathleen Turner’s Martha (Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – a last minute ticket fell into my lap) and – having lost track of the performance run over my New York marathon and its sequelae – I decided to act on my original intention to see it before it closed. A mistake. That Turner might bring an original and compelling energy, presence, gravity, sexiness to the role was a given. And I’d never seen her on the stage before. I’ve seen Alfred Brendel half a dozen times. What was I thinking? I’ve seen at least two excellent productions of the Albee play (to say nothing of the Nichols-Lehman adaptation for the screen). But almost every Brendel performance is a revelation – on one level or another a manifestation of the sublime. It’s impossible to come away from a Brendel concert or recital without learning something, without some fresh insight into the (usually high-classical) music, something that filters out another layer of noise or static, that lifts a sonic veil off everything else we’re listening to. Another good production of WAOVW is probably just that.

It’s an entirely unfair comparison. That’s if the Albee production is good. Okay – so it wasn’t that bad. In fact it wasn’t bad at all. It was just…. Tired. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that I’m a bit tired myself – and it’s not a short play – so maybe that should enter into the calculation.) You saw it in the movement on the stage (I didn’t have a great seat – but the slightly elevated view actually made it easier to register the blocking and choreography of the scenes), in the gestures, heard it in their voices, in their breathing.

At first it seemed a bit slower, and less edgy. (Odd to use that word for an Albee play – especially this early – but the first productions (and movie) were very much edge-of-your-seat stuff; and this seems to move in a kind of gravity-less academic aquarium – an ivory tower domesticity.) On a strictly formal level, it's interesting (from my odd seat) watching the way the characterrs fill, hold, protect their space. Bill Irwin plays George as the echt fey ivory tower academic – which he of course is in one sense but really isn’t in the whole of it – his delivery staccato and slightly brittle. (The play picks up a bit here and there. It would have to – too bloody many lines to get through.) There’s something a bit too detached about it. I’m waiting for Turner to give a spectacular “Earth Mother” performance as Martha and shake the set to the rafters. But it never really happens. At moments she summons a marvelous swagger (her voice sounds deeper than ever – maybe deeper than my own); and she has a brilliant way of throwing away a line to offset the bravado. She manages uncannily to deliver on that sense of the stillborn – the whole gestalt of disappointment that hangs over the play. But her delivery at key moments is off – or maybe it’s the breathing (I wonder if she’s still smoking. Not on stage – I mean really smoking tobacco.) The Dies Irae never really flares up into the fire that’s supposed to bring us Sunday’s ashes. But what do I know? I’m ashen as I write this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

