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.

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