Sunday, April 29, 2007

Incognito Ergo Sum (Show Me the Money)

28 April 2007

Alright I’m going to cut right to the chase. ‘Show me the notes,’ you say. Well, I’m not the only one smithereened over the parking lot in semi-inebriated visual and intellectual exhaustion. Let’s start with what we know. Raymond Pettibon is a visionary poet and iconophage who almost can’t help driving to the dark heart of the American nightmare. He’s the living lifeline out of the burning cultural-political tarpit the assholes of this country (rich and poor alike) have allowed us to sink into. Three drawings are enough to constitute a show within a show in the Aaron Rose curated “Other Scenes” show at Roberts & Tilton, taking us from a kind of ‘Last Exit to Brookline’ meditation on the pathology of ruling class droit de seigneur-Kennedy style (Untitled – “It Is Normal” -- i.e., with Kennedy women hypothetically alternating with their brothers’ sexual quarry for brutalization à la Tralala), to the collapse of identity (Untitiled (“The Head Shrinker”), to the exhaustion of heroic possibility: a triad of debasement that in Pettibon’s hands has an orchestral resonance. I already mentioned the Jockum Nordström drawing I found utterly irresistible – and apparently unattainable. It’s marked “Not for Sale.” And now that I’ve perused the latest ANP (or “Artists Network Program”) Quarterly – which Aaron Rose edits in conjunction with Ed Templeton and Brendan Fowler, I think I can guess why. It’s already owned – either by Rose himself, or possibly the author of the somewhat out-of-synch/lost in translation Nordström Q&A cum profile, Chris Johnason, or possibly, ANP’s publisher, P.M. Tenore, himself. The issue also featured reproductions of the beautiful Daido Moriyama black-and-white silver gelatin photographs in the show – each a classic example of Moriyama’s appropriationist style. Appropriation and juxtaposition seem to be the salient components of Rose’s theme here (and projection – via Rita Ackerman’s paintings – which were accompanied by dual overhead projections as if to underscore their Moreau-inflected exoticism). The juxtapositions of a Nordström drawing are on another plane (or several) altogether. Where Pettibon juxtaposes image and text in a more or less graphically unified field, Nordström juxtaposes several images (or pictorial orders) in a subdivided field. Traditional perspective isn’t abandoned so much as multiplied into adjoining but discontinuous perspectives within the same pictorial field, with principal ‘subjects’ more or less foregrounded. The figures are rendered in a slightly schematized, archaic style, which belie an overall iconographic sophistication manifest in the details. (The draughtsmanship is impeccable, virtuoso.) It’s as if he interrupts or short-circuits execution to return the focus to the most important elements which are presented with an almost theatricalized frontality which amounts nevertheless to a very dry, quiet statement of his theme or themes. If the style weren’t so inherently sophisticated, it might almost be mistaken in certain passages for an ‘outsider’ style. Nordström’s references to the anecdotal, even the fetishistic risk marginilization. In actuality, though, he has far more affinity with the urbane style of Saul Steinberg, though he is far less literary.

The iconic strain (and ‘collage’ style) is picked up in the “Icons” and collages of Gee Vaucher – which have great wit and sophistication – but before I try to discuss them, it’s my turn to get inquisitive. Leafing through a magazine like the ANP Quarterly, with its lavish use of both color and black-and-white photography, its large format (supposedly it’s shrunk a bit – but you could’ve fooled me), the complete absence of advertising of any kind (unless the feature on “Club Monaco Surf Wax” constitutes what has lately been referred to in the biz as ‘advertorial’ (or, as I would term it, ‘obscenity’) – an interview, by the way, conducted by artist/curator (and musician?? – see the L.A. Weekly) Aaron Rose himself), I have to ask: Where does the money come from?

Some time ago – around the time of Aaron Rose’s first (? – or just first on my semi-malfunctioning radar?) show for Roberts & Tilton (you know – that “Scribble Scripture” surfer extravaganza from 2003 or 2004), my understanding was that Rose (coming from a conceivably lucrative skateboard, surf culture background) had piled up a few pennies from a few curatorial and/or production gigs via production companies, music festivals and the munificent MTV. (I think Sonic Youth enters this picture somewhere; and I wonder if Sonic Youth may be this and the last generation’s consummate ‘art’ band – along the lines of the Velvets, Talking Heads, etc.) Cool. With MTV behind him, though, I gotta wonder – where’s the money coming from now? RVCA, which publishes the ANP Quarterly, is, of course, a surf and skate clothing line, and P.M. Tenore is its principal designer (and CEO? – I haven’t looked it up yet). Envious? You bet (though beyond the photography budget I have to wonder how much they spend for copy-editing; some of the text is pretty rough – in a couple instances almost a disservice to their subjects).

I also have to wonder about Tenore’s and Rose’s collections. (Enviously? Well of course.) Okay, that’s it for the forensics – for now anyway. And I haven’t even posted yet. Why? Shall we jump ahead to tonight?

