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.

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