12 segundos d'oscuridad -- w/apologies to Drexler

12 March 2007 (~10:00 p.m.)

The most exciting thing of the day is Jorge Drexler. He barely registered on my usually soundtrack-sensitive aural horizon even with an Oscar under his belt for Motorcycle Diaries. (Is it because I see so many fewer movies; and never watch television? (Drexler has also composed the theme for the telenovela Corazon partido.) He’s had a lot of public radio exposure lately – Weekend Edition, The BBC World, and now Nick Harcourt’s Morning Becomes Eclectic here on the Santa Monica NPR affiliate KCRW – all of it richly deserved. Why I lost track of him, post-Oscars 2005 (or 2004?) I have no idea. (I’m sure it couldn’t have helped that Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana actually sang the song on the awards show. Antonio Banderas! That’s the AMPAS for you – just hopeless.) But he’s built his career very independently. (His first record was his own production top to bottom. He had an entirely separate career from music until little more than a decade or so ago. Would you believe he’s a doc? Can you imagine having him as your ear, nose & throat specialist? Even better than a psychiatrist I had who looked like a blond Tony Perkins in his prime.) Due to any number of exigencies I am forced to forego his concert at Disney Hall and immediately swing by a Virgin store for his current CD, 12 Segundos d’Oscuridad, which sounds like the immediate aftermath of the 15 minutes of Warhol-mandated fame to which we may all eventually be condemned (or perhaps its antidote – or both). It’s 12 original tracks and one cover of an already classic Radiohead song, "High & Dry." (Am I the only person who remembers a Rolling Stones song of the same title – from (coincidence?) Aftermath?) Thoughtful, rather studied-inchoate (isn’t that the Radiohead way?) – though terrific – song; but certainly no more impressive – indeed, easily eclipsed by most of these songs. With one or two exceptions, the textures and rhythms are very simple. But the poetry of the lyrics – and Drexler’s incredibly sweet tenor voice – the straightforward sincerity of his delivery – make them soar. Take the cover as exemplar by way of exception: you hear the song fresh, as if for the first time. It’s as if the images were freshly engraved with each roll of the simple 4-note guitar figure he fingers under the melody. (I don’t think the piano parts get more complicated than a few triad chords.) The imagery of the first couple of songs has a striking resonance (consider my last few posts; cf., Irwin, etc.) made all the more poignant by the musical articulation. “Pie de trás de pie / Ira tras el pulso de claridad / La noche cerrada, apenas se abria, / Se volvía a cerrar.” (the title track). Or – “El velo semitransparente del desasosiego ("The semi-transparent veil of uneasiness")/ Un día se vino a instalar entre el mundo y mis ojos … / Yo estaba empeñado en nover lo que ve, pero a veces. / La vida es más compleja de lo que parece …” “El Otro Engranaje” (“The Other Gear”) is sheer danceable pop on its smooth surface, but what wit and insight. Or consider the incredibly beautiful songs, “Soledad, aqui estan mis credenciales,” or “Sanar” (“To Heal”) which close the disk with passion and eloquence. Drexler’s certainly the most original – and maybe the best – voice out of South America since Caetano Veloso – to whose post-bossa, post-tropicalismo pop styles he may owe more than a little as both singer and songwriter. The music isn’t quite on Veloso’s sophisticated plateau – but it doesn’t have to be. It’s an appropriate vehicle for Drexler’s melancholy (“transoceanica melancólicos”) poetry.

What a preamble to chatting about the Graves recital -- before moving from aural to visual. (Maybe Bizet's Seguedilla from Carmen -- one of the encores -- is appropriate after the fact. I have to say the de Falla Seguidilla Murciana was far more scintillating, to say nothing of an aria by Cilea from Adriana Lecouvreur.) I can't go into all this just now, though. I have to shut my eyes for a moment (to Drexler's serenade) I'll just say that Graves' 'star turns' took a back seat to the story-teller's art in her Royce Hall recital. She's a consummate theatrical artist, of course; but her special gift (aside from an amazing voice) is as a story-teller in song. She's really a story conductor. In her hands (and that rich multi-register voice), the song-story becomes a kind of orchestral production. She has an extraordinary ability to draw her audience (as if the chorus) into the narrative thread of a song -- as if making us participants, or at least direct witnesses, in the process. (I have to remind myself to talk about the Schubert (no -- it was fine, really) -- including "Death and the Maiden.") "Gira inexorable el otro engranaje, / La noria invisible de las transgresiones." I hear someone calling me.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Through a glass darkly ...

8 March 2007 ~12 midnight

“Nights are long since you went away …,” my Uncle Tom once lullabyed to me in his fabulous Chicago apartment way back in the Pleistocene era. And for some reason, the line and sentiment come back to me as I mull over the evening and, uh, one of ‘my buddies’ (I’ll call this one, ‘opera buddy’); and the question I ask about almost everyone (and maybe everyTHING) – how well do we actually know anyone? How much is entirely beyond our grasp, beyond our reach – vaulted and entirely inaccessible? I sometimes feel like Alice Toklas (yeah, in more ways than one) in the trajectory my life seems to take – one long sequence of dinners (or drinks) with geniuses, the great and near-great (and, it must be conceded, more than a few non-entities). It’s as if, absent a sit-down, on-the-record interview, that’s about as well as I’m going to know any of them.

