Sunday, May 27, 2007

Preoccupation or prejudice? (Paris me manque.)

26 May 2007

Before I post my notes from last Monday – a few regarding this evening. There’s really not much to report – or is that just me? That is my preoccupation of the moment. At what point does boredom or rigid (are they really?) standards of quality or originality, or dissatisfactions based on other contextual criteria become – well….a bit too personal? In other words, at what point do personal dissatisfactions merely indicate personal prejudice? (Am I second-guessing myself? Gee – like this is the first time? Yeah, a little, I guess.) Two people (both artists) prompt my self-examination – I’ll call them Justin and Penny. I run into Justin first – just back from an amazing tour of Beijing and Shanghai with a focus on contemporary architecture (his wife, Andrea, who isn’t here is this brilliant architect/designer and one of my favorite people in the art world). I don’t know if it’s me picking up his vibe or him picking up mine – but I immediately start picking his brain about the work in front of us in slightly less (or more) than dispassionate terms. Okay – can I just say it? I said it to him – so I’ll just say it now. I’m feeling very over with the Leipzig school of painting. It all just seems so coy and calculated – and at this point soooo beyond shallow, I could faint dead away standing in front of one of them. (I don’t even bother to take notes.) Is it too much to ask for a fresh idea? A stroke of brush or pencil laid down without the art world equivalent of a focus group or opinion poll?

I’m willing to concede it might just be me. Yes – it may simply be personal prejudice (or more accurately, I think, just exhaustion or boredom). First of all, the painter I’m talking about actually isn’t Leipzig school (though he’s clearly influenced by them). I’m sort of feeling this need to course-correct even before I fly out and stop at the front counter to get some background. I end up reading everything on the counter; but remain less than persuaded. The prices are a little on the high side (although more than half a dozen are already sold), I think – but maybe it’s just the weak dollar. I can get very cynical about these things. Penny joins me at the counter. She and her husband (Michael – also an artist) have already looked at the show and are starting to regroup for an exit. But then Michael disappears and she follows me in a quick walk-through of the next couple of galleries.

I’m ready to make my exit with them and call it a night by the time we’re in the last gallery. But I get a better look at one of the drawings and move on to the next and the next – and find myself absorbed. Penny is suddenly behind me again, and she asks me, “Do you think he has a science background?” “Could be, “ I say. “It never hurts.” Then she says – as if figuring out my fascination, identifying my preferences (and prejudices?) – “Oh that’s right, you like drawing.” It’s true: I do like drawing. It tends to be closer to the ideas. There’s a bit more transparency to the thought process. It’s faster (sometimes), more spontaneous (mostly). There’s a different and very welcome energy that comes off it; also wit, charm; the accidents of the moment that may be left ‘uncorrected,’ like phantom notes, marginalia. It’s more direct, intimate. (Boy am I getting defensive.)

I’ll just leave it at that for the moment. I’m feeling a little bummed. An incident just this side of ugly closed the evening (no fault of Penny’s of course). It probably has as much to do with general media reconnaissance for the week – and all the horrific news I have to read or re-read. Am I the only one who was struck by the tenor of the President’s last news conference? He is a raving madman. And the utter absurdity of the commencement addresses given by both Bush (Coast Guard Academy) and Cheney (West Point(!! – whose decision was that?? The graduating lieutenants are dropping out of the Army at a staggering rate – almost entirely because of Iraq.) whose recycled lies were essentially reported directly, unfiltered – with nothing to note the fact that there was almost nothing factual in their remarks. And – not that the Democratic party is anything more than the center or slightly left-of center wing of the Republican Party – but I’m wondering if we can put down Tuesday the 22nd as the official end of the Democratic Party. It’s easy to see someone like Pelosi caving; but I never thought Rahm Emanuel was that much of a wimp. They’re both despicable.

I’ll give the mainstream media a bit of credit – though of course too little, too late. The coverage – especially in the vivid photography that increasingly appears even on the front pages of the Times – is a bit more straightforward (and grisly). The photograph of the wounded soldier that appeared on Wednesday’s front page was horrifying. When is the White House going to be held to account for its staggering crimes against humanity?

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who blew off the LACE auction. And I heard from people who did go that the buffet offered after the bidding was completely bolloxed with people left standing in line for an eternity for their hors d’oeuvres or whatever. What the hell happened?

