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.


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