I feel incredibly fortunate that some of them are my pals; but there are moments when what I learn about them calls into question almost everything else I’ve assumed I knew about them; when the river between us seems more like an ocean. (The ‘object in your [mental] mirror may in fact be more ‘distant’ than it appears.) I’m feeling guilty about essentially playing hooky on the Robert Irwin ‘conversation’ with LACMA Director Michael Govan (though reports on the previous ‘conversation with Jeff Koons’ did nothing to whet my enthusiasm for this one). Chatting with opera buddy, as we speed down Wilshire Boulevard in the opposite direction from LACMA (I mention Irwin’s spiral serpentine garden at The Getty, and wonder if a “confrontation”-style event might be more interesting, say, for example, a little set-to between Irwin and his Getty foil, architect Richard Meier. Hey – they’re both about light and space, no?), I ask her what she thinks about Irwin. She shrugs her shoulders as she places him in the overall contemporary art scheme. “Yeah.. Uh -- don’t care. You think he’s important?” “I’ll take that to mean you didn’t catch his MOCA retrospective.” I have to laugh – it’s not as if I’m not just as dismissive occasionally. ‘Oh yeah – he’s doing this, that, . . . and this – NEXT!’ Or complaining (as I was only soooo recently) about ‘too much’ painting – in actuality meaning too much of the same kinds of painting – but how quick I am to dismiss what doesn’t immediately fall into (or, alternatively, way outside) certain criteria. But it’s one thing to say something like this about some submerging schmo in a gallery and another entirely about someone like Irwin.

The subject turns to New York, from where we’ve both just recently returned, and what we were up to respectively there. I mention a few things that grabbed my attention at the fairs and the records that were set at the Christie’s auction I attended. She talks a bit about what she’s writing – extrapolating into the defining parameters of art itself. It shocks me a bit that she is somewhat adamant about drawing a firm line between film and “fine” art. “Films [and I do mean feature films by this] can’t be art?” I ask. “Movies are entertainment,” she pronounces definitively. I start to pursue this a bit, starting with a couple of films she knows quite well and throwing in another couple of examples, but quickly drop the matter. Absurd to waste my breath on a moot point – something that’s already been arbitrated by the culture of an entire century. I’m hoping she’s not planning to pursue this bogus extension of the otherwise interesting points of her essay. She asks me if I noticed work at the fairs by a painter who’s garnering quite a bit of attention in the art press in the last couple of months – whose work we’ve both admired (indeed mutually discovered – at least for ourselves) a couple of years or so ago – and whose market has risen accordingly. She now wishes she had purchased one of the paintings we admired then. (I had – though not the sort of thing one might expect from this particular artist.) “Were you seriously considering buying one?” I asked, thinking it not entirely outside the realm of possibility. “Maybe you should have.” “Would YOU have spent that kind of money?” she asks me. “If I had it, I might.” She suddenly seemed incredulous. “You’d throw that kind of money at a painting?” (She knows how little I make.) “I’m not talking about ME. And it’s not like I’m going to do something financially self-destructive. But for YOU – it might be a reasonable thing. And you really liked it.” “No,” she says, almost scowling. “I just wish I’d bought it now. As an investment.” “Just as an INVESTMENT? That sounds pretty crass.”

“You think it’s crass to buy art only as an investment?” “ONLY as an investment? Yes. Of COURSE, it’s an INVESTMENT – but the decision can’t be about money alone.” “That’s just stupid. Of course it can be for money.” “And why would you be selling it [the hypothetical admired painting] now anyway? Her market hasn’t gone up that much.” It occurs to me now how many artists she’s passed by whose markets have gone up “that much” in recent years. The same thought occurs to her – and she mentions it. (Defensively?) But the more important thing she’s left out here is an essential factor in the investment process – whether financial or artistic: the risk to be considered – intellectual or financial, and in the art world – both. The notion of making money from the re-sale of art, in itself, isn’t crass at all. But the level of return, not so differently from any other financial investment, will always bear some relationship to the level of risk. And there is always the possibility that the market will not behave ‘rationally.’ (Or that it will.) Even in the rarefied world of old masters, there is rarely anything like a ‘SURE THING.’