I considered a French film to cheer myself up a bit (I kept running into people about to fly off to one part of France or another); but the timing just wasn’t right and I headed home. Truth be told I was probably sufficiently buoyed by those drawings (by Daniel Zeller – at Dan Weinberg). They were exquisite.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sublime Remains

I'm posting these notes unedited -- because there's really no point at this late date. As readers may guess, I've been up against some pretty impossible deadlines lately. So bear with me -- there will be artillery copy soon enough to make it all worthwhile.

20 May 2007

There’s no time to post because I’m flying past my deadline – and if my editor hates one thing MORE than a late blog-posting, it’s a blown deadline. She will not tolerate it – and neither will I. I’m already this[]far away from a breakdown. But yeah – you know I’m going to try to get around to look at the stuff I simply MUST look at (OR listen to, or – the only thing that really gets slighted is my reading – which just keeps piling up bedside; my bed is starting to look like a cubicle with walls of books. Blame it on Proust and my poor French).

Before a bit of Hammer reconnaissance, I headed downtown. I was running too late to cover Chinatown, but I did manage to make it to Bank for Veronica Bailey’s intriguing show of photographs. Maybe a bit too much intrigue and not enough … uh, text?? Or, in this instance, the SUBSTANCE??? The photographs purport to show letters and various communications between Lee Miller and, among others (mostly) Roland Penrose. There poised in what look like cubbyholes or vertical mail slots so that all we see is the letters’ or cards’ or mailgrammes’ edges – with a few corners turned back to reveal handwriting that may or may not be Lee Miller’s. (I will say that, by comparison with some photos and facsimiles I’ve seen, one of the fragments did look something like Lee Miller’s hand.) But so what? It’s just a bloody tease. You don’t show something like that without displaying at least some portions of the text. It’s a total cheat that I REALLY don’t have time for.

But maybe the tease was deliberate – a lead-up to the REAL thing – which was Susan Silton’s installation in the next gallery. In a way it was perfect: the text-based wall piece perfectly encapsulated what the Bailey photographs were about (which I’m guessing is why they were paired up). (Does this mean I’ve changed my mind? Well …. if it works for Susan …. I still want to see the text.) Set high on one wall – literally fading into the wall – as if alternately sinking or floating away from the wall – was the word R-E-M-A-I-N-S. It makes me shake a little bit just to think about it – though I’m especially vulnerable right now in my editorially-challenged state. Silton has a way of touching the NERVE. (Hey Susan, can you spare an editor?)

I was dying of hunger, so I stopped for pizza at The Rocket, this adorable 40s-ish Deco pizzeria right across 4th Street (half a block up from Pete’s – I just LOVE this particular block of L.A.) before moving on to Bert Green and Pharmaka. And then I flew over to Westwood for less than an hour which was simply cheating myself. The show’s depths (I’m looking mostly at the Morales, Monahan and Anna Sew Hoy spaces) do not necessarily present themselves immediately. (But maybe that’s the way I feel about art in general. You almost have to live with certain pieces.) So on to Margo Leavin who, speaking of the Hammer, is showing another Hammer alum, Brenna Youngblood, who was one of the stars of last summer – with a project room at the Hammer, among the most striking works in group shows at both Margo Leavin and Carl Berg – showing some of the strongest and most original mixed media work in painting and photography – a truly original hybridization of painting and photography. The work here seems to be moving in two parallel directions – towards both painterly abstraction on a grid, and slightly more surreal, photography-referenced work – most of it on a fairly generous scale. As if set off from work that marks her forays into new territory, there are two paintings on the far wall (just inside the doorway – at the end of the reception area and office entry) that are simply amazing. It’s a terrific show overall.

I strolled over to the Scott McFarland show at Regen (oh yeah – I still haven’t posted those Pierson notes – sorry about that) – beautiful large scale (40x30 – more or less on that scale) inkjet prints of photographs, taken mostly in or near Berlin. There’s a wonderful photograph of the porcupines in their stunning, snow-dusted rocky enclosure at the Zoologischer Garten in Berlin. Makes me long for winter on this perfect spring evening in Los Angeles. On to Lightbox (I always enjoy seeing Kim Light) for a kind of reunion of New Yorkers around Robert Hawkins (gee, from walls of fire to Ball of Fire all in the same week ….but the copy, the copy). I run into opera buddy (I guess that figures) wearing shocking pink; which reminds me I’m already falling down on my resolution to wear more fashion in honor of Isabella Blow. Onward and up La Cienega to Marc Selwyn for Tom Knechtel. And – well, I could stop here. It’s simply beautiful – no that doesn’t quite do it justice. For those of us who’ve known Tom for a long time, it’s a promise fulfilled. There’s something new here – a new coherence and cogency – and the same time a charm coming through that in no way diminishes its import. I (like everyone apparently) stop at a drawing of a horse on an antique cream paper and almost gasp. It’s sublime. It may be the best work he’s ever shown; it’s the best show I’ve ever seen of his work (that drawing should be in the Met), and I hope a lot of people get to see it.

