Friday, June 29, 2007

Subterranean Depths; Budding Genius

"Back when?" you say. Dear Readers: As I've mentioned before, awol occasionally drops into a big black hole. No -- not D-- time; not Lost Weekend style black-outs (I leave that sorry business to other scribes of our acquaintance. Have you ever noticed that once they stop, they only become even more boorish and self-righteous as their rehabbed selves? Or still worse -- they turn to JESUS. Jesus.) And I'm not travelling -- yet. (Soon, soon.) No -- awol has a kind of 'ctq' (remember? 'confined to quarters' -- more like confined to computer terminal) life that sometimes eats away at her capacity to be, well, awol. I should be bringing you forward, I know. And it's not like I've stopped. And yes -- one or two news items have aroused my rant-worthy ire over the last couple of weeks. But all in good time -- and this time I mean good time. So I'm not going to make this an 'omnibus' posting. Just bear with me for a while as the back postings continue.

2 June 2007 (cont’d.)

As I walked from Roberts & Tilton to the 6150 parking lot, I ran into Tom Peters chatting up – who else? – more artists – these just visiting (as opposed to showing) – Tom, the show, 6150 (though R&T was essentially the only gallery opening a show that night) – who knew? Tom is a smart, adventurous collector; and sometimes I wonder who gravitated to whom first – the dealers and galleries to Tom or Tom to the dealers and galleries? More likely, I think, they met half-way – at and via the art; and each sized up the other for being the smart, perceptive, instinctive receptors, curators each, on one or many different levels, were. A meeting of eyes and minds consummated on the palate – as so many are, in so many different ways. And our eyes and palates have lived happily ever after.

Something like that. Tom is an interesting and often shrewd collector, which is just one reason why people are always interested in what he’s buying or just looking at. Tom’s in the game for keeps – it’s oh so clear right here and now – because what he’s interested in is just about everything and people seem to know it, including the trio of artists here. Introductions are exchanged, and I inquire about a mutual friend (an art director and architect/designer I haven’t seen in well over a year) – but Tom is immediately drawn away by a sculptor named Farzad – who has some drawings to show him. They’re interesting drawings; and I think I’m more fascinated than Tom – particularly by drawings he’s done partially as entertainments for his young daughter – in pigments made of milk, chocolate, tea – the makings of breakfasts and late night snacks. They’re charming and beautiful and I take his card on an invitation to look up his studio on my way out to Carl Berg up the street who’s showing, among others, Joshua Aster (whose work caught my eye among the UCLA grads showing at the New Wight on campus).

The show is called Fractals; and I’m not exactly sure how Joshua Aster fits into it – I wouldn’t necessarily call his work ‘fractal’ in either a mathematical-geometrical, procedural or figurative sense, although there are fractal or repetitive (I’m not sure about recursive, per se) elements that figure in his work (gee, but aren’t there in everyone’s?). (There were a couple of small panels among the grouping on one wall that played literally on that notion – but more on that in a second.) Steve Schmidt’s work – both relief (in plastic) and on paper – probably comes closest to that definition – at least in a three-dimensional or non-virtual two-dimensional space – but even his work struck me simultaneously as a teasing pastiche of the theme, more than a direct, much less literal, engagement with the mathematics or cyber/digital science of recursive functions and constructions – which is frankly a relief; the wit is essential to its formal success. Timothy Nolan’s “Rise” installation piece had an strong, almost iconic presence in the Berg space, owing partially to its size (it commanded one wall of the space) and its geometric relief-like projection in monochromatic facets of white, gray and reflective silver paper. But although fractals are apparently a mainstay of his work, the works here are fragmentary, more than ‘fractal’ – a kind of continuous function of pyramidal/polyhedral planes or facets. (A ‘fragment of a fractal’? A magnification? It was hard to tell.)

On my way out of the gallery, I ran into opera buddy – in a pink coat and matching eyeglass frames, looking (as usual) fabulous, with a mutual friend less involved with the L.A. art world than the L.A. film world. I wondered why we hadn’t spoken about connecting for the show; but the show she had turned out for was actually two doors down – the re-located, re-opened Steve Turner Gallery – inaugurating the space with an eclectic (at least on the ground floor) group show. I was surprised to see Sam Durant pieces not too different from (and perhaps identical to) work he had only recently shown at Blum & Poe. (What was that about?) It was an odd grouping, retailing of its various objects, haphazardly placed and not particularly coherent. A “My Barbarian” screening was in progress upstairs. Need I say more?

In the meantime, opera buddy had scoped out the Berg Fractals show as quickly as I had turned out of Turner. I had to ask her what she thought of Aster’s work, which I had earlier recommended to her from his grad show at UCLA. “It’s a little pallid,” she said. I pressed her a bit on this point; but she is nothing if not firm in her judgments. If I could see where her take came from – the works here, both individually and ensemble, have a softness – even reticence in the context of their more assertive neighbors, Schmidt and Nolan – that is disarming (but I would also say, intriguing), I could not have disagreed more. Color and definition are, by varying degrees, pale and muted (qualities that were also on display in the larger pieces he exhibited at UCLA). But softness, even pallor, hardly diminish their overall impact. I think taste is a (partial) factor here. I think also the pieces required a more sustained (but not much, actually) viewing. Although Schmidt’s and Nolan’s pieces had immediate, undeniable presence, the Aster pieces offer a refreshing playfulness that belie their wit and formal prowess. It is enough in these pieces to propose, suggest, insinuate their ideas – and that’s another thing: Aster engages the theme(s) here in plural.

The large pieces at UCLA had a subterranean, twilit feel. And here too, there is a subterranean undertow. Aster cannot help but tease the theme (the couple of panels that actually present a fractal configuration are explicit pastiches: e.g., “Killing Floor” in which a crystalline fractal archipelago floats over an aqueous wash which itself dissolves into one of Aster’s characteristic irregular grids, what I think I referred to once as neum-like. (What to call them? – they have both architectural and musical allusiveness). And in a way I think that’s it: it’s a musical play on recursion – a whimsical counterpoint that at its most complex (or insinuating) has a fugal quality. His subtle but unique sense of color is really extraordinary (I think of his oranges, pale or vivid, pinks and blues, and acid/mustard yellows. Oh I can see it sounds like I’m talking about drugs. Well.)

The formats here give Aster the opportunity to work (if this doesn’t’ sound somewhat debased – and it really shouldn’t) in a slightly more whimsical mode – and the result is even greater depth, scope. The titles are fantastic – a continuation of his sharp, ironic wit. I can stop right there. Have a look for yourself – or just get a list of the titles from Carl or Veronica.

Besides opera buddy, I ran into a few other people – among them Alexina Matisse – no coincidence that name, descendant of Teeny and Pierre – apparently working (at least part of the time) in L.A. – but none struck me quite the way a baby in the gallery, not more than year old, did. We encountered each other opposite one of the Nolan pieces, which her infant eyes surveyed with palpable intelligence. Our eyes met and exchanged each other's assessment. There was no one and nothing in the room her eyes did not engage. I had to ask her name and her parents happily supplied it: Harper Jo. Is it possible to recognize genius in a baby? Who knows whether she’ll grow up to be an artist, but if I’m not mistaken, with any luck, Harper Jo will grow up to be a genius.

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