Sunday, July 29, 2007

Arabesque of treachery

27 July 2007

As I was saying, I went over to Dr. Deviancy’s to take in the series opener of Damages. I confess to being a bit of a Glenn Close fan. She’s a very musical actress. By that I don’t mean musical, as in stage musical (at which, of course, she’s proven her total competency – not so much because of her musicianship, but simply because she’s a compleat genius actor), but rather an innate musicality to her approach to performing, unlocking a character – probing, if you will, its tonal range and rhythms, its harmonic resonance and registration. (It’s something I think almost all great actors have, whether they’re conscious of it or not.) It’s a quality very much in evidence in just about every scene she appears. She plays herself – her character – a high-power class-action New York litigator ne plus ultra – no less than she plays her foes and foils, who might as well fall into place as her rhythm section. But of course there would be no keeping up with a lawyer like Patty Hewes. She keeps re-writing the tunes even as her opponents – and perhaps her colleagues – still think she’s just modulating into a new key. It’s clear from her very first appearance on screen that Close is playing the kind of lawyer who brings two or three playbooks to a case and is completely at ease juggling all of them.

The character, Patty Hewes, is a stealth warrior, a kagemusha, ‘shadow’ warrior playing it as the gayest cavalier; she’s a ‘Pimpernel’ in the biggest legal poker game in the world. The case ‘at bar’ is a class-action suit against Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), a speculator-cum-executive in the Ken Lay/Conrad Black Enron/Hollinger mold, though as Danson plays it, the character seems a somewhat more textured composite – closer to one of the subalterns like Andrew Fastow, etc. (Between here and Wall Street, there are hundreds if not thousands of them.) The story unfolds in flashback, partially through the perspective of a bright new hire to her firm, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), who Patty takes under her wing, immediately involving her in this high-stakes case. As it turns out, there may be any number of reasons for Ellen’s recruitment to the firm and this particular case besides her talent and litigation acumen, just as there are any number of contingent strategies for winning the case. By the episode’s end – with the ingénue associate bloodied and half-naked in police custody, which is where it began – it seems as if she has been used at least partially to bait the rather large hook that will be required to reel in the shrewd and deadly Frobisher.

Aside from the hokiness of some of the set-ups and the ‘poor ingénue caught in a spider’s web of intrigue’ plot device, Dr. Deviancy (who is, after all, the expert here) faulted the show for what he regarded as mediocre production values – not so much the cutting around the flash-back format of the story, but the lighting which seemed to vary more or less in tandem with the editing. Setting aside budget considerations (i.e., production costs might well have been trimmed simply because of the salary costs of Close and Danson), I actually loved the cutting and the lighting. The characters, including Hewes/Close, especially Close, are presented in vignettes and fragmentary impressions – the way we might encounter such people in life – pieces of a puzzle to be pressed in place as the picture-story takes shape. The characters both offer clues and are themselves clues in this story; and their layered lives/characters hint at the stories beneath the stories beneath the stories that drive this kind of narrative. It looked as if many of the scenes were shot with available light; and some are simply a bit dark. But I love this lighting style. No noir nostalgia here – just that it’s appropriate to the story. Is that my particular bias? I do wonder about it (cf., my remarks in the blog about The Hoax). There is a sense in which contemporary life seems to move on the ocean floor, the light (brighter only because of all the devastated plankton) filtered through mile-long depths of denial, deception and mendacity. Denial is the key (trust me to know). It’s the flip-side of Welles’ “bright, guilty world” – the murky, guilt-free world.

That’s the joy of an actress like Close in a part like this. The guilt is only the softest bass-line continuo to the arabesque of treachery Close knows how to play like a coloratura soprano singing the Queen of the Night.

Night, queens, treachery – I digress. There was treachery in Shirley Tse’s intriguing show at Shoshana Wayne – which was closing when Renée Petropoulos was opening at Rosamund Felsen – her trademark plastics woven into what looked like a loom. Or was it a rack? Walking into the gallery, I was immediately riveted, but, unlike the Petropoulos, there’s no going back. I’ll spare you my cursory notes for the moment.

Did I mention Dr. Deviancy introduced me to his fabulous cat? Seventeen and magnificent. What name can be worthy of such feline splendor? I’ll call him Dr. Divinity. Excuse me while I curl up into a ball for a few moments. Miao (rhymes with ciao).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Social Arrangements -- or -- "Where do you think YOU'RE going?"

Okay -- no more delays; today's digression will be tomorrow's Damages.

26 July 2007

There is a sense in which the work of Renée Petropoulos has always been about ‘social,’ even ‘political’ arrangements (consider work that played upon the vegetal and acanthus filigreed embellishment of U.S. currency), the precise orientation and positioning of the individual (and ‘expressions’ of the ‘individual’, be they representational, symbolic, architectural, or simply stylistic/aesthetic flourishes). What is not always expressed in her work (though I’m not in any way offering an opinion here) is the sense of exchange, transit, transaction (actually, I’m pretty sure I’m overstating this here) within this social/aesthetic dynamic. It’s almost as if the conceptual rigor and elegance of her work has forestalled an expressive ‘bleed’ of one facet into another. And yet the work is playful enough so that you’re conscious of it. (We might credit the imaginative installations, too.) One senses (and I have no doubt the artist does, too) that part of the pleasure of the work is moving around it, and one’s peripheral awareness of others’ movement around it. I sometimes wonder if the alternately graduated- and intersecting-arc benches she’s started making in recent years (there are a couple here strategically positioned in the two largest galleries) are a deliberate response to this aspect of the work. In other words, build the movement into the work. But having positioned her observer/participants (us) in these configurations – the transitory “social arrangement” – how do you keep the observer moving, shifting viewpoint, perspective, going to the next place, or more precisely, the next ‘place/time’? (Do we read a political dimension here?? Yes, I think so.)