You know – I have to stop. I’m blowing off the LACE auction – but there’s just no way. I’m tied up tomorrow … and then – well I have something Monday, too. I’ll have to see if I can collect some intelligence on the auction between drafts.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Look Back (Preferably) WITHOUT Anger

19 May 2007

When my editor asks me where the latest post is – I KNOW I’m really dropping the ball. I really meant to post last night – but got home later than expected with a slight case of food poisoning (or who knows?). It’s a given I’m under some deadline pressures (see previous post) – pressures I have may have exacerbated myself by philosophically over-dissecting the Marta Edmisten show I was reviewing. (Just to forewarn artillery readers – they may have to wait on that one. Let me just say that I take it a few steps beyond the issue of transgression or voyeurism (which would be a misreading anyway: it’s not really voyeuristic).)

What can I say? – it’s been an exhausting (and frankly not very productive) week. Am I allowed to say that? (she asked rhetorically) In this paradise of the work ethic and workaholism? That’s what happens when there’s not enough playtime. awol not only goes awol; she just drops down a black hole. I did not go to the Eileen Myles reading. I did not attend Curtis Harrington’s funeral, which friends told me – with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight – was a conflagration of Old and New Hollywood I really should have dropped everything to attend. The notable atrocities included Kenneth Anger’s attempts to disrupt the proceedings and Donna Deitch’s filming of both Anger’s antics (e.g., Anger kissing Curtis’s embalmed face – notwithstanding , or perhaps because, they apparently reviled one another) and other parts of the funeral. The show, Curtis would be comforted to know, went on – but not without Anger’s calumnies hurled casket-ward. That’s one thing I’m glad I missed. I’ve only met him a couple of times; but needless to say, he looks nothing like the angelic creature of M-G-M’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or the dreamy guy of his own Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. One of my more (or not so) recent encounters was actually in the company of Tulsa Kinney herself (ah, those were the days) – at a MOCA opening (Man Ray, as I recall). Anger really needs a keeper now. Maybe Joel-Peter Witkin would be up to the task – what with all that Aleister Crowley business he’s (I mean Anger) up to his eyeballs in. (My source for all this, by the way, is Gregory Poe – who designed a beautiful funerary urn for Curtis.)

And no, gentle reader, I didn’t go to the Barbara Stanwyck tribute at the Academy (what? – and miss another chance to see The Lady Eve or – be still my beating heart – Forty Guns???). Oh honey – if you only knew – I am sooooooo over guns. I swear I’m going to submit my own amicus brief if another Second Amendment case gets cert at the Supreme Court. (Yeah – I guess that goes for you, too, Joe Deutch.) I’m not sure what pushed me over the edge; but lately when in doubt I just blame everything on Bush – who I’ve decided is The Manchurian Candidate. (Barbara B. of course is the sub-sub-glam version of the character played by Angela Lansbury.) Or is it Damian?? Anyway I’m sure there’s a 6-6-6 tattooed somewhere on his pointy head. But no – I’ll never get over Stanwyck. (And I’ll have a chance to see some of her films at the Billy Wilder Theatre at the Hammer over the next couple of weeks.)

And no – I didn’t get out of town for the Tuesday and Wednesday night sales. You have to hand it to him: Toby did more than just pull one out of the hat (i.e., the Rockefeller Rothko). The Bacon record owed something to what I call idea and early-spark-of-genius values; and speaking of idea value, you may have noticed the Baldessari, too, fetched a record price. Barbara Jacobson’s Wesselman smoker was another record-breaker. Ditto Basquiat. But they were hardly the only highlights of the sale – which included some outstanding Richters. Personally I was fixated on that amazing Marlene Dumas self-as-baby-portrait. I still haven’t checked the hammer price. The real proof of Meyer’s overall coup de chefs-d’oeuvres, though was the total sale figure. Sotheby’s doubled its previous May contemporary sales record. The next evening, Christies set its own record – for that Warhol Green Car Crash (over $70 million – a mere shade lighter than the Rockefeller Rothko). The sale total was over $380 million.