Not to be sanctimonious about it, though, there’s something almost offensive to me about the notion of simply ‘flipping’ a piece for a short-term, dead-end capital gain. As closely as I follow the markets – as I follow money trails all over the goddamned place – art is not something I think about in primarily economic or utilitarian terms. To deal with it strictly in such terms seems degrading to me. Coming from an artist – as this does, it’s nothing less than astonishing. I’m appalled -- and a little nonplussed. And it occurs to me that Irwin applies here just as he does in the parks and wide-open plazas and exhibition and quasi-theatrical spaces where his work is seen to advantage. Here, in this confined space, with the light rhythmically traversing the car interior and strobing across her (always amazing) silhouette, I suddenly see opera buddy in a different and disquieting light. Later, outside Royce Hall (which is where we’re headed), she crosses the quadrangle, presumably (I think for a moment) to take in the Powell Library (something else we’ve both admired), then turns to me with impatience, as if to say, ‘are we going already?’ Uh, okay, I think – and it’s as if I’m walking through several half-lit scrims or mirrored walls to see a person I only now realize I hardly know.

[MORE – about the art market, Irwin’s notions of light and space – and the “not-Irwin” event – Denyce Graves’ recital at Royce Hall]

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Down to Skin and Bones

5 March 2007 (early a.m.)

I had to revisit the Skin + Bones show at MOCA before it closed despite the fact that I didn’t think it really made a convincing presentation of its thesis. Frankly, I’m not too sure about the thesis itself. On its face, it struck me as being simply an amplification of the influential Susan Sidlauskas MIT show, “Intimate Architecture,” which Brooke Hodge more or less directly acknowledges in the catalogue for the show. Sidlauskas contributed an essay to the catalogue (which I haven’t had a chance to read); though, as I wandered through the show again, it occurred to me that the show would simply give her more material to expand upon her own original thesis. It occurred to me that the impulse for such a show came from the fashion designers and retailers themselves, much more than the architects and architectural firms included in the show: in other words, the fashion houses’ desire to showcase, to exhibit their goods in a way that would be both consistent with the house’s overall design statement (to the extent that’s even possible), while simultaneously reinforcing brand identity for the houses – what the always-changing couture lines are the loss-leading/frontline advertising for. There are a few exceptions: e.g., Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Herzog & De Meuron, OMA/Rem Koolhaas, and a few other firms who have extended their design initiatives beyond the scope of free-standing structures and into art and promotional installations, conceptual projects, and temporary spaces and design motives. (The Foreign Office designs bore interesting parallels, I thought, to Isabel Toledo’s design m.o. – but you didn’t really see it here.) Otherwise, the more interesting pairings/parallels of fashion and architecture were borne out in retail spaces: e.g., Toyo Ito’s sublime design for Tod’s big Omotesando store in Tokyo, Herzog & De Meuron’s Prada Epicenter in Tokyo (to say nothing of the Koolhaas flagships in SoHo and Beverly Hills). Hodge makes a somewhat tendentious case for London’s Future Systems design for Selfridge’s – which of course is an absolutely fantastic design, not without a few analogues to the business it’s housing and promoting, at least conceptually. But there you are: it’s a RETAIL space, darling.

There was a lot of other interesting architecture that you don’t see or hear a lot of (e.g., Greg Lynn) – but I didn’t think it made the analogical leap here. But who bloody CARES? There was just so much FANTASTIC STUFF EVERYWHERE. And then – as I’ve said many times before, it’s the discoveries and rediscoveries that count. It was great to see the Toledos – or here, essentially Isabel Toledo – who’s a design genius on the order of Vionnet (I would KILL to have that caterpillar dress – or any of half a dozen other things), and seriously under-represented/reproduced in the fashion press. And you can forget about analogies – YOU DON’T NEED ANY – Ralph Rucci’s designs for his Chado line are museum-class straight off the runway. (I mean that as a compliment – not museum-dead or archaic – they breathe, respire, inspire. They LIVE as the masterpieces they are – no different from the Balenciagas that inspired him – no different from the Velasquez Meninas that inspired Balenciaga.) It’s a rare thing and everyone should get to see it even if they can’t all afford to wear it.