Although the show is laid out in quadrants, the conceptual armature is secure enough to withstand the significant thematic and aesthetic discontinuities between them. No matter which particular quadrant/gallery you’re taking in, you’re always referencing something you’ve just seen. What is the connection, say, between the black and white paintings – silhouetted maps – and the ‘flags’ of brightly colored, densely interwoven horizontals and verticals? The nexus may become clearer in the next gallery – but the tuck, roll and ‘furl’ here (they’re apparently interwoven ribbons of various fabrics) I think is key. The silhouetted ‘maps’ are (at least in one specific instance) political, historical maps – e.g., contemporary Germany paired with the Nazi Germany that extended itself beyond Prussia and somewhat deeper into Eastern Europe. (I’m still trying to figure out whether the pairing extends that historical frame – i.e., whether it’s Estonia or Lithuania or possibly Austria.)

And the flags? Well, there is not a shred of ethno-religio-heraldic-graphic-tartan-clan-symbolic motives/insignia to cue us to any ‘political,’ much less social, import. It might as well be a flag for rectilinear color abstraction (hey – I’ll fly it). But – speaking of that planar/rectilinear grid of color grids, how does it scan as an infinitely variable set of curves? And from what vantage point in space? Or just what does it signify hanging there?

The grids get a slightly floating treatment in the next gallery – floating in somewhat aqueous dissolve over a tondo that’s been flattened and spread out in an ellipse that might be a trimmed mercator map or the global corporate/organizational insignia (speaking of insignia) of the U.N. or PanAm. The painting itself (“Trip from Sri Lanka to Zanzibar (by boat)”) works as a kind of scan. The pale and bright horizontals have a kind of lateral movement, broken rhythmically by red/white/acid yellow horizontal bars. But more significantly is the viewer’s own ‘float’ – from one panel to that opposite – all accompanied by related, but slightly whimsical soundtracks (e.g., “Tales of Zanzibar,” “Arabian Nights”) accessed by headphones hanging directly overhead. The ‘scan’ becomes an immersion. Immersion is taken up in the next panel, “Trip Through the Gulf States (by air)”. Good-bye PanAm; hello abyss; the dissolve becomes a whirling blue vortex. (In a tit-for-tat world, would the Gulf States, bled dry of their fossil fuel wealth, suck our freshwater sources dry?) The rhythmic color bars here are whirled centrifugally to the edge of the ellipse. It’s almost as if Petropoulos literally spun the opposing tondo. The social arrangement is also the political order – is also the vortex of time and space. (Or is it all just “spin”? You have to wonder if there’s some ironic cynicism spinning around in all this.)

If we didn’t already have some sense of Petropoulos’s material range – which is broad and extremely diverse – the next gallery would give ample demonstration: a pair of loomed rugs mounted over platforms that extend across the gallery space, elaborate evocations of two contrasting urban ‘walks,’ which are characterized as ‘woven sculptures.’ The meaning is both literal and figurative: the walk, whether it be a recreation of an interior walkway or corridor in an urban space in London, or a walking path in a Berlin park, is recast as a sculptural (as well as social) experience, a kinetic sculptural sequence that repeats itself (though never exactly) over and over again – an experience that is recast yet again here in the gallery space – crossing ‘social arrangements’ where the viewer is invited to ‘recreate’ his/her own transitory placement in this scheme – via a souvenir with which s/he may have no direct connection.

The last gallery is hung with a series of watercolor/gouache/pencil drawings on vellum, each an exquisitely rendered urban façade, portal, gateway for a kind of townhouse or urban villa – whether actual or conceptual is not entirely clear, despite the explicit physical and chronological coordinates of the titles (e.g., “Ave. Nicolas Bravo y Porfirio Diaz. August 12-23, 2004”) – in muted pastel colors, with a jeweler’s (or architect’s) eye for architectural detail – brick and ironwork, screens, casement and clerestory windows, geometric imbrications and embellishments – yet another social ‘arrangement’; a social taxonomy, a sequence of masks that become surrogate and static physiognomies. Yet how static? ‘This is who/what we are,’ the facades state quietly. But what exactly is that; and what is its duration?

I realize my notes here are vague and inconclusive. I have to have another look at the show – hopefully with more time to take in the soundtracks in the second gallery. (Although Petropoulos must have been elated by the ‘social arrangement’ of the opening – 'social arrangement' giving way to 'crowd management' – I think I might have a slightly better view of the show at a slightly less crowded moment.) On the other hand, isn’t that half the point? Regardless of the extent of ostensible political or architectural ‘definition,’ ‘convention,’ there is no ‘conclusion’. Everything is in flux, in transit. (I think now of Gertrude Stein’s last words – who knows why? – “What is the answer?” and finally, “What is the question?”) Sic transit gloria mundi.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Presence of Absence

25 July 2007

Before I talk about the Renée Petropoulos show at Rosamund Felsen – which was more or less, the event of the following week-end (July 7) – let me just say that I haven’t been oblivious to the Jeremy Blake disappearance/apparent suicide. I noticed the Los Angeles Times finally got around to covering it (though who am I to criticize in that department?); I haven’t checked the L.A. Times obits for items on either Blake or Theresa Duncan, his video-game designer/blogger/film-maker companion of the last decade; but I don’t read the L.A. Times on a daily basis since it shifted into auto-destruct a couple of years ago, and that kind of news usually makes it to me first from either forwarded on-line sources or The New York Times. I’m not sure if I ever even met Blake and Duncan (although it’s certainly not improbable – I meet a lot of people every single week); and I only vaguely knew who Duncan was (a couple forwarded blog notes from her blog, The Wit of the Staircase – and an intro? – being the extent of my acquaintance). Nor for that matter was I all that well acquainted with Blake’s work. I couldn’t help but be aware of him as I would be of any Whiteny Biennial alum – he was in two or three consecutive Biennials. I was also aware of Winchester – a fascinating work, although I had only seen a segment of it. I knew he was working on something involving the English designer (and Hockney pal), Ossie Davis – a subject which obviously would have fascinated me – but had lost track as to what he did with it until well after the fact – in other words, only over the last week, as his life has been played in retrospect. I had absolutely no clue about his involvement with Paul Thomas Anderson (I’m not a huge fan) or Adam Sandler (ditto) in Punch-Drunk Love (all in all, a good thing – wild horses would not have dragged me to such an event).

