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.

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