MORE TO COME -- also about last night's PAINTING.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Clouds, painting, and Plymouth Rock: a weather report

3 March – 4 March 2007, ~midnight

I can’t remember who said it recently – it might have been Roberta Smith – but you wonder why there’s as much painting around as there it today. I sometimes walk into galleries amazed by the sheer quantities of pigment laid out on any number of surfaces from canvas to every kind of panel and support, natural and synthetic, available in the metropolitan region. (And given the level of demand and fundamental costs involved, I wonder how my painter pals can afford them. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at how expensive even paintings by grad students are.)

I know very little about Samantha Fields; but between my guilt over not giving enough time and attention to the L.A. gallerists scattered through the various fairs (or concentrated at the L.A. in NY fair at the Altman Building) and the interest shown by Fearless Leader (i.e., my editor, Tulsa Kinney), I’m not about to miss this show. Besides, it’s always a pleasure seeing Kim Light (who looks as chic as ever – and rested! How?? I’m just beginning recovery mode.) I can’t fault the acuity of Tulsa’s eye. (I sure the hell can’t here anyway.) They’re all handsomely done – perfectly handsome. Fields calls her show, “The Land” – but it’s all about the sky, or perhaps more specifically, the weather, meteorological phenomena. The paintings are clearly meant to evoke those standardized depictions of cloud formations and other meteorological phenomena; also tourist snapshots of faraway skies; also kitsch photographic imagery of Western and Great Plains land- and skyscapes. I kept thinking to myself, “Beautiful, beautiful…. they’ll look great on postage stamps.” (They reminded me a little of some cloudscapes by April Gornik I saw in New York over the hols at the end of 2005. But Gornik’s work had a little more – what? – presence? drama? I dunno … guess I just haven’t found the right cloudscape yet.)

(I run into Antoinette de Stigter – from Amsterdam’s Art Affairs – fresh from her success with the Mary Younakof installation at Scope – again, which is delightful. Mary was supposed to show up – but I had to move on.)

There wasn’t enough room to breathe much less look at the art at Taylor de Cordoba – I was drawn to a painting (yes, painting again) toward the back of the gallery, but maybe it’s just me and a certain ‘darkness at suburban noon’ thing I’m drawn to – the nightmares I must live over and over again). I’ll have to go back to have a look (yes I just might, I think again – just to think about it darkens my mood). Ditto the stuff at Walter Maciel – big figurative paintings with quasi-industrial subjects. (There’s no information on the artists out and available at either gallery. I guess they assume you’ll access their websites.)

From the Lightbox, it’s down to the Blumbox and Poehouse for Sam Durant. Well. I LIKED the Sam Durant they showed in New York. A girl can hope, can’t she? Actually, the show’s a bloody hoot. I never made it to the National History Museum for my nephew (maybe I can take him I the Fall) as I’d wanted to, so Samila brings the (wax) Museum right back home. ‘Eat your heart out, Jim Shaw – I’ve got the Plymouth bloody Rock.’ Dated 1620 and all. (Rufus should get a head start on his history dates.) He should know about how those fierce (but smart) RED-RED-skinned American Indians put down their tomahawks to help those clueless (that’s religion for you) Pilgrims; how those Pilgrim silver buckle shoes were absolutely useless off the Paris – I mean Plymouth – streets. Loved the loincloths, too. Someone had to do SOMETHING with Grandmère’s stone martens. Or whatever. Hey Samantha – got LAND for you down here. It’s called DIRT. (Well it’s all about real estate these days.)

I know. I should be grateful. No painting. Text. Beautiful text. Signage … uh, maybe not so beautiful. Text – bliss. Information. (Yeah, I know, I’m having a breakdown. It happens. Let me get a drink.)

(PS -- yeah, I'm back in Los Angeles; let me post a NYC recap in a few -- hours, days, lightyears -- hey I'll get to it.)