Ironically, I think it was none other than Fearless Leader herself who first brought Blake to my attention. I can’t remember if it was Winchester – though, having attended university at Santa Cruz, I was well aware of the Winchester Mystery House (as anyone who attended U.C., Santa Cruz can attest, there are a whole lot of “mystery” spots between San Jose and Berkeley/San Francisco) – or possibly the 2004 Artforum dialogue between Blake and John Baldessari. (Before keeping up with the art press became my nightly ‘homework’, I read Artforum only sporadically. F.L. frequently pushed her own copies of AF and AiA on me with her various notes and recommendations. Baldessari, a new important digital artist – she knows my points of least resistance only too well; that and her well-known penchant for the ‘artist lecture’ – it would have been required reading.

I dredged up that dialogue a couple of days ago; and it was interesting to look at in light of everything that’s happened over the last three years – an ‘intersection’ on several levels. I had completely forgotten that the Ossie Clark material was inspired by Clark’s trip books. (Are you old enough to remember trip books? Yikes.) It’s not clear whether Blake was really finished with the Clark project; it seems, looking over the available coverage, as if it was still a work in progress. Baldessari moved on from his own “Intersections” to further ‘intersections’ and ‘interventions,’ disruptions and reconfigurations – breaking the seams, as it were, in the seamless unconsciousness of everyday life. Blake moved on to projects involving, among others, Beck (whose most recent recordings have disappointed me). Baldessari’s comments seem presciently on-point. What both artists were dealing with was what Baldessari calls in this dialogue “the presence of absence” and what, with respect to Blake, seems to bear very specifically on his Winchester piece, “the return of the repressed.” “The more you try to blot it out, the more it’s going to be there.”

I resist a psychological reading of any of this, but I’m haunted by the Winchester legacy – the doors you open, the doors you close. Duncan’s blog (now that I’m looking at it) also seems to throw out odd clues, portents – or perhaps just vapors; she was fascinated by perfumes, and perhaps the idea of perfume. She was definitely one of the happening people about town – but, as I always remind myself, what do we know about anyone? She had a two-picture deal with Fox Searchlight and was in New York, as I understand it, to prepare/shoot the first of these films. What the hell happened? There are a lot of unanswered questions. (Fortunately, Ron Rosenbaum, among others is asking them.) All we can say right now is that the art world has lost a promising artist – clearly a digital art pioneer -- and so much more.

Okay – before I talk about Renée Petropoulos – would you mind if I digress yet another moment before I track back. (Hey – it’s all tracking back.) Since television all but disappeared from my household (to the great chagrin of my two feline daughters), I have been dependent on the kindness of, uh, friendly television critics, to check out the latest offerings; and I couldn’t resist shlepping my law/finance-damaged ass up to my (law/finance-damaged) pal’s – I’ll call him Dr. Deviancy – digs for an evening of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and – Damages, the new legal-eagle-serial starring Glenn Close on FX. You may have seen Alessandra Stanley’s review yesterday morning. “Lon Chaney was alarming . . . . Nobody was creepier than Donald Pleasance . . . But there is no actor dead or alive as scary as a smiling Glenn Close.” It was irresistible.

But I’m going to have to resist for a few more minutes. Back in a few . . . .

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fashion and Ceremony 2 -- Rosebud!

22 July 2007

[I know what you're thinking -- what can I say? -- a lot happens in a single day, let alone a typical L.A. week-end.]

After a leisurely early afternoon lunch in the park the following day, I returned to the Geffen Contemporary (I wasn’t far away) for some WACK! reconnaissance, as I did the following Sunday. It’s a rare but not entirely absurd phenomenon for me to not have a chance to see a show – especially big museum shows (or really see it), until it’s only a few weeks, if not days, away from closing. All the more absurd when the show has obvious affinities with my own ideas, impulses, tastes and agendas, both aesthetically and ideologically (to say nothing of emotionally) – but there you are; it happens. Without even attempting to touch on its highlights (forget about plumbing its considerable depths), one of the most striking things about the show and the work in it, especially much of the filmed performance work and performance documentation, is the inescapable realization of the multiverse and truly groundbreaking ways in which this art advanced, even invented, the discourse and dialectic of the feminist second wave.

It almost doesn’t register until you’ve traversed several precincts of the cavernous Geffen space – well past the imposing and vividly red Abakanowicz fiber sculpture, a soft (it’s fabric after all) yet electrifying annunciation of the cumulative non-linear narrative that, seen in retrospect, has the impact of prophesy. As I passed it going out for a break on this particular afternoon, I had to laugh. “Rosebud” – and I thought now of that beautiful Stanley Cortez-shot sequence from Citizen Kane, the snowglobe falling through an apoplectic Charles Kane’s fingers, bouncing before him as he fell down a staircase to a demise fit for a printable legend. No, it’s not the death of obsession, power-lust or patriarchy, and certainly not the civilization bound up with so much patriarchal power-lust; but it’s definitely an up-ending of that snowbound world, a cataclysmic blizzard in that snowglobe. Who knew so much of the ice had melted, the (cultural) climate had already been permanently changed? (I can only hope it isn’t true to the same degree with the physical climate.) Who would even question, walking through any of the fairs over the last several months, the feminist aspect of so much of the work on view – not just artists like Louise Bourgeois (clearly in a class by herself to begin with) or Tracey Emins – but a great deal of personality- and narrative-driven work?

It’s as if our perspectives unconsciously changed while the world collectively recovered from a revolution it thought it had successfully undermined, suppressed, co-opted. But looking at some of the video and performance work – by Eleanor Antin, Valie Export, the truly visionary work by Carolee Schneeman (as well as artists like Faith Wilding, Lynda Benglis and, yes, Judy Chicago) – we see how these artists reworked that perspective, re-ground the lenses, changed the context, altered the way we viewed our world by changing the syntax and grammar (to say nothing of gender) in which we saw and spoke of it.