Well – first of all, let me recap the day for a minute. Since studio visits and MFA shows and school open studios are very much on the agenda at the moment, it shouldn’t be surprising that I began the day with a studio visit. Except that – unlike, say Carl Berg (oh yeah – I’ll get around to Donnie Molls, which – speaking of juxtapositions and discontinuities – makes an interesting juxtaposition with Nordström, et al. from R&T) – I’m not one to venture too far beyond the city limits. (Come to think of it, I think this was within the city limits – but you’d hardly know it.) What was interesting about it was what registered and resonated with greatest immediacy in terms of the contemporary culture (at least as I filter it), and what didn’t – or what seemed to me digressive and possibly uncertain in its statement and direction, in spite of its very clear focus and aesthetic. What might be too insular? What communicated most directly (and powerfully)? It’s not something you can make a snap judgment on – and in a way calls one’s judgment, one’s entire criteria, into question.

It was interesting – both in terms of what constitutes the ‘contemporary,’ the generational relationship with the ‘contemporary’ (this was a more or less established artist), and the relationship of the contemporary ‘mainstream’ with something that can only be called ‘outsider.’ After looking at one suite of paintings (certainly not without appeal: some of them were already sold), the artist showed me some smaller gouaches that I immediately latched onto – ‘oh yeah – these will make a show’ (and of course they would – but so what? Might I be missing the real show? The really important stuff?)

Flash forward to Rosamund Felsen, where Karen Carson (whose work I’ve long admired) was showing her new paintings. After viewing the apocalyptic fireworks of the first two galleries, I found myself returning to a gallery of smaller, more straightforward landscapes which, it occurred to me, might be on the order of preparatory schemes for her larger, more excursive (if not explosive – well, she’d done a previous series of “fire” paintings) color irradiated maelstroms. I have a ‘que sais-je’ moment. Why my preference for one over the other? Does it say anything at all beyond where my preoccupations dovetail with the images at hand? (What do I know?)

I should ask Doug Harvey – who’s here along with everyone else. The afternoon is taking on a gang’s-all-here feeling. Along with DougH-on-the-go – Jeremy Kidd, Bari Ziperstein, Angel Chen, Michael Duncan, Barry Sloane. DougH has to go – to prepare for tomorrow’s Tim Hawkinson panel at The Getty; and I’m thinking I should, too – home to my cats and a little Debussy to turn my head in a slightly less convulsive direction. I’ve already decided not to go to the Incognito auction/fundraiser at the Santa Monica Museum. I didn’t RSVP; and – well, it will just be another occasion for that deadly sin I just referred to – envy. But on my way back to the car, I run into Cole Case walking in the opposite direction; and well . . . . .as long as I can be incognito . . . . .

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sans Soleil (missing Halberstam)

24 April 2007

I just looked over my last post, and – in addition to the usual typos – just noticed that I made a reference to one Helen “Brown” that – completely apart from its dubious relevance to the subject immediately at hand – may have thrown the reader off a bit. The Helen I was referring to – the straightforward satirist who gifted us (via Esquire) with such gems as “Latins Are Lousy Lovers,” to say nothing of books like Whistling Girl and Stranger At the Party – was, needless to say, NOT Helen “Cosmopolitan” Gurley Brown, but Helen Lawrenson – née Helen Brown, which was her by-line at the original Vanity Fair. Are you confused enough yet?

We lost Brownie’s (that’s what Clare Boothe Luce called her) acute eye and voice too early – sometime in the early 1980s, I think. And yet it wasn’t as early as we lost David Halberstam who, as you are undoubtedly aware, was killed in an automobile accident yesterday morning. I seem to be dealing with loss a great deal lately – which may on some level also be symptomatic of the larger cultural losses being sustained secondary to the political catastrophe we seem to be wafting through so blithely. I have to say I’m a little shocked at how meager the Times obit was. He was one of their own. Doesn’t that count for anything? He won a Pulitzer for the Times – when a journalism Pulitzer meant something more than just the brightest, newest flash in the pan. I noticed later in the day that they opened up an archived selection of reviews of some of his books and a few essays in the on-line edition. So they couldn’t flesh out the significance of some of those books, some of that prize-winning coverage just a bit in the obit? It’s not just the current resonance of books like his original précis on his Vietnam coverage, The Making of A Quagmire or, less commented on lately, but pretty obvious all the same, The Best and the Brightest, or – stood in the light of Chicago’s assault on the local daily, the Los Angeles Times, which is now, even in spite of some decent coverage here and there, almost impossible to look at – The Powers That Be.