Instead of hammer prices, I hit the Hammer again on Thursday. I didn’t really catch Lynda Benglis – which would have been fantastic – because I was communing with the Pittmans and Shaws in Eden’s Edge. Last night I went to the Identity Theft show at the Santa Monica Museum. – which features late 1970s identity/performance work and documentation by Eleanor Antin, Lynn Hershman and Suzy Lake. It’s a good show – though in certain respects the Antin section is inevitably overshadowed by Howard Fox’s brilliantly curated LACMA show; and the Hershman section focused more or less exclusively on the Roberta Breitmore project and documents – ignoring for example the Dante Hotel installations, her pioneering interactive work, Lorna, as well as many other interesting digressions in this vein (e.g., her ‘hero sandwiches’, robotics and tele-robotics, films, etc.). You can’t really blame Finkel for this. There’s just way to much to wrap one’s head around much less cram into a couple of museum galleries. Hershman is probably overdue for her own full-scale retrospective. It’s inevitably an intimidating prospect. In terms of the scope of her work on every level – cultural, technical, philosophical – she’s almost without peer. Perhaps it could be split between two museums here – e.g., Hammer & LACMA – or even with the Museum of Television & Broadcasting. Something like that. Presumably it would travel – here, nyc (i.e., Whitney or MoMA), SF (where I believe Hershman is still based), perhaps UK (Tate? Hayward?), Paris? (Pompidou? Palais de Tokio?) Maybe Microsoft and Apple could compete to put up the big underwriting bucks – non? Somebody call Bill Gates and Steve Jobs; better yet, Paul Allen and Eli Broad. (That was me doing my Irving Blum impression – hey all in the spirit of things, no? Come to think of it (speaking of auction success) -- hey Irving -- can you spare a megabuck?)

The Suzy Lake “identity borrowing” photographs were fascinating – very difficult to produce in their pre-PhotoShop era – involving series of double exposures – with some pretty creepy results. The specimens she chose – no doubt deliberately – were just a bit aesthetically challenged, which only heightens the sense of strangeness, alienation.

Anyway I showed up on time (for a change) for Jori Finkel’s preview, expecting to hook up with one of my Italian pals – only to find out from a mutual pal that she’d already left for Roma. No sooner had I learned this then I turned around to see Carla Weber – with whom I’ve made and broken more dates than we can count – for once our schedules were in synch. She was with Sandy Gray – still modeling and oh-so-fabulous. Sandy was fascinated with the special edition vinyl wallets Lake and Hershman had done for the show (she bought a Hershman “Breitmore account” wallet); and we all remarked on how they reminded us of what might have been the template for this sort of thing – those fabulous wallets and accessories Gregory Poe designed for Fiorucci – which are probably museum pieces themselves now. Speaking of fashion, I wondered why a number of people looked remarkably Chanel (Laurie Franks was wearing a jacket I would have sworn was Lagerfeld a couple years back – but she confessed it wasn’t). As it turned out, a significant segment of the crowd was headed over to the Santa Monica Airport for the Chanel resort collection show and after-party. Laurie suggested I join the Lagerfeld legions; but (again for a change) I decided not to play hooky and fall back to Eden’s Edge (which will probably seem like hell’s kitchen by tomorrow night), though not before having another margarita with Carla and Sandy (who went against the Chanel wave in something very Ralph Lauren-ish – or maybe it’s just her look; she could probably double for Ricky Lauren). Speaking of Sotheby’s (wasn’t I?) or maybe just the fabulous, one of my real estate/architecture mavens, Jackie Tager, was also there. Ditto Carol Kino (we chatted briefly about the sales) who’s in town on a Getty/Annenberg fellowship.

It was quite a parade – not unlike the Incognito crowd. There was a certain poignancy for me, too, here – seeing someone from my past with whom I’d parted on somewhat traumatic terms. I was relieved when she didn’t recognize me – as I suspected she probably wouldn’t. Carla and I played at identifying the star-lettes we’d glimpsed in 10 minute chunks from television shows, like Laura Innes from the NBC adrenaline-fest, ER. Ah – those were the days. I have no idea what my cats watch lately.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hell's Drawing Room / Pandora's Box

7 May 2007

Polymorph perverse – that’s the Kovitz style in a nutshell. The most painterly hand that ever dipped into the peanut butter jar for, uh, pigment. Or the most austere hand that ever wielded a butter knife. From Vuillard-inflected pointillism to the Baroque/Rococo cartoon to something along the lines of – would you believe Norman Rockwell? (At least I think it was Norman Rockwell.) Kovitz claims the panels will have a completely different aspect 10 years from now; and I don’t doubt it. I’m just wondering if they’ll survive the following 50. Do I believe him that that they’re pure sugar, fat, sap, whatever (maybe the sap – that might have some fixative quality), and nothing else. Of course not. Anyway – I hope not.