Today we can appreciate the work of Schneeman, Hershman, Antin and all the rest for all they are, separate and apart from their contemporary contexts. Some of their heirs are stars of the contemporary art world (I think of, just one example, Alexis Smith). But what has gone more or less unacknowledged is the degree to which the work of these artists changed the context to make this altered cultural context possible. Of course other artists and movements contributed to this shift or alteration in the cultural context. But the feminist strain – the visionary feminism – in all of this art was crucial to that very real evolution.

So much of the conventional, contemporaneous ‘mainstream’ criticism, the journalistic ‘take’, on the feminist second wave, focused on it as a kind of subcultural irritation among educated middle-class and upper-middle class women, a by-product of the political currents coursing through society and academia of the 1960s – racial and colonial liberation movements, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the exponential growth in post-Freudian psycho-therapeutics; and of course all of these strains fed into the thinking that framed the new feminist dialectic. But as culturally informed and cognizant of these factors as many journalists were, it’s amazing how many of them didn’t get it, missed the larger points, the signposts, missed the tectonic shifts in civilization’s bedrock. So much of the contemporary journalism (and not just bad or dismissable coverage) devolved into superficial dissections of political orthodoxies or seized upon the most tendentious assertions or talking points in various debates both to trivialize the movement as a whole and marginalize almost anyone who might attempt, even on an abstract level, to make the leap between the practical and the ideal. It’s hard to square, for example, the Joan Didion who falls into just such a pattern around 1972 (see The White Album) with the acute, politically clear-sighted Joan Didion of the mid- to late 1990s (see Political Fictions); but there you are. Didion’s political conservatism was a given – you knew as soon as the word, ‘Marxist,’ made its way to the page where Didion might vigorously interrogate the movement’s principals; even so her essay seemed less a cross-examination than a lament.

How to take a synoptic view, yet not give way to sweeping (and, for the most part, specious and derogatory) generalizations; how to move between the practical, the concrete and the abstract, the ideal – it was and remains an all-but-impossible task. It had to begin almost minutely: with the relationships between the body and self, self and society – that is to say, the domain of art. The implications of these fragmentary but focused images, performances, conceptual essays and demonstrations, are far-reaching – on psychology, literature, even politics. As early as the 1970s, it was possible to apprehend the possibilities – the world, in both micro- and macrocosm, opened up by so much fresh performance and conceptual art (by men as well as women, of course). And it occurs to me now that my first (well, second anyway) taste of visionary romantic poetry was by way of Germaine Greer, who sprinkled her book, The Female Eunuch, with generous excerpts from Blake’s Jerusalem. The book was both thesis and manifesto; and, in retrospect, the references to Blake seem, if anything, even more apt. The world is remade, large and small, as much by poetic vision as by political will; and there’s plenty of both in MOCA’s groundbreaking survey.

That evening, I accompanied my brother and his wife to a performance of Hamlet at the Hollywood Forever cemetery – a terrific location (we all thought) for such a production. It was and it wasn’t. The production (“Tall Blonde” Productions – which might, I thought, have described Hamlet himself – a physically prepossessing Dean Chekvala) made excellent use of a couple of the cemetery’s mausoleums; but the play began far later than it should have (well after 8:30 p.m.). As a result, the pacing was furiously fast, yet by the play’s end, our spirits (however fortified by champagne and spirits) were flagging. The Polonius (Sean Sellars) managed to negotiate this pace with some comical style; Gertrude (Katharine Brandt) had an admirably steely presence; but others were not so lucky – or amusing. You could only be glad to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dispatched to their sad fate. Whether or not Hamlet requires the ‘fashion and ceremony’ of a four-plus hour production, it’s not exactly a poetry slam or the stuff of a speed read-through. The champagne flowed this particular evening; and even so we felt the dark blood beneath it all. Poetic vision and political will there may be in abundance; but what does it take these days to catch the conscience of kings?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shlep and scrimmage; fashion and ceremony

18 July 2007

There was still more that week-end and, although I realize I’m already seriously behind in my postings (I was out of commission part of last week-end), I feel almost obligated to tie up the loose ends I left visibly dangling in the first of this series of posts with, at the very least, the wrap on this particular evening and the rest of that week-end (I’m still talking about 30 June and 1 July).

I didn’t mention Rachel Lachowicz’s play on Richard Serra’s “House of Cards” – which actually goes back to 1991 (I had a chance to look at this again last Friday) – which really requires a bit of space ‘far from the madding crowd,’ as far removed from the typical ‘Serra-scale’ as it is – a game table for two set with 52 cast plaster penises, marked as a card deck, and set to as if a game of chess or War had descended into a football scrimmage pile-up. I’m not sure if the dimensions of the piece (with the game table) approximately duplicate the dimensions of the Serra; but the point is made, both about Serra – or certainly his work of that particular late 1960s-early 1970s period – and the meta-follies of masculine scrums and scrimmages. It was great to see both Rachel and Sharon Ryan in the crowd that evening – both looking absolutely fantastic. My remarks about le ‘SoftCore’ cirque at Lightbox may also have obscured the overall fact that the show is beautifully installed.

From Lightbox, I walked up a short way to a three-artist show at Taylor de Cordoba, featuring the fast-becoming-ubiquitous Joshua Aster. I didn’t spend enough time at the show to really give it justice (I have no idea why I didn’t hit the gallery again last Friday, but I had many other stops to make that particular afternoon and L.A. traffic doesn’t exactly sweep us along); but Aster’s work here hewed closer to its UCLA Wight profile, and the work I was most immediately drawn to was by Melissa Manfull (Jill Newman was the third artist on the bill). I’ll have to have another look before I decide whether the Manfull pieces are merely a fleeting fascination.