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Born to Be Late -- to the bittersweet end

26 February 2007 (~10:30-11 p.m.--continued)

Miraculously, a cab materializes. The driver is great. “Can you get me to Rockefeller Center in five minutes.” “Sure.” And after a sequence of turns – “Is bad street…. Is bad street….. Is bad street.” (I’ll say they are) – negotiating our way across what seems like a barricade of traffic across Broadway, he manages to more or less do this. Not quite Christie’s – but I know where to find it – through the NBC Building, a building I know in my DNA – down the long corridor and past the elevator banks and out the south entrance on 50th, et me voici. No one needs to tell me the auction has already begun – no one lingers on the ground floor or in the corridors where some of the auction offerings are hanging. The C-prints are just a bright blur as I dash up the staircase. The entrance to the auction room is crowded with spectators and I can barely get through to the press reps. I can’t see him, but Christopher Burge’s distinctively civilized arbitrator’s voice and manner are perfectly audible over the crowd. I’m wondering if this is all I’ll see, although people seem to be randomly wending in and out of the doorway, when Christie’s unflappable and fabulous PR representative (have I EVER said that about a PR person?), Bendetta Roux appears, and with absolute assurance and grace places a program in my hand and steers me to a place with a perfect view of the room. The French journalist whom I can’t help jostling past loaded down as I am with all my gear is none too thrilled to see me and shoots me a “must you REALLY?” look; and although my inclination would ordinarily be to shoot back a verbalized “YES, I REALLY MUST,” Roux’s and Burge’s dulcet and diplomatic manners have a soothing and civilizing effect on my stressed-out temper. I half-smile and whisper apologies and she seems placated. In the meantime, a fellow in an orange corduroy suit offers to share his notated program with me. Color coordinated with the Mike Kelley painting hanging front and center in front of the room. I could kick myself. There have already been a couple of impressive (and not so) sales, including the Steven Parrino (whose work I LOVE – maybe one of the few enthusiasms I have in common with dealer/collector Huber. And I thought I was the only one!) – which went for more than triple its high estimate. It kills me that I just missed this auction. Sherri Levine, Cady Noland and Fischli & Weiss also pick up tripled or near tripled prices on their pre-auction estimates. The Ruff I notice went only at its low estimate – not bad of course – but it sort of confirms what seemed evident from the fairs where his work was a drug on the market – cropping up everywhere (from Park Avenue & 67th to Pier 94 anyway). After an unusual Judd goes in the middle of its range, an On Kawara calendar suite (selected panels from various of her quasi-conceptual canvas/box “Today Series”) is hammered down at an impressive $1.7 million. The high estimate is actually over $2 million – there are 10 panels in the lot – but the sale sets an auction record for Kawara. The market falls for others: Two Carl Andres come up next, one the very impressively installed “Bar” (1981) I just walked past on my way in here, and neither of them fetches even their low estimate. One of the Franz Wests also fails to meet low estimate. (What would Carlee Fernandez think?). Finally the orange (but still classic) Mike Kelley comes up, an extraordinary work. I’m guessing it will go for anywhere between $10,000 and $60,000 over its estimate and boy am I wrong. It just barely meets its low estimate; and suddenly I wonder why those Mike Kelley drawings were still at Patrick Painter Friday afternoon at the Pier. Next up is a Jim Shaw ‘backdrop’ painting– but it’s not just any Jim Shaw and it’s not just any backdrop. The backdrop is the American West, and perhaps Western civilization itself – with the point of departure being, in addition to the Donner party itself, the Judy Chicago magnum opus, The Dinner Party.

I have no use for a lot of Jim Shaw’s work, whatever the scale. I can admit to having been entertained from time to time; but so much of it seems utterly dismissible to me. That said, The Donner Party is an AMAZING work – and perhaps one of the best things Shaw has ever done. It deserves to be seen much more widely – at least as much as Chicago’s Dinner Party. No no no – a LOT MORE than The Dinner Party. Oh – did I mention – I HATE THE DINNER PARTY?? The bidding is spirited and I’m trying to figure out what institutions are in the room (I saw Paul Schimmel at the Pier, of course; but I don’t see him in the room – or anyone else from MOCA). MOCA (not the Hammer) is really the place for it and I’m hoping they have someone on the phone. Burge gavels it down at $550,000 -- $50K under its high estimate – but a world auction record for Shaw. The excitement abates a bit when a lot of 20 of his drawings fails (as it should) to sell at even $50K UNDER its low estimate.