11 May 2007

I just came from the Eden’s Edge press preview – the Hammer’s latest anthology show and senior curator Gary Garrels’ L.A. debut. Looks pretty fabulous overall – though I haven’t read the catalog essays and missed more than half of Garrels’ narrated walk-through (with a brief stop at Sotheby’s to pick up the catalog for the May 15th contemporary/post-war sale; the Christies sale is the following evening). The title still eludes me slightly – "Eden’s edge"? What – as a metaphor for Los Angeles? For an emergent strain in recent L.A. art? As a shared aspirational value? Personally I’d be tempted to call it “Reunion.” It seems as if all or most of the artists have already been exhibited at the Hammer in one context or another; with the others somehow figuring prominently in the curatorial peripheral vision/agenda. (I.e., someone at the Hammer was bound to get to one or another of them for some Hammer Project exhibit or a Vault Gallery show, etc.) A few of the artists are well-established: e.g., Lari Pittman, Ken Price, Jim Shaw. (Jim Shaw??? Come to think of it – Ken Price???) Jason Rhoades would have easily stood among them if he hadn’t died so prematurely. Mark Bradford’s own museum debut was here at the Hammer in their watershed Snapshot show. Elliott Hundley’s work was previously exhibited in a sensational Project space show I raved about among friends at the time. He has a truly operatic sensibility as well as a concomitant talent for visual orchestration required by the scope (and usually scale) of his work. The rest of the work had definitely blipped on the radar of anyone who has been looking at art in L.A. over the last couple of years.

So – “Eden’s Edge”? I dunno. At one point, just before the crowd of journalists and other guests more or less breaks up, Garrels mentions something about “Eve’s ultimate betrayal” (in conjunction with Monica Majoli? Or Hundley???) which sets off a collective car alarm of sighs, whistles, throat-clearings and a tentative buzz of queries – ‘betrayal or gift’? Maybe what Garrels is getting at, and I wonder that there isn’t a subliminal strain in the commingled themes and motives here, is something like ‘Pandora’s box’. Or maybe just a tinder box. All of L.A. seems on the verge of bursting erratically, spontaneously, capriciously, into flames. There is no predicting this belle dame sans merci we call Los Angeles.

Off the top of my head what surprises me – but this has been going on for some time before this show was unveiled – is my reassessment of Lari Pittman. Not that I ever sold him short – but looking over the show as a whole, the significance of his work and extent of his influence becomes more clear. He seems to cast a long shadow over this show. But this is all for artillery – and I really have no idea at the moment what sense I’m going to make of the whole of it.

Eden’s Edge? No – that’s not where I’ve been the last few days. I realize I haven’t posted in quite a while. More a matter of falling than falling behind. Less ‘confined to quarters’ than confined to Cedars-Sinai. Kidding. Maybe. I was almost completely out of commission Monday through Wednesday – but even on Wednesday, I wasn’t alone. My entire neighborhood was engulfed in smoke and ashes from the Griffith Park fires. By Wednesday evening, it seemed as if the fires might be substantially “contained.” But a view up the streets and avenues leading up into the Park told a different story. I didn’t really smell the smoke until I had passed Beachwood and was heading towards Los Feliz, but the soft pinks and oranges percolating through the darkened foliage, the amber miasma that swirled amid the blacks and grays of Los Feliz dusk confirmed that there were more than a few live embers far closer than anyone wanted to admit. The beauty of those backlit streets was undeniable – I thought alternately of Giorgione and Turner – but Dante’s View was already gone by then and I worried about the Park’s other landmarks – to say nothing of some of the amazing early- and mid-20th century architecture in the hills. The proof came the next morning – which seemed even smokier than the night before.

It’s been a heavy week for obits, too. Isabella Blow’s death was a shock – in spite of her threatened suicide a couple years ago. She was someone who, in my small but admittedly hyper-aesthetic universe simply had to live – one of the earthly goddesses in my essentially atheistic spiritual scheme who must of necessity move upon the earth among us mere mortals. She embodied the Oscar Wilde dictum – “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.” – as well as anyone could. You have to wonder what broke her spirit. (Tony Blair? Ironic one might prevail through Thatcher only to be subjected to the Iraq debacle at the hands of the apparent Bush-noser Blair.) Then came news of Curtis Harrington’s death (he apparently died Sunday) – that great ironist of the macabre. Readers of artillery may recall the photo of him standing outside L.A. Louver taken only a few months ago. I took that picture. He was somewhat frail from a stroke he suffered a couple of years ago – but still fully engaged, still eager to taste life in full.