Speaking of the logistical challenges of L.A. traffic, my last stop that evening was – of all places – the Brentwood Country Mart. What can I say? That’s where the Simon Watson group show of recent local art school grads – yes, the second Simon Watson-curated show of that evening. I don’t know how most people in L.A. feel about it – my body has apparently never adjusted to geographic scale of the Los Angeles metropolitan region; my foot has absolutely no fetish for the accelerator (my shoes even less) – but from Culver City to Brentwood is a shlep and a half. I made it, though – as a sentimental journey of sorts. Once upon a time (for a short time), this was actually my neighborhood in L.A.; and my older brother and I both have an odd attachment to it.

Like everything else in L.A., the Mart, for better and worse, has undergone a certain upscaling. But the courtyard is essentially the same place where one might once have noshed on burgers and fries with one’s movie star and star lawyer and doctor neighbors and their children spilling out of the station wagons (remember those? in that slightly more civilized time before L.A. went to the SUVs) in the parking lot. There’s a fairly expansive, well-lit space for temporary installations adjacent to it, and this is where Watson installed his show. But – promises, promises – the show seemed pallid and watered-down compared with what was promised. Where were Joe Deutch, Chris Badger, and Jonathan Lee-Stevens? Joe Deutch was there – in person – at the show, but I didn’t see any work by him. There was one Jacob Stewart-Halevy (another UCLA grad) painting and another work in mixed media – and only the painting (“Concave Cinema”) had anything approaching the presence of the work I saw at the New Wight. Heather Rasmussen showed a beautiful series of lightjet prints taken mostly from photographs shot at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Rasmussen clearly has a gift for finding the concrete expressions of metaphor in the physical, especially the man-made, world; and her adept reconfigurations/re-orientations of these photographs show her capable of weaving them into an austere but exuberant poetry.

Jim Rosenfield, who now owns the Mart, was on hand for the occasion and seemed eager to show off the place. The Mart seems to have upscaled (not that it was ever exactly ‘down-market’) along vaguely English lines (there are a couple of shops with vaguely English lineage – one, Jigsaw, out of London) – the Chelsea flower market come to Clerkenwell and Richmond – and he took some pride in pointing out its new pleasures – or perhaps it was simply painfully obvious that I was seriously challenged in the shmatte department. I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was about as much chance of my dropping any loot (as if I had any) there as in London itself. He’s a smart businessman, though. He knows how to sell real estate; but he also knows how to buy art. He’s already collecting Joe Deutch. What does that tell you?

MORE TK -- it doesn't stop there -- but I'll have to post in a few, uh, ... well -- check back in a few hours.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Flaming Creatures

Dear Reader – I’ll spare you the preamble this time; but I can’t guarantee there isn’t a postlude – too much stuff happens; I’m always running late from one day to the next; and the politics of the day make their inevitable impact. No sense in suffering through my anxiety attack just to get to a post, though. And here we go.

11 July 2007

[Le Cirque d’art et de sexe à LIGHTBOX (cont’d.)] While my inclination at Lightbox is usually to take in whatever’s hanging (or situated) in the entrance/foyer area and veer to the right, it was impossible to really have a look at the ceramic work (by Roger Herman) closest at hand through the crowd. And when Kim Light steers you in the opposite direction, you assume she knows where she’s going. We walked into what looked like a work in progress, or perhaps a disassembled porn movie set – albeit one well beyond the ken of most porn directors, to say nothing of say, Larry Sultan; or maybe an acid trip set-up for the Nicolas Roeg/Donald Cammell film, Performance (I’m dating myself – I don’t recall who did the art direction for that film – but you could look it up on the IMDb). You could almost imagine the Jack Nitzsche blues-inflected music wailing like a siren around the set (although that would pull us back as far as 1970; and, as I said, the deejays were going for a 1980s vibe). The checklist for the show indicated individual photographs separately, but several (or all) of them appeared to be integrated into the installation(s), mounted on mylar covered panels – a coy allusion I assumed to what might be reflected in such panels in the course of an actual orgy – or more likely, a film or theatrical performance. And there was no getting around the theatricality – right down to the thick black paint drenching some of the individual constructions that looked so freshly applied it appeared to ooze and drip amid the swags of paste, beads and costume jewellery festooned and plastered over the constructions. Kim introduced me to the artist, Samantha Magowan, a recent graduate of Art Center in Pasadena, who appeared to be going for a vaguely 1980s look herself, though completely updated – glittery make-up, long, long lashes, lipgloss – she made me think of Tamar and Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles; she was unassuming and utterly smashing. Apparently, the installation was disassembled in a sense – in that the vertical constructions (built up out of trophy figures and kitsch figurines (mostly enameled or painted or pasted over with beads, glitter and so forth), colored lights, parasols and disco/mirror balls were discrete and self-contained assemblages. Still, between the mirrored surfaces and twinkling colored lights (with cheap rugs scattered between), as well as the photographs and other elements – you could be forgiven for not recognizing this. Some of the pieces hovered closer to the ground, with motorized, moving parts – that had the effect of carnivorous plants or amphibious life from one of the more alluring circles of hell. I felt lost for a comment as I probed the ‘life forms.’ “Have you ever seen Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures?” I asked her. (I know – dating myself again.) It reminded me of nothing more than Jack Smith.

Although the photographs are clearly well contextualized in this setting, I’m not sure if they are shown to advantage this way. The whole point of the photographs is to crop, isolate this vignette of pastiched decadence into a kind of terrarium or still life (as in completely objectified – right? – the prints – conceived as a series – are titled, “100 Ways of Performing as an Object”). It’s not a bad idea to mount them theatrically – e.g., mylar covered panels or mirrors – as they are here – but the isolation and the objectification are severely challenged if not defeated in an installation of this magnitude. The photographs reminded me a little of Jeff Burton – whom she has to have been influenced by. But Burton’s photographs are far more still, quiet; even though the porn allusions are more explicit. This is a baroque burlesque where the erotic veers not towards the ecstatic, really, but towards camp verging on lunacy; hence not really erotic at all.

I have to say I was a little nonplussed by it all. My first impressions of the whole of it were dubious; but in a situation like this, perceptions are inevitably blurred. Setting aside the individual photographs, it was a bit hard to take in. But then this is an aesthetic of saturation, even hallucination. The show is called Soft Core – but there were moments when I felt that might just mean soft focus – mostly my own.