Okay – I know what you’re thinking: what’s she going on about? This isn’t, say, Robert Rosenblum or Susan Sontag (though I mourn Sontag to this day), or David Sylvester or – I don’t know – someone like Sol LeWitt; in other words, a great artist or a great critic. (Except Halberstam was, of course, a great critic; the kind of histories he wrote in The Best and the Brightest, or, say, The Fifties assume the most rigorous critical criteria and perspective.) Here’s why Halberstam matters: what books like The Best and the Brightest (but also to some extent some of his other books, including his sports books) show is culture – in both micro- and macrocosm – shaping history. In The Best, he reveals ‘sense and sensibility’ trumping the military-industrial complex. It’s sense and sensibility conditioned by, among other things, the military-industrial complex; but nevertheless clearly the elite product of a particular cultural moment – and giving rise to a cultural-historical atrocity. It’s about an almost perfected economic rationalism foundering in the bedrock of cultural and perceptual actualities. (I recall devouring the book alongside another study of the cultural clash in Vietnam – Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire In the Lake.) It’s an almost ironic coincidence that on the same day the obit ran, one of the books reviewed in the Arts section is Robert Dallek’s Nixon and Kissinger, a book whose perspective and approach are indebted to Halberstam’s Best and Brightest; and cheek to jowl with the obit itself is an ad for Stephen Kinzer’s “tale of imperialism American-style,” Overthrow. And only yesterday, Ben Brantley was reviewing Frost/Nixon. I wonder to what extent these texts would have been possible without Halberstam.

It’s hard to think of people like Wolfowitz, Perle, Chalabi, Cambone, Hadley, Feith in an analogous context. Their political superiors are the most brutal, cynical and mediocre bureaucrats and hacks; and – whatever their credentials – they’re no Bundys or Rostows. But their arrogance and hubris are easily on the same level and their crimes. . . . Well, their hands are very, very bloody indeed. So yes – we will be missing Halberstam for a very long time.

I mentioned the other day that I was quite taken with the group show at Christopher Grimes – which was really only half of the show; the other half being shown at Chung King Project downtown. I didn’t realize how thoroughly considered the curatorial concept was until I read the show’s press release. The show, titled Without Sun, actually took off (in Carole Ann Klonarides’ concept) from Chris Marker’s 1982 film, Sans Soleil. I’m not sure if Klonarides’ concept (to judge from the press release) parallels with any exactitude the conceit of the Marker film, which is fairly complex – disclosed in layers like nesting boxes, each box opening to reveal yet another. Loss and recovery are addressed in the narrative, but with each strand of the narrative tangential to the last – with the chain of associations and actual meaning elusive. Marker plays with an aesthetic of recomposition in this (and other) films. (The only reason I know any of this is because I saw the film many years ago – along with several other films, including La Jetée. For many years before establishing his own career, Marker was a protégé of Alain Resnais, whose films, however conceptually problematic or flawed in execution, also exert an enduring fascination for me.)

That’s a phrase I might apply to the show and – well, some of the more fascinating objects and paintings in the portion of the show I saw. Of the works on view, Dan Bayles’ paintings perhaps came closest to that chimerical Marker aesthetic. Bayles’ paintings are abstract, fragmented (even fractalized) mappings and dystopian landscapes rendered in a flattened, demotic, almost diagrammatic style. The favored palette is more or less grisaille with the pigments (and other media) applied flatly, almost scraped to the canvas. “Proposal for a National Monument to Paranoia” (2005), for example presents what might be an exploded architect’s model of cracked causeways, catwalks or bridges, snaking through each other to arbitrary elisions or abrupt truncations over a mosaic of filigree and irregular black and white voids – pools, drifts, dunes, banks, glacial masses. (You wonder if it could be a monument to a paranoia that wasn’t. Are these ‘glaciers’ advancing or in retreat? At the current pace, this could be a swath of inter-urban infrastructure after the nth Katrina-level disaster – and in fewer years than we may wish to contemplate.) In another canvas, what looks like a landscape transmuted through an ionizing cloud chamber is bisected and contained beneath a field of fractals. Hard to say if this is the “sunless” world foreshadowed (or post-shadowed?) by some hypothetical ‘Marker avatar’ – it’s light years from the landscape of the Romantics, but perhaps not without something of the sublime.

Thom Merrick’s landscapes are somewhat more straightforward – but they too have been transmuted by a kind of force field of striations (it’s a post-atomic rain that falls on these desolate landscapes: one canvas is actually called “Desert Metamorphosis”). This is less about recomposition than a composition that seems to continually subvert or undermine any stable reading. The ‘metamorphosis’ (in either canvas) is a morphing between incident and inventory – and perhaps ultimately, the ‘submerging’ or disappearance of both. We’re left – not with landscape, or even abstracted zones of color or registered incident – with a sense of shape that may be only tenuously related to the nominal depiction.

Anna Sew Hoy showed two sculptures that had an oracular, almost mythic presence.
One was a kind of boulder of polyurethane, foam and plastic film – it could have been an asteroid or an alien dinosaur: that’s the kind of presence it had. It had a kind of iridescent sheen to it that faded to a more mundane dull grayish green-purple as you moved around it. Its topography fascinated: certain prominences and protrusions gave it an organic, biomorphic aspect – a malignant mass metastasizing as you moved around it; or a ‘creature of the mire’ that could only continue to swallow up and engulf anything in its path. (It also contained bike parts and a handlebar protruded from an opening in the plastic film.) This was a ‘nesting’ orb or egg or ball that you would hypothetically unwrap only at your peril. Another piece was a kind of bird-like totem (though it was Case Culkins’ “Butte” that actually looked like a kind of abstracted “totem pole”) that seemed to challenge, almost defy the viewer’s visual interrogation – with its notional kitsch (a base made of Darth Vader heads), its fossilized aspect, the ‘circle-within-a-circle’ that made up the ‘head’. It was a veritable ‘sunless’ goddess.