Monday, May 7, 2007

The Earth's (Not-So) Sharp Edge -- and Mine

6 May 2007

I was on my way to the Charles Ray installation at Regen II when I last posted (it’s just around the corner on Santa Monica Blvd. – a terrific location; it would be fabulous if it could stay open late – so anyone passing through the neighborhood could just put it on the evening’s itinerary: you know – dinner at the Palm or wherever, scope out the goods at Regen; club date at the Troubadour; etc. – and it’s a beeline from the Margo Leavin Gallery). Okay, you’re picking up my ulterior motive here. Well it’s not really a complaint. I tend to run a bit late – club date or no club date (I’m pissed I missed Elvis Costello at the House of Blues; I have to look up the notices). And – well, it is nice to look at real art between somewhere between the aperitifs and the nightcaps. By the time I made it to the space, it was closed. I don’t think there was a soul left. I saw it well enough to more or less confirm my expectations. It’s impressive. It does seem to reproduce with some verisimilitude the fallen tree (or perhaps even a section of a tree) along with the branch thrown off in front (or in back?) of it. From my limited vantage point (pressed against the glass), it also made me think of some large sprawled animal staking out its quarry – or perhaps just an exploded rendering of something more domestic; say, a long dog (dachshund??) poised over a lizard. Obviously something of a departure for Ray in several ways. I’m not sure if his previous work has been quite this dependent on outside fabricators. I almost wonder if the sculpture is really more of a collaborative work – between Ray and the master woodcarver, Yuboku Mukouyoshi, whose workshop he contracted with in Osaka, Japan. (According to the press release, it’s made out of a Japanese cypress called ‘hinoki’; but I’m assuming the tree Ray photographed somewhere near the Central California coast was not.) Well – it’s a long way from Oh Charley Charley Charley.

Now I’ve just come back from the COLA reception at Barnsdall. Fortunately, the sightlines were not quite so challenging (although it was crowded: it’s a beautiful day in Los Angeles (though a little warm for a Nordic creature like me) – clear, windswept – and the park was crowded with people taking in the views as well as the art). Nevertheless, I don’t think my cursory mental notes really can do the artists justice. There are some new departures in evidence here, too; and I don’t think my comments can really illuminate or amplify what in large part is some fairly powerful work. Let me just say that of the work on view, that of Caryl Davis (a silhouetted topography that closely paralleled what a gallery visitor might see for her/himself looking westward from the Barnsdall promontory), Andrew Freeman (photography), Ruben Ortiz Torres (also photography – but of a few orders of magnitude beyond conventional imagery, process or presentation; these seemed to encompass entire narratives, entire cultural histories, mythologies), Lincoln Tobier (machines infernales – I will say no more), and Carrie Ungerman (a bedazzling site-specific installation that somewhat confounded my expectations) had the most immediate impact.

After my shadowy view of the Ray, I headed down to Culver City for Andrea Bowers’ show at Suzanne Vielmetter – an elaborate show with single and three-channel video installations in addition to a variety of other materials and media which seemed to use the AIDS quilt project – its component parts and documentation – as a kind of meditation on action (or enactment) and memory (or memorial). My ambiguity or Bowers’? You decide. She titled her show, The Weight of Relevance. I’m not going to say much more about it. This isn’t a review; and there’s no point in rushing to judgment about a show of this scope without a considered analysis. I will say that the subject overall – and indeed, just such an expression of it (I’m referring only to the title) – tends to provoke my cynicism – which is something neither pleasant to experience nor behold. I managed to cool my cynicism a bit (or did I just freeze-dry it?) at the gallery next door, David (about which I know nothing – I don’t recall ever being in it before), which was showing large format black-and-white photographs by Michal Ronnen Safdie. The images were all of ice, ice fields, arctic tundra or glacial expanses – cracking, melting, or otherwise receding. The subject could not be more obvious: global warming; the title: Meltdown. That seemed to answer “The Weight of Relevance” about as well as anything could. I was thinking of heading down to Chinatown; but on my way out of Suzanne Vielmetter, I ran into Cole Case who reminded me of Nancy Riegelman’s opening at Western Project. Cole Case is beginning to seem like one of my angels – always there to remind me of the next thing I need to be doing. Between Cole Case live on the street and Fette in (her always well-illustrated) cyber-space ( (and artillery’s own Fearless Leader, of course), I can somehow manage to keep my calendar and itinerary in order.