The rest of the show offered opportunities to refresh that focus – though amid the swirling crowd and swirling drinks, I was a bit challenged to find those moments. But they are here: in Sharon Ryan’s intimate, arabesqued polaroids (the “Lovelace” series), a truly magnificent painting by Roger Herman (“Poppy A”), and a delicate piece by George Stoll – a bowl of small, bobbing breasts, like peaches or strawberries in cream – a perfect refreshment for a show like this. There was also an attractive lightjet print by Case Simmons that struck a harmonious note with the Magowan installation – a kind of pagoda or chandelier of sampled images – a cultural kaleidoscope – that reminded me a bit of Elliott Hundley, but not quite at the same level or pitch.

With a show like this, it’s best to go out on a screaming tear. (Remember Performance again? “White Hound Dog” – howled out by the incomparable Merry Clayton?) And if you could nudge a few people out of the way (a spilled drink might work.), you might have gotten a look at an amazing Kim Dingle howling out its juvenile rage and hysteria in grisaille triptych – a mad children’s birthday party (or something) clearly gone to the flies. (The title is “Stuffing Pinky.”) The sheer energy of it is amazing. Between the Stoll’s calm and charm and this mad rage (where is Dingle lately? She’s as invisible as Merry Clayton herself is in recent years.), it was a high note to go out on.

[No postlude – fooled you – besides there’s still MORE TO COME. But the art director for Performance (I just looked it up) was John Clark. He also did the art direction for (big surprise) Ken Russell’s film of The Who’s rock opera Tommy.]

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Follies and Fixations; the Circuses of Summer

6 July 2007

I’m having a moment this evening. After a lugubrious morning dealing with (unfinished, ugh) DMV issues and an emergency stop at the Flynt Building, I finally have an hour or so to try to shop for various week-end celebrations. How I envy those who have personal shoppers.

I actually enjoy shopping for cadeaux for friends and their offspring – it’s almost inspiring; I can lose myself entirely in the process of cruising around, poking in and out of stores, and uncovering my finds or little treasures – sometimes in what at first seem the least-likely places; and then assembling them, finding the allusive threads, the linkages, the ‘matches’; piecing together a collection of things into something that might be closer to a cadavre exquis than a cadeau by the time I’ve thought it through. (I guess the cadaver would actually be, uh, me.) Although, if something extraordinary doesn’t manifest itself quickly enough, I frequently end up in bookstores, which for me are dreamland – you can always find something there (and maybe something for yourself – I picked up the Nathan Englander story collection and a Phaidon volume on Raymond Pettibon – bliss).

What I have problems with is shmatte. I simply never have the time. Or the money. Or both. And when I suddenly need something for a dinner, an event, etc. – it’s just about hopeless. I either end up wearing something black and boring or looking like a Night of the Living Dead-style zombie. It’s not that I don’t think about these things. On the contrary, I OBSESS over them. I read the fashion books and daily style pages religiously. My favorite non-art world, non-political blog is Cathy Horyn’s. (It might be my favorite blog, period.)

But this evening (I’ve given up on the shmatte), I find myself in the bookstore staring at a wall of books with an overwhelming sense of despair washing over me. Where do I reach first? I feel like I’m drowning because I don’t know which lifejacket to reach for. I will never read 90 percent of these books. These are (well, I don’t know about life-preservers) – jewels, worlds that will never be disclosed to me. I suddenly think about those Polidori photographs of post-Katrina New Orleans; I think about books, art, furniture, objects adrift in the filthy water – worlds disappearing down stream. (The political dimension here doesn’t escape me – but that pretty much sums up the world as a whole slipping beneath us.)

I redeem the evening with the Pettibon volume – but the symbolic aspect of those shelves is a bit deflating – how to scale that wall of culture – imagining its infinite extensions. I am on one of those sheer rock faces with chalk dusted fingertips grasping at any available hold, fingers blistered and bleeding. How far is it even possible to climb? – in what direction? And what might be on the other side? Is it all a cheat – or is that just one more rationalization on my long slide down further from my grail (or just a secure berth), more bitter than ever?

All this to return, not to Pettibon (not that that’s ever a bad place), but to the amazing group show of drawings at Weinberg. (What a preamble, I know.) I’ve already gone on about its richness; but there is something about its scope almost more daunting after the fact. It’s easier and frankly, I think, more honest at the moment to simply talk about the drawings I seem to be fixating on: a Bill Jensen drawing (that deliberately has the feel of painting) of a spare openwork weave of strokes, Peter Young’s beautiful serial geometric painting studies, which are marvelous color harmonic minatures, Rebecca Morales’ beautiful impossible to classify, almost unearthly, blossoms, mosses (growths?) in gouache, Ian Davis’s dense, enigmatic constructions and configurations (I don’t know what a “pink factory” is – but just try getting it out of your head).

Down the road apiece, Marc Selwyn hosted a group show of portraiture comparable in scope to the Weinberg show, but without nearly the same impact, despite featuring some established, outstanding artists (e.g., David Altmejd (who represents Canada this year at the Venice Biennale, Lutz Bacher, Chris Dorland, Jack Pierson, Dan McCarthy, etc.), as well several, less familiar, Chinese artists (though I think I may have seen work by a number of them at the fairs in New York this past February). The show was curated by Simon Watson, who has apparently worked with Marc Selwyn frequently in the past. I’m unfamiliar with his work as an independent curator; but it occurs to me that I might have met him this past February at Susan and Michael Hort’s TriBeCa loft – assuming I’d gone to the brunch they hosted for Armory participants and press, which I did not. (But I think I’ve already shared this information – what an afternoon that was.) Simon Watson is the curator of the Horts’ extensive collection. So it makes sense that he would have seen work by a lot of these Chinese artists at the fairs.

In fairness, I think I should take in the show a second time before I make any judgment. Between the high-impact Weinberg show and my anticipation of a second show Watson had curated across town to open that same evening (yeeeeehhhhhhssssss – we’re still talking about Saturday, the 30th; and it’s already pressing on a week later – so shoot me in the leg, as Faye Dunaway would say), perhaps my expectations were a little amped up to properly give each piece its due (especially considering the kind of work that was on view).