Far less focused, but certainly not without its pleasures, was the group show at Roberts & Tilton (yeah yeah yeah – there were a couple of other stops at Bergamot – you really want to hear about them? oh no you don't). I’m not sure what Aaron Rose (who curated) meant exactly by “Other Scenes,” (I think the title almost diminishes the show), but at least a few of them held my attention. (I’m still thinking about a great Jockum Nordström drawing I saw there (“Charlie (“This Horse Is Man’s Best Friend”) (2002)). More from 6150 Wilshire (Daniel Weinberg; Paul Kopeikin) later.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Send Up the Clowns

I’m posting these notes just slightly revised after perusing Annie Buckley’s catalog notes for Marnie Weber’s Sing Me A Western Song. Who knew? It sounds like a musical because it is a musical. Well maybe not exactly. As someone who actually likes old (though not very much new) musical theater (see previous post), you would think I would have gotten it immediately; but this particular show has too many similarities to previous manifestations of Weber’s variously mutated and intersecting fantasy worlds to be immediately recognizable as a distinctly self-contained scenario or theater piece. (I’m a bit behind the curve here: it didn’t occur to me that she was actually seriously taking on the whole of it: music (i.e., her Spirit Girls), scenario, and film direction; but apparently she has. It sounds ambitious because it is ambitious.) The installation is fabulous and if anything almost too perfect a preamble to the film screened in Patrick Painter’s second space across the parking lot. Amid the masterfully executed (and heavily Pierre et Gilles-inflected) photo-collages (collage on light jet print) of kitsch objects, constructions, painted and photo-litho backdrops depicting various fairytale, rural, circus/caravansary, agro-barnyard, and bucolic tableaux, within which Weber’s mime-faced ghost-girls dream-walk/ride, recline, repose (or just pose) and contemplate their (Western?) prospect and ceramic animals, Weber has constructed full-scale fantasy creatures and stood them amid the hay bales where the viewer can sit and contemplate this circus for herself. Apparently the classically draped-abstract Pierrot (Weber calls it a “Ghost Clown”) is not simply an arbitrary addition to this cast of characters. (I actually wondered at first if it was a dog clown – I thought there might be a foam or fiberglass Great Dane or something under there.) The clown (or ghost clown) is both integral to this scheme and an underlying fascination Weber has sustained since childhood. Clowns are scary. Does anyone not get that today? I always thought the bears were pretty scary, too – but here they are – all tricked out in party hats and ruffs and posed on their circus stands, one wearing a tutu and ‘ghost girl’ escutcheon and carrying a sword. (The beaver looked cute; but maybe I’m channeling residual Rocky (Jay Ward) nostalgia.)

So is it a circus or is it a search? Is it a death march (that is, the film), or is it a “revival” – a “camp meeting.” While the photo-collage tableaux read as kind of James Ensor/Pierre et Gilles Dawn of the Dead Down on the Farm, the film reads as a kind of surreal interrupted journey of the dead – or ghosts – to find or gain admission to their saloon or entertainment venue (or maybe just saloon) of choice (or whorehouse? As Helen Brown was quick to point out, it’s one place you can always get a drink.) A live performance might have tied it all together; but I had to move on. There were Big Name Artists to be celebrated a short stroll away. That would be Ed – Too Big for A Single Gallery – Moses (who showed work at both Bobbie Greenfield and Frank Lloyd) and Craig (Move Over Jimmy ChOOO) Kauffman (at Patricia Faure). By the time I stroll over there, Weber’s Ensor/P&G Ophelias have already turned my vulnerable head in a slightly forlorn direction, and I’m in the mood for neither banal masterstrokes (yes – the master stroke is not immune from banality), nor strappy, jimmy-glittery “ghost” shoes (à la Kauffman). (I’m wearing my surreal/Pilgrim buckles; goddess only knows I’ll never be able to afford Manolo again.) My spirit is lifted somewhat by a brilliant sketchbook suite of oil paintings of trees, lawns, and rather pathetic figures contending with them – with nature in all its neatly emblematic force – by Blue McRight in Faure's smaller gallery. I’ll be surprised it they’re not all sold out within the week. By now I’m en route to Christopher Grimes for a group show curated by Carole Ann Klonarides – it’s fantastic – which reminds me: I have to post my notes on Baldessari and Justin Moore’s show the week before last at Cirrus (but that too will have to wait) – but it will keep for a few hours. It will have to.