Until last night, Nancy Riegelman was always a figure of some mystery to me – one of those enigmatic personalities of the L.A. art world who are seen regularly at Hammer openings, important vernissages and certain after-parties, and occasionally slipping discreetly in or out of one gallery or another. Her look is unique. She makes me think of someone who might have been a ballet or flamenco diva in a previous incarnation (or maybe the present one); incredibly chic – she’s someone who could wear Galliano’s Dior or McQueen’s couture straight off the runway – but with a bohemian edge and aura entirely her own. I knew she was an artist, but little beyond that. I had no sense of what to expect – and I’m not sure it would have mattered either way (perhaps not unlike Carrie Ungerman’s surprising, yet entirely satisfying work). The show is titled Breath – and the work is easily as enigmatic as its author: large format canvases covered, as if in a linear half-tone by more or less continuous series of graphite lines, intensified here and there by closeness, clustering, or a subtle shift of direction across the canvas, altering the sense of shape, edge (which can seem ambiguously soft or hard), or eliding to a break – gradual or sudden – or just – a space, perhaps a ‘breath’: the implicit ambiguity in this hard/soft edge minimalism.

I felt the frisson of that play of line, edge and space – like a draught of air rippling laterally across the surface of some gossamer fabric – just walking through the main gallery on my way to the bar. (In my ‘melt-down’ frame of mind, I needed a nice tumbler of Johnnie Walker Red to take my own edge off a bit.) It was intensified in a variety of permutations from canvas to canvas. I wasn’t the only one fascinated. A couple of collector pals seemed to be on the verge of buying one. The fashionistas as well as the collectors were out in force, so I could catch my breath by turning my focus to the fabulous shoes all around me. I should have felt frustrated (what else do you call it when you can’t afford the art or the shoes?), but felt only exhilaration.

Following Cole Case’s lead, I started to head back to La Cienega (a group show was opening at LAX Art); but then decided to continue downtown. Except I never made it. For a number of reasons I will spare the reader, I ‘confined myself to quarters’ for the rest of the evening. It sounds like I was playing hooky for the evening – but I really wasn’t. I didn’t even take in a movie.

I didn’t mention Friday evening’s opening at Another Year In L.A. – Kasper Kovitz, an Austrian artist now based in Los Angeles – which elicited no small bit of skepticism on my part – but the work was strong; and that’s all that counts. Speaking of my ‘collector pals,’ it occurs to me I didn’t quite finish my notes re Incognito. But before I deal with that or Kovitz, I think I need to catch my breath (more ‘ctq’ stuff – don’t ask). Before I go I have to ask: am I the only person who was reminded of Jeff Koons by the cover of the Times style (“living”) magazine section today? The food, the jewelry, the open mouth, the lipstick, etc. – it looked like Koons readymade. Well – so much for relevance.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


28 April 2007 (later)

The Incognito fund-raiser (I misspoke when I said it was an auction; there’s only one possible “bid”: $250; but a gazillion opportunities for a ‘winning’ purchase.) is a kind of contemporary art fantasy: the notion of picking up something phenomenal for a price waaaaay beyond nominal. There’s some shoehorning of the galaxy of art stars into the prescribed format for sale (approximately 8 x 10; and obviously this is not necessarily the most considered work; but what wouldn’t you pay for even the most slapdash Baldessari, Ruscha, Pettibon, Alexis Smith, David Reed, Ed Moses, etc. (there are certain artists who couldn’t be ‘slapdash’ if they tried)? And it was for a good cause: The Santa Monica Museum and (as I understood) the Roosevelt School.