Before I headed over to Brentwood (I had already foregone the Santa Monica shows), though, I drove down La Cienega to Culver City. Group shows were the order of the day here, too. My first stop was Blum & Poe – just as well to get it out of the way. Speaking of expectations, they weren’t necessarily higher; but it occurred to me the show might be somewhat more focused, thoughtful. I suppose the slightly tongue-in-cheek title should have given me a hint that might not be the case. So Wrong I’m Right – I’m not sure which artist or work might have suggested the title – Eddie Martinez, William J. O’Brien, Roman Woigin or Jonas Wood – but that was about all it left me with. (My guess is Eddie Martinez – but I’ll spare you an exegesis.) ‘So wrong it’s WRONG’ was my train of thought as I followed the crowd through the gallery and out the back. It looked like just about everyone in the art world was there except my editor. A taco truck was there dispensing fantastic tacos and burritos to a very festive crowd. After the usual shmooze sans buisson – I had absolutely no patience for the line for the bar – I poked my head into Sandroni Rey and Anna Helwing. Helwing’s group show was entitled Walk Real Slow – exactly what I had neither time nor inclination to do at that moment – but I stopped dead in my tracks for the Babette Mangolte films of dancers Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown. I could have stood there a very long time indeed. Only days before, opera buddy and I had been talking about how much we missed the dance scene (ballet especially for opera buddy) in New York. I couldn’t help drinking in these 1970s vintage films – tall cool ones for a hot day far from Manhattan. I’ll have to return to look at the other work (a very international grouping – Martin Soto Climent, Megan Sullivan, Manuela Viera Gallo) a second time. Setting aside the particulars of that work, I think the show would benefit from a less haphazard installation. Even the film projections seemed awkwardly placed.

I was wrong about the entire art crowd congregating at Blum & Poe. There must have been twice as many people at Lightbox. There was no getting around it. Among the group shows, this was the definitive summer kick-off. If I thought Blum & Poe had a slightly carnival atmosphere, this was positively Le CIRQUE D’ART D’ÉTÉ. There was a taco truck – is this de rigueur now? Food and drink flowed abundantly. (I have to say it was an exceptionally well-lubricated week-end.) The deejays were spinning mostly 1980s hits – go figure – but it seemed to work. I walked through the crowd into the gallery to Bananarama wailing “It’s a cruel, cruel summer …” ‘I couldn’t agree more,’ I thought. I hadn’t been in the gallery more than half a minute before Kim Light intercepted my wandering gaze. “There's someone you have to meet.” Well, if I absolutely have to….


Friday, July 6, 2007

Austerity, authenticity, and the temptation of sheer excellence

2 July 2007 (cont’d.)

[Ross at ACME (cont’d.)] How to speak of – or yes, for that matter, photograph – the unspeakable, enclosed spaces in which the instruments or apparatus on view can be designed for only one purpose: to torment, torture and ultimately terminate human life? You’re supposed to focus on the instruments of control (clocks, lighting, spare interior articulation, telephones, etc.), focus on them as instruments of control, which of course they are. The light itself, whether artificially emphasized, as if to heighten the sense of tension, exhaustion; or flattened, bleached, diffused, is another ‘problem.’ (Sometimes (I think) solved: when the light moves towards a slightly grisaille range that casts its elements adrift, maroons the objects in an unearthly limbo.) The geometric presentation is another problem – though the allusions are hardly lost on me. It’s what Mies (speaking of Mies, as I was a moment ago) would have called, that damned “Doric column” in back of just about every International Modern architectural monument. The relationship is there – the koure and doryphorae of ancient Greece. (It was, after all, a martial civilization; then, too, so was the court of Versailles.) But this is not that kind of authority or even authoritarianism.

More interesting to me were the studies of the sets for various television series (e.g., Law and Order, NYPD Blue) – their muted authenticity, their similarities. How do you design (psychological) suspense for (dramatic) suspense?

Late spring and summer usher in the group shows – some way-over-the-edge agit-aesthetic theses with an ax to swing, others sedate groupings frequently culled from a gallery’s own stable. But few really cleave to the latter model anymore. What would be the point? If the art world – at least as much as the science and cyber worlds – is about the ‘next next’, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain in voyaging well beyond the already mapped shoreline. For at least a month or so, no risk should be too great. Still, even among the more adventurous, some shows are more assured, focused, playful than others; and quality should never be seriously compromised. It’s a given that young and emerging artists will figure prominently among these groupings, which are frequently international in scope. (Leave it to Fette to start the summer with a small but select such group – a piquant salsa to heavier, but not always as satisfying, work to come.) But one usually hopes to see something new, or at least something of the artist’s best and most distinctive work.

I had already seen Germaine Kruip’s flashy kinetic sculpture (a kind of broken square with rotating, mirrored elements, that alternately catch the viewer’s reflection in its segments and strobe a beam of projecting light as the segments break apart and regroup; in New York it made me think of a line from a Simon & Garfunkel song: “I said – be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.”) at The Approach’s booth on Pier 94 this past February. But she’s done far more interesting environmental installations (in UK, too); and it would have been such an opportunity to do something on that order here at Marc Foxx. I guess the problem would be that it might take up a lot of the space. On the other hand, Foxx does have that project space that could work for a slightly smaller installation. (In that regard, Blum & Poe took the reasonable approach of limiting the number of artists to three or four.) I have to say I was excited to see Chris Evans’ piece (speaking of the Armory – gee, haven’t I spoken about it too much already? – Evans’ work was like a rumor floating out of the UK around the Pier). His work is almost always, whether in sculpture or other media, installational, conceptual – but he can work very effectively on a surprisingly compact scale. He makes deliberately heavy sculptural work look light. Jimmy Robert (who I think is actually French, but is UK-based) is also here, along with an impressively balletic sculpture by Karen Sargsyan (whose work always seems to verge on kinesis); as well Maaike Schoorel and Guido van der Werve. (I get the impression that Foxx picked up on a lot of this work not at the Armory, but in Amsterdam. He certainly has company – e.g., Carl Berg’s extensive involvement there.) I hesitate to say anything more about the show (mysteriously titled, “ZES” – what the hell does it mean?). I overheard Rodney saying something about reinstalling it and am thinking I should re-visit – Kruip mirrors and all – before I give an opinion.