Before I break off, I should also remind myself to post a few notes about last Wednesday night. The night I learned what wind-chill actually meant. The tornado in a box (where were you Susan Silton?), the whirlwind in a courtyard. The Day of the Locusts. (Well, that’s show-biz.) And when did Mat Gleason suddenly become respectable? One bright light perhaps stands out from it all: Henry Hopkins, who deserves every honor that comes his way.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Monuments for Nowhere or Anywhere -- w/ apologies to Dore Ashton

21 April 2007

I have to warn the reader I’m in a bit of a head at the moment (‘but wait,’ you think – ‘Volvo is back, you were in Debussy & Wagner-fueled ecstasy only a week ago, you’re gearing up for studio visits; why – YOU’RE YOUR awol SELF AGAIN!’ ‘Okay,’ I say – ‘whatever you say.’). It isn’t necessarily going to shade my observations or opinions about one thing or another. But if I veer off the subject at hand into the dark blood-washed zones of psychic interior or political exterior (or is it the other way around), bear with me.

I’m still reeling from the deaths of Sol LeWitt and Kitty Carlisle Hart, both iconic figures for me – LeWitt in his anti-iconic stance, Kitty Carlisle in her ineffable yet indelibly etched personality that exemplified everything a public life should be. That might sound like an odd juxtaposition; and maybe it would make more immediate sense in New York; but there was something common to both that stands in firm opposition to everything loathsome and degraded about the world we live in. I refer to something more cultural than political, but you can read whatever you like into it. Sol LeWitt, who, along with Baldessari is one of the two conceptual art godfathers (Is it mere coincidence they both shared the same L.A. dealer, Margo Leavin? More on that in a bit – Baldessari opened a beautiful show there a couple weeks back), stood for something very much grounded in both context and imagination – both the artist’s and the viewer’s. I’m reminded again of his precisely ordered but infinitely flexible (if not expandable, per se) method and approach and its dynamic physical manifestations by Roberta Smith’s review of an installation of LeWitt’s large scale wall drawings at DIA, Beacon in today’s New York Times. (Interesting to see Baldessari using the wall as support for the centerpiece of his show at Margo Leavin.) Reminded again of his embrace of the variables and variations – the often unseen variations played out in the mind’s infinite space (he was a true heir to Duchamp): “For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.” Do you wonder if Michael Govan gets that? Do you think Jeff Koons does? (More on Koons later – or not.)

I don’t think there was anything ironic in Kitty Carlisle Hart’s designation as a “living landmark” by the City of New York. She really was. It seemed almost a foregone conclusion to cast her as the hostess of that doomed luncheon in the film of Six Degrees of Separation. You sort of wanted her at that ideal lunch or dinner table of your imagination (in your ideal apartment, of course – in, say, the Rockefeller Apartments on 55th, or the El Dorado up on Central Park West) – a living link to that mid-century modern glamour of Manhattan – Gershwin, Broadway, the Marx Brothers, the Met, and, well, Moss Hart – and What’s My Line? – that McLuhan-esque moment when television became the collective parlour game. But she was also from a moment when outsized personalities put their energies to saving the things that mattered to the current generations and the generations to come, rather than franchising themselves into brands and merchandising machines. She exemplified a species of ideal urban citizenship that was about saving monuments for the whole of the city, not building monuments to themselves – because it was not merely about the monument, but about the city itself. You wonder if the Getty Foundation really got that. Armand Hammer sure as hell didn’t get it. Do you think Eli Broad does?

One of the consistent strengths of Ginny Bishton’s work has been the conceptual rigor of her practice and methodology. But I have to say I wasn’t entirely prepared for the sheer aesthetic impact of the photo-collé-collage-tapestries she was showing in her show at Richard Telles this afternoon. Why I shouldn’t be escapes me at the moment; the uncanny richness of color in her work is at least as striking as its conceptual force. Nevertheless, the subtlety, jewel-like clarity and richness of the colors within these minimalist configurations – reds and blues; greens, aubergines, ambers – the variable perceptual projections and regressions created by the cagily deliberated overlaps of these individually photographed discs (they’re actually bowls of soup), like rippling paillettes or sequins suddenly frozen mid-air (body?), their weight and density, the whole contained within these compact rectangular configurations – is something startling and exhilarating. After reading Doug Harvey’s feature on her in the L.A.Weekly, I had to make it the first stop on my itinerary. I was not alone; Russell Ferguson walked in only moments after me. Perhaps he was as mystified as I was by what Doug meant by “amplitude” (regarding “something … held back in Bishton’s art”), or the “trope of social nurturance summoned by the food service angle.” Oh well – at least he doesn’t try to dumb it down for the Pulitzer committee.

