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.)