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.


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