Back in a minute – my next stop was Marnie Weber’s show at Patrick Painter. That was one hayride.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Sirens of Spring in Los Angeles

Good news: Volvo is back and awol is free to awol again (up to a point -- but I'll never give away its mileage). The last three nights have been dominated by -- no, not Bill Viola, not Peter Sellars, not even -- well Esa Pekka Salonen definitely had a hand in it -- two of the most beautiful hands I've ever seen to be precise -- Wagner and scarcely less important, Debussy. I'm talking about The Tristan Project, of course. The 'prelude before the prelude,' so to speak, was Debussy's Printemps -- which foreshadows Stravinsky's own Sacre du Printemps, but hardly needs to stand in its shadow. It's a work of dazzling sophistication and modernity, but isn't played nearly enough -- or as brilliantly as it was executed Thursday night (12 April) by the L.A. Phil under Salonen's beautiful hands (hard to believe he will put down the baton in a couple of seasons). And then the Prelude with its deceptively simple motives building like a chain reaction into something volcanic, oceanic, carrying us forward into that fateful voyage of Act I and the rest of the opera to come. It's almost overwhelming. You have to wonder if it needs any imagery beyond the drama of the opera itself. I realize that's not the point -- but it underscores the perfection Salonen, soloists and company had already achieved with the score. I'll get back to Viola in a moment, but let me backtrack a bit to post a few less sonorous notes.

I mentioned I had been down to the Cherry & Martin gallery on Venice a couple of weeks ago to look at the Amanda Ross-Ho show before it closed. I knew she had taken her MFA at USC, but thought she was based in Brooklyn. The only thing I knew about her work was from a review of a New York group show. But she is still very much here and at work in L.A. But I wonder as I write this if it really matters – that is where exactly she might be and, perhaps only slightly more importantly, where her eye and hand happen to alight. (And now I’m inadvertently quoting the title of her show – talk about automatic writing.) That is to say, it’s work that, for all its particularity, might happen any number of places. That haphazard spirit was very much felt at the small but beautifully installed show at Cherry & Martin. But the work on view was also, more importantly, about presence and absence, and the random, unforeseen or unpredictable implications of each.

The ‘Nothin’ of Amanda Ross-Ho’s “Nothing Fuckin Matters is of course everything. Her entire approach here has to do more or less explicitly with absence, negation, the shadow or shadow image of something that may or may not be there. What is merely implied, suggested, disclosed parenthetically in turn contributes to a fragile and contingent context all too easily undermined by one or more other elements, or indeed the entire support which may be ambiguously virtual or concrete. Her “gran-abertura” is a lacework wall “hanging” incised into sheetrock propped up against the gallery wall. The incisions reveal other elements (e.g., in this instance, a fishing lure). In other words, it’s less about the view than about the opening into a series of questions – about presence, identity, impression, viewpoint, the continuous interactive network of all these things. It’s a work that’s continuously self-interrogating. It’s an interrogation that can easily be reversed – as she does here with her “White Goddess” pieces on canvas – moving from the perforation and lattice-work of the incised hanging or shawl (what looks like a crocheted or openwork knit scarf) or macramé) to the painted hanging on a perforated canvas surface.

In a work called “Peacock,” an inkjet print mounted on a piece of sheetrock propped against the wall, what appears to be a shadow (of a peacock chair) frames what appears to be the outline of a human figure which in turn is imprinted with a grid that may itself be a shadow or a reflection (a tiled floor? – on which the figure gazes? or merely falls? – or is it simply a graph, a mapping? a cipher?). Not quite hiding just behind the sheetrock is a pet’s water dish/cooler with its feeder jug. In other words, you still won’t know where you’re going by the time you’re gone; but your cat might be able to figure it out (and – p.s. – keep her hydrated).

I realized only after the fact that three works installed as an ensemble at the Cherry & Martin space were autonomous (but apparently this is always a possibility in Ross-Ho’s work). Two were faux-collage inkjet prints – what looked like two adjoining panels of a self-folding cardboard box tacked up on a section of pegboard (“Double Tragedy”) – the ‘cipher’ element emphasized here both by the configuration of the pieces on the sheetrock and the incisions in the sheetrock revealing a panel of pegboard on the other side – with semaphore-like printing: a pair of curved directional arrows, each pointing the same direction, reversed ‘C3s,’ imprinted blank squares ostensibly for identifying the contents. Immediately below this was another fragment on ‘pegboard’ – which appeared to be a fragment ripped from newspaper advertising. The title, “The Artistforme,” spells it out literally: obviously from some piece of advertising for Prince (or "the artist formerly known as ... ") – with head, hands and everything else sheared away, leaving only the “artist form”, Prince’s characteristic Regency dandy gear like a shell or a doll’s costume. Directly across from the “Artistforme” was a photograph of a hanging address number panel for successive (odd) street addresses clustered at the same site – 2001 through 2011 – a literal conflation of space and time Ross-Ho titled “Tapestry.” Brilliant. With a pegboard suggesting its own virtual space, as well as the suggestion of time measured out in ‘space’, she moves to set aside the notion of ‘measure’ altogether for ‘form’ itself. What fills the form? What is lost altogether to the viewer’s gaze? Or merely forgotten or overlooked? There’s also the suggestion of the archaeological or forensic (as if a piece called “Negative Earth” wasn’t enough to indict a species so intent upon not merely its own, but an entire planet’s extinction) – e.g., the ”Mantle” – a sheetrock ‘chimneypiece’ with a snapshot tucked away in a crevice on the floor.