And so it goes. I recognize very few of the bidders; and I’m thinking most of the institutional bidders were on the phones. Max Falkenstein (of Gladstone) walks out right after the last Prince is auctioned which makes me wonder if he was just there to make sure they went at the right price point. (Former L.A. councilman Joel Wachs walks out shortly after the Rhoades is auctioned and I wonder about that, too.) The star of the evening, Paul McCarthy’s 1992 “Bear and Rabbit On A Rock” (and given a star-treatment installation right beneath John Amleder’s glittering mirror balls) goes for a record-setting $1.3 million. Mike Kelley’s famous “Test Room” of 1999 (which Huber personally – and rather bravely – commissioned) fetches almost $1 million. The Kader Attia pigeon installation goes for a respectable $75,000. (WHO bought it???) But I think I’m happiest with the healthy sales of a couple of what are now recognizably classic Albert Oehlens, “Grazie” (1982) and “Born to Be Late” (2001) which seem a kind of benediction on my zig-zag path here tonight – and perhaps my New York fair assignment overall. I’m chronically late; and between technical and logistical problems, I’ve been consistently posting late this trip.

After the auction, Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo (Co-Chair of the Post-War & Contemporary department) and Huber come out to take a few questions. They both seem elated by the auction results and they should be. How many buyers are there for room-sized installations of balloons, pigeons or mysterious quasi-geometric assemblages and or bricolages? The beautiful installation of the auction lots – really almost a museum quality show – is a coup unto itself and – after the Chinati Foundation Judd auction of last year – the Haunch of Venison move seems almost seamlessly logical. Cappellazzo seems to have real enthusiasm for the work and she clearly knows the market. Huber’s next move is anyone’s guess; he’s a seriously competitive character. From Basel, he’s moving on to start an international art fair in Shanghai; and judging from the explosion of Chinese production, it may be the next Basel Miami.

I’m almost sorry to miss the rest of the week’s auctions – to say nothing of all the museum and gallery shows I would have loved to take in. (My only remaining tasks here are to take my hosts’ dogs (I call them canine nieces) on a long walk and to find a new toy or souvenir for my nephew.) But it’s back to L.A. tomorrow – and another raft of openings for the following week-end – to say nothing of my feline daughters, Stella and (Kim) Stanley – who will turn ten next month. I’m too often late for them, too; and, like me, they have no patience for waiting.

Ezrha Jean Black, New York

Friday, March 2, 2007

Born to Be Late (III)