But the would-be collectors are not the only ones constrained by this limitation. With relatively few exceptions, the works for sale were fragmentary, vignettes, sketches more or less ‘finished’ for the occasion – in fact, not even really ‘finished’ works. (I suppose time would be a consideration here, too.) Which begs the question: what do you really have? An idea? A doodle? A preliminary sketch? A fragment? A souvenir? And – what is it really worth? The question you’re not supposed to ask. Because it’s for a ‘good cause.’ Which – at both the high end and the low – has a way of focusing one’s thinking about the contemporary art market. I should have guessed what the corollary to this would be; but, as Cole Case points out, there’s a full bar and a groaning table of delicacies and I might otherwise be going to bed hungry. (My cats are the only ones who dine at home; I rarely have the energy to fix more than a salad for myself.) I’m really looking for collectors at a luau like this one; but, as would be expected, there are a number of artists here and they’re frequently the only people who will talk to me for more than 3 minutes; the incidental benefit is that they’re usually the most interesting people in the crowd. In other words, while you’re tracking the market ‘intelligence,’ they’re the ones who can actually talk about ideas – in other words, the real intelligence (and what – ultimately – will lead, rather than lag the market). I realize I’m grossly over-generalizing. In point of fact, a couple of my collector pals here are as fully engaged with ideas circulating in the contemporary art world as any artist I know. (Perhaps more so; most artists concern themselves primarily with ideas that have something to do with their own art or, conceivably, the dialectic between their work, their influences and their contemporaries.) Lothar Schmitz is here – an idea guy par excellence: he’s a physicist; and his work consistently reflects some level of scientific self-analysis or deconstruction, not necessarily in physical/mathematical terms, but not necessarily too far from them either. (Though maybe my own thinking on this is a little extreme. I tend to think you could conceivably apply mathematical or physical/chemical expressions or equations to just about anything.) Lisa Adams is here, too – always a good sign. I’m trying to cajole her into making some introductions; but I can only hold her attention for a few minutes. Her fan club is vast – and why not? She’s one of the brightest, most entertaining people around. Is it my imagination or are these things disproportionately patronized by architects and lawyers?

And yes – this being the west side (the far west/seaside) of L.A., of course there’s a sprinkling of mass media celebrities and starlettes; but as anyone who knows me or follows my beat can tell you, they are not who I come out to see. Which doesn’t mean I might not snap a picture or two (it really has more to do with the way I follow street style than anything else – though I let my editors flip through the shots from time to time). They’re not exactly featured here or anywhere else in my copy. So why bother? you ask. It isn’t exactly going to advance the discourse. Well – my answer would be that in a way it does – or it certainly gauges the relationship of the discourse to the mainstream – mass media, the non-selective cultural consumer, the disinterested and only marginally informed consumer (in other words the same relationship someone like me would have to say, football – both kinds). Self-consciousness defeats this kind of observation – the observer’s or the observed. (I feel this post dying as we speak – but maybe that’s what Pettibon is trying to convey with his fading-away logo – “Incognito, Incognito, I N C O G N I T O.”) The pose defeats contemporaneity. And with rare exception, I ONLY shoot candids. There is no request for permission; none is required. So I was annoyed when the companion of one such star-lette threw a hand up in the starlette’s face to block the shot and threw out a rude imprecation in my direction. I didn’t hesitate to respond – though I wondered why the actor – a gifted and interesting performer on both stage and television – allowed his companion to run interference and then in turn be dressed down. It’s conceivable that the actor has a few ‘issues’; but they were meaningless in the context of this particular event. Had I broken his own ‘incognito’? In a way, yes; in a way no. When does the snapshot, the paparazzo shot become an unacceptable intrusion, disruption, invasion, appropriation? It’s not an unanswerable question. In part the answers are contained within the question. Tim(ing) and distance are factors (there was some distance in this instance). It is a kind of appropriation; its use, though, implicitly transformative in terms of the use to which it is ultimately put – a somewhat abstracted narrative of cultural acquisition, style and aesthetics.

Okay – yeah I guess I have my own kind of celebrity fanship (I think I elaborated on this a bit in an earlier post). I’ll walk right past Richard Gere or Philip Seymour Hoffman but then sight Maurizio Pollini and go weak in the knees. Or get super-excited to see Rosalind Krauss or Orhan Pahmuk. Well.

[5 May 2007]

I’m writing/reviewing this a few days after the fact. Only three days after Incognito, I attended a panel discussion on Appropriation in Art at the Hammer. The panelists were Christine Steiner (who held up standards for the law, common business sense, and, arguably, the integrity of the fine art business itself in a previous seminar I already noted (though didn’t discuss) in an earlier post – at LACMA) and Lori Fox, a deputy general counsel at the Getty Trust. The occasional thorny distinctions between various borrowings, appropriations, parody and straight copying were extensively explored – as well as the parameters of fair use and transformative use – all with appropriate and very contemporary illustrations. Needless to say, Jeff Koons’ recent 2nd Circuit appellate victory figured prominently in the discussion. The questioning was intelligent and so were the answers. Steiner was, as might be expected, terrifically lucid. She knows the contemporary art scene as well as the law – which is saying a lot. It is becoming a thornier business – as the culture fragments, cannibalizes, reconfigures, and collapses upon itself in any number of ways and aspects. More on this later.

I think I mentioned I’d been to Jack Pierson’s opening at Regen Projects a couple weeks ago. I’m on my way to check out the Charles Ray installation at Regen’s second space now – which may be as good a place to pick up from as any.