She knows how to steal from the best, I thought – e.g., Baldessari, Rauschenberg. The photographic inkjet prints have an effect not unlike Rauschenberg’s transfer drawings. Considered as installation pieces (which I think they really should be), the sheetrock mounted pieces have the presence of Rauschenberg-ian combines; but dare to go them one better by hinting at a surround (as opposed to a support) of domesticity (e.g., the lure, the sport shoes, etc.) The show as a whole projects a domestic, yet elegiac, nihilism. But you would hardly sum it up that way. There’s far too much going on here. The incisions, the crevices, the doubling of motives hint at perceptual fields momentarily forgotten or pushed aside and those we have yet to apprehend or fully understand.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, I intended to proceed straight from Cherry & Martin to L.A. Louver for Tony Berlant's show. (I can guess what the reader might be thinking. We really know each other now, don't we? Well -- that's the great (or not so great?) thing about L.A.: it's a place for second -- and third & fourth & fifth, etc. -- chances; a place for continuous reinvention. Yeah -- if they're not too much of a bore, I'll give almost anyone a second chance.) So what's the deal with the traffic on North Venice? Less than half a mile from the Cherry & Martin space, the traffic slowed to what I call 10-mg Valium traffic. I ran out of my prescription ages ago and there was no way I was going to endure it for Tony's latest tintypes. I turned around and headed back into Culver City. More later -- but not on Berlant.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

"CTQ" but Twisting the Night Away (I (heart) Deutch and Silton)

6 April 2007

It’s been more than a week since I last posted and it’s not as if Los Angeles has shut down during that time (more like I’ve shut down – with tax deadlines looming which inevitably mean sickness if not death). Medical and transportation issues notwithstanding, I’ve managed to get out more than a bit and post a few cursory notes below which I may or may not expand upon in days to come. Much as I would like to post, re-visit and expand on something I’ve seen or noted, the horizon changes so quickly with the press of events, new things seen and heard (and read – though if you think my visual/aural field is backlogged, you should see the stacks of books around my bed), and the controversies major and (mostly) minor that seem to accompany all this, it’s sometimes hard to find my way back into one thing or another unless I’m writing about it at some (printed) length. Anyway – until car repair, medical and other issues are adequately resolved – perhaps you might consider awol temporarily confined to quarters (‘ctq’?). (Once upon a time my parents would have called it “grounded” – except their idea of 'grounded' was kicking us out of the house altogether – and I shared the car with two other siblings. It could get pretty ugly.)

CTQ notwithstanding, awol was out in more or less typical form yesterday (Thursday, 5 April) evening – at UCLA’s New Wight Gallery and later – once I could pull myself away and get myself through the ghastly traffic – at the Otis Institute’s Bolsky Gallery. The New Wight is hosting UCLA’s current crop of MFA grads in a series of small (or not so small as it turned out: these are extremely productive artists) group shows. Otis/Bolsky was hosting Susan Silton in a lecture/performance she titled, “She Had A Laugh Like A Beefsteak” (which I only just learned was a remark culled from a biography of Gertrude Stein – an odd, nonsensical analogy; and still more oddly, an amazing coincidence since, a zillion years ago, I once knew something about Stein, having read her in depth at university and written a thesis on both her work and its formal affinities with Picasso’s Cubism – but knowing absolutely nothing about this quote).

I had some expectation of being impressed by the MFA show – and I was not disappointed. Without exception, the work was – well, exceptional – each of the artists, conceptually and stylistically assured, technically polished, versatile, almost virtuosic, adventurous. Two showed work in a variety of media, and it was truly impressive how well-executed almost all of it was (not without considerable effort – as I learned from at least one of the artists). Two showed mostly painting. Of the four, Lapin’s alone restricted itself to a more or less figurative approach – imagery composed, as it were, from anecdotal vignettes, actual or fictional, with a strong photographic influence willfully abstracted – made compelling nonetheless by an equally abstracted yet vivid palette and nervous, energetic line and brushstroke. Garrett Hayes showed work by turns delicate and brutal (and occasionally brutally funny) in a variety of materials from pigments (and paper towels!) to glazed ceramic (“Her Majesty’s Mounds” – I’ll let the reader ponder that one) to, uh, shit – I think. (Well why not?) Setting aside my distrust of the overly fetishistic, I sort of wondered where he was going with his preoccupation with defecation.