Part III

26 February 2007 (~10:30 p.m.)

Taboon (at 10th and 52nd – see somebody was actually telling the truth!) feels more like a wine bar than a whiskey bar – but fortunately they serve both. More specifically, they serve Middle Eastern food; and over a plate of truly excellent foccacia bread and hummus, we re-hash the last frenzied minutes of the Armory Show’s closing day. I want to know what the collector has bought; but he’s very cagey about disclosing anything. (Why? Building a secret collection? Has he found an emerging artist whose market he wants to corner or at least control? Most of the artists seen on Pier 94’s precincts are, in one way or another, at least as ‘established’ as they are emerging; and if they haven’t been ‘around’ much before this past week-end, they are now – so the word is out.) I’m guessing that the artist or at least the gallery is French. They’re intrigued by the fact I’m from L.A. (although one guy’s buddy keeps insisting my accent marks me as native to Connecticut – an absurd and painful reminder that I won’t be making it up to Yale to see the newly renovated Louis Kahn galleries); and we chat a bit about a few of the L.A. spaces – China Art Objects (who I think also showed some Mindy Shapero – or was it Anna Helwing), David Kordansky, Angles, Blum & Poe. The chronic logistical nightmare of L.A.’s urban/suburban sprawl is borne out by the fact that this trip has marked my first visit to a Kordansky space. (But it definitely won’t be my last. I can’t wait to see what they show next.) The L.A. chat seems to intersect with what everyone picks out as emerging trends: composite actuality – expressed in both abstract and figurative/representational contexts, a greater coherence among sculptural objects – a transition from a slightly raw bricolage kind of process or presentation to a more seamlessly hybridized object (which also brings up a certain schizziness (or at least ambivalence) about the aesthetic issues relative to these kinds of decisions), narrative, resurgent (though inchoate) feminism; also violence. And I’m reminded again of the Blum & Poe space (17 scary Hoebers and 1 Durant named Sam). It was hard not to be struck by at least one of the ‘storyboard’ type panels in that space – and we all seem to have our favorites. I pick the “Take A Walk Motherfucker” panel – with its deft relation between the Kim Novak/Madeleine French twist (from Hitchcock’s Vertigo) and an astral galaxy or supernova. The collector picks the “arousal/negation”/”elements of conflict “ panels – which we both agree is both hard to look at and hard to pull away from (which of course is the point of the thing: the last panel – “There’s no end. It’s always me!” – sums it up.) The Vertigo reference leads inevitably to movie chat – Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, Little Miss Sunshine, Academy Award talk; and it’s somewhat disconcerting to learn that the man sitting next to me is David Denby. For some reason he doesn’t look anything like I thought he would – but maybe it’s the whiskey and wine. I couldn’t decide which red I wanted – the merlot or the cabernet, both of which were excellent (and reasonably priced), so of course I had both. I’m deep into a bowl of mussels and the cabernet when I learn that this David Denby is actually the car dealer across from the Pier. (That was his Lincoln that got us here?) I’m tempted to see what kind of a deal I can get on a replacement for my aging Volvo back in Los Angeles – or in my ideal, motorized Manhattan life, perhaps a Jaguar (he recommends the XJ); but all the L.A. chat suddenly alerts me to the “L.A.” event of the evening – the Kelleys, McCarthys and Shaws that are about to go on the block at Rockefeller Center. I look at my cell phone. It’s 7:00 p.m. NOW and I STILL haven’t called Kathleen back. As I go from freeway obliviousness to panic in 60 seconds, I pay the check, pull my coat on and head for the door. I need a Doris Day cab again and the odds are against me.

MORE TO COME (Christie's -- Kelley, McCarthy, etc.)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

More -- And Always Too Late

26 February 2007 (later)

Okay – it’s not (only) nascent schizophrenia (pitfall of a Gemini). The Sarmento was a Baldesssari-inflected quartet of film noirs femmes fatales. And now that I think of it, the “Ellen” sums up my attitude of the moment – here in this clutch of marauding dealers and collectors – “You know too much, gone too far, and I’m so tired…..” But I’m holding a pen, not a gun and in any case would never fire one into a crowd. So unpredictable sometimes where we end up and why – I guess that applies to artists, too. Aurel Schreiber (Paris) is showing an Anthony Goicolea – though it’s not a particularly interesting example. It’s great to see Mindy Shapero’s almost always interesting work cropping up everywhere – e.g., The Breeder out of Athens. Dave Muller, too – very interesting pieces everywhere, including here at The Approach, who also show a great Rezi van Lankveld painting. For some reason I’m not blown away by the Germaine Kruip kinetic conststruction. Should I be? Some of the best and most adventurous work seems to always come out of London. Herald St. shows a brilliant Tony Swain gouache on newsprint that – speaking of Baldessari and other masters – is a small masterpiece. I have a Grail moment – I live for moments like these – broken by the hilarity of Scott King’s “How I Sank American Vogue” (call it the 3 second re-write of The Devil Wears Prada – except this is actually good). Ash Lange tells me Swain will represent Scotland at the Venice Biennale and I think -- somebody knows what they’re doing.

Two superb Bridget Rileys catch my eye at Timothy Taylor – and it blows my mind that they’re not sold. The Sean Scully paintings continue to move briskly. What gives? It’s no accident that Christie’s is buying Haunch of Venison, I think (more about their goods later) – as Carol Vogel reported in the Times. And maybe I should scope out this auction. I haven’t been to a New York auction in quite a while – though I haven’t phoned in a press request and wonder if I can even be admitted. Right now all decision-making is out of my hands. The yellow tape barriers are going up and everyone is being hustled to the exits. I have no idea where I’m going, but I’ll settle for the next whiskey bar – at least for a moment. I never get into cars with strangers, but these are strangers bearing art and “it’s only a few blocks.”