Then there was the work I was drawn to, almost involuntarily, again and again – from one work to another and frequently back for another look. It was mostly Joe Deutch’s. Yes – the same Joe Deutch who may or may not have been responsible for pushing Chris Burden (and Nancy Rubins) into early retirement (funny – I think I saw Sarah Watson there, too). Well, Chris – it’s time to get over it; you have no idea what you’re missing. I should say, what I was missing, too. Marc Selwyn was there with an Englishwoman who seemed to be pausing in front of the same work. This turned out to be the redoubtable Clarissa Dalrymple, and I learned that she had included Deutch in a show she had curated for Marianne Boesky last year (as, I note today, Doug Harvey also did in the LA Weekly-sponsored show he put together at Track 16). Taking deadly aim might simply be the overarching metaphor for what Deutch is about. His work has great wit and deadly seriousness at the same time. You have to be in pretty deadly earnest to do what he did with that black ceramic enameled pegboard piece that effortless dominates the east wall of the gallery (I have to wonder why there’s such a vogue suddenly for pegboard – between Ross-Ho, David Stone, and now here with Deutch; is pegboard the new grid?), a garland of ceramic ‘popcorn’ looped over a protruding hook (Geo. Stoll would appreciate I think). He moves in several directions simultaneously – but never incoherently. Another piece (on plastic film or mylar) (self?-)spoofs “I [heart] collage” – with successive additions, incursions, variations, violations printed on repeated generations of the motif. There’s a brilliant 3-channel video with digitally manipulated incidents over the central establishment shot scenes in a separate space of its own. David Quadrini, who’s already viewed it in its entirety at P.S.1, encourages me to go back to look at the entire thing. (I'll have to -- Nowell Karten distracted me a bit with some amusing questions.) The shell casing (real?) from that notorious performance (did they ever establish whether the gun was real?) is also here – isolated in a large inflated clear plastic cube. Pity they don’t sell something like that at Kartell.

Speaking of grids, the painter who manages to occasionally pull me away from Deutch is Joshua Aster. But I think it would not only be an exaggeration but fundamentally incorrect to call his kind of cool abstractions grids – although there's a slight relationship. What they remind me of a little are Alex Katz’s twilight/night slices of urban landscape or cityscape – those dark, black or dusky -- well, grids – building faces – broken by lighted or otherwise inhabited squares or rectangles or other incident. Aster’s are far more interesting, though, one pixelated sequence laid over or laced through another, creating a counterpoint of multiple layers of color harmonics. The color is subtle (perhaps making inevitable my association with those Katz night-time figures), and in one instance eliminated altogether, in neums of black and white arrayed into what looks almost literally like a reconfigured and re-oriented musical notation. (I find out today that Doug Harvey has already ‘been here’ – with Aster (he wrote up a show late last year). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.)

The highlight of the evening – ironic because I ‘know’ (or did I??) the artist – is Susan Silton’s performance/lecture. (It makes sense now – could Susan ever do a truly straight lecture? She manages to turn everything to art.) Maybe that’s the surprise of it – which is always a kind of thrill to me – the scope of her work, coupled with the continuity and unity of her explorations; its aesthetic and intellectual rigor. It’s an extraordinary and uncannily moving body of work. Full disclosure: I have a scaled down print of one of her “make-ready” series – Lost For Words (it hangs over my couch, not my desk). Obvious connection, you might suppose – but you’d be wrong. Her work is both more physical – expressive of the body in the world, enveloped sight and sound in that world – and ethereal. Prior to the “make-ready” series and, more recently, series of works using stripes as an aesthetic/emotional motive in conjunction with subjects both related to and subtly deflected, distorted by it; each layer transparently disturbing, discomposing the other, Silton used motion (and her own body’s or hand’s motion) to dissolve imagery – into the kind of visual glissando she makes of her Aviate series, which are magical; and hemidemisemiquaver, which makes that gliss into a kind of visual and aural cycloid as she videotaped her own spinning motion from the neutral point of view of the camera’s ‘eye’ in a beautifully linked sequence of environments. Literally breathtaking. There’s a definite attraction to the spiral or cycloid motif: in another piece, she uses a Serra arc as an environment around which to move her whistling subject (whistling the theme from the Paramount/Coppola The Godfather); in another series, Twisters, she manipulates photographs of tornadoes and twisters taken by professional/amateur storm-chasers into something both a universe away from the source subject – sublime and intimate emblems of a pure idea, a personal notion, indeed the human physiognomy itself – and a metaphor for that unconstrained, uncontainable violence of the physical environment.

I should have taken notes, but setting aside my breathlessness, I was so absorbed into her encompassing vision, I felt compelled to drink up every moment and every image without the distraction of my always illegible scribblings. I’ve long admired Susan’s work, but have only really known her for a few years, since we discovered we had several mutual friends and acquaintances of long-standing. Now I’m regretting I ever missed a single show – each an important manifestation of a compelling vision and step forward in her fascinating voyage.

The traffic back wasn’t nearly as bad – stopping as I did in Venice for dinner with Italian pals at Mao’s Kitchen (delicious – amazing Chinese food – the aubergine, the noodles fantastic) on Pacific. I had to assure my pal, Sandra (and her fabulous archaeologist daughter, Giovanna) – not to worry (she insists I invest in a new car) – as I assure the reader now – I won’t be c-t-q forever.

Back in a minute to post my thoughts on Amanda Ross-Ho (I skipped Tony Berlant at Louver – guess why), Lucy Lippard and that “Liquidity Boom” seminar (read promo for Artists Pension Trust) from last Monday 26 March -- & maybe a few notes on the art market – oh, and The Hoax. (Trust me -- there’s a connection.)