3 July 2007

I just looked up ZES on-line. It’s either some obscure (or not so) Dutch reference (hey, cut me some slack – I can barely negotiate my way through French and German) – I guess that’s likely; or it stands for Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome (“a rare disorder that causes tumors in the pancreas and duodenum and ulcers in the stomach and duodenum.” I wondered what my indigestion of the last couple days was from.

After the austerity at ACME and a less than coherent presentation of some otherwise compelling work at Foxx, it felt positively luxurious, almost overwhelming, to take in the riches of an extensive show of drawings at Daniel Weinberg – whether by established or emerging artists, master drawings all. I’d tick off a few highlights – but where to begin? (Shall I start with what I know? Most familiar? Most startling? Outstanding?) There’s so much. Chris Martin; Peter Young (these were very interesting, intimate studies, obviously for larger works); John Wesley; Malcolm Morley; Joshua Aster – ah, here and everywhere apparently; also his classmate, Annie Lapin; also Rebecca Morales (remember that show down Hilgard a piece?) (breathtaking, too); speaking of which, there’s an Eva Hesse (must be seen; I didn’t take written notes) – shall we stop there? How about Brice Marden, Barry Le Va and Sol LeWitt? Ian Davis, Lee Lozano, Carroll Dunham – oh for chrissakes just GO – and bring your checkbook. (Now I sound like a shill.) What can I say? – it’s that kind of a show.

I’ve got to take a break – to look for the checkbook I hid from myself.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Divas and Disasters (Sills' eternal ebullience; & the autos da fe to come)

3 July 2007

You’ll see that I’m jumping ahead a bit below, because – well because I have to. (Frankly it’s not because the shows, with perhaps a couple of exceptions, particularly moved me. I have to say I really have NO patience for half-baked work.) But before I can even go into the week-end (which even now is going on 3 days past), I have to, well, go back to a past I can’t even imagine right now as PAST. It’s too rich, vibrant, alive, contemporary. (I’m wondering where that last word crept in – how do you call the bel canto tradition contemporary? – but listen, look – I mean, LISTEN – there’s the proof.) I’m running on because I still can’t quite grasp it. I’m having a Didion-esqe ‘magical thinking’ moment, where there’s a part of my brain still staggering between a kind of alchemical transpositional and mechanical alt-ctrl-del start-fresh modality where I’m still thinking the voices coming out of the radio will shift from passive (or simply past tense) to active, very present, with-us, alive. You know it even before you’re awake: something’s not quite right, not all here – what aren’t they telling us?

And then they tell you – or somehow you understand. I have to say, such was my denial listening to the NPR broadcast – I don’t even remember who reported it – I thought it sounded like a dry run for the obit to come, say, ten years from now. But this was the obit. Our Daughter “of the Regiment” (her recording was the first I ever heard), our Fanciulla del West (she wasn’t the first I heard, but was one of the most vibrant and sparkling) – gone? And then the anti-climax (ahhh – there’s the do-over I was looking for) of seeing the NY Times without an obit. I’m talking about Beverly Sills, the American coloratura, the American bel canto singer – sooo American, so New York – something one cherishes these days when it’s hard not to feel drenched in shame for being American.

Part of me still wanted sleep as I drove to my very ‘with limits’ desk job at the Flynt Building. (no – I don’t work for Larry Flynt, though I think it might be fun to try; except that my attempts at porn read so clinically after the fact, they could pass for a biochemistry text). In the car I immediately hit Democracy Now – Amy Goodman is sure to do a segment; and I’m perplexed when there’s nothing, and switch it back to something by Saint-Saens. (Me waking up; me upset – a less than auspicious combination.) After scanning the heads, two espressos, and dealing with the day’s first crises, I access the Times on-line; and there’s Tomnasini’s obit front and center (I mean, who gives a flying fuck about Libby?); and the moments come flooding back.

I only saw Sills perform once (though what a performance – Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare); but her recordings were an ear-opening education for me in everything from Baroque to bel canto (even more than Callas), in coloratura singing, in Donizetti – and maybe humor, too. That she had it was evident – she reveled in those duo performances with, among others, Carol Burnett, and her show-biz celebrity; and she had to. In her glory, you forgot how hard Sills worked to get there. And it just kept getting harder. Life was not fair and you just better take your revenge where the joy is, was what her life seemed to say. I appreciate her ‘better too late than never’ Met debut even more now – even though it marked the beginning of the end. Except that she knew that as long as the planet turns, there are no endings, only exits; and she kept taking on greater challenges. Her soul stayed with Lincoln Center. Can you pass the fountain in front of the Met without thinking of her? Just try. She was a player to the end; and I can scarcely imagine New York without her.

2 July 2007

I’m jumping ahead for a post or two – back to the present, more or less – if only because reconstructing or plodding through my notes sometimes makes me feel that much more exhausted for dragging them behind me – like Marley’s chain of accounting books; an artificial reconciling of what, at least in the moment, is fresh, if not exactly unvarnished. After recovering from my Thursday-well-into-Friday migraine, I had to scramble on Saturday (30 June) – already running behind schedule with what hadn’t been accomplished on Friday. I had skipped out on the L.A. Louver Rogue Wave – 2007 edition – show Thursday night, partially because between running late from the Flynt Building [*see above], my nascent migraine, and traffic, I knew I wouldn’t even get there until they were practically closing their doors. [The long schlep home from Venice would surely have done me in.] I was also just a wee bit skeptical about the show. Rogue Wave? The way we initially understood it? Some of the artists in the show were verging on mid-career. Not that I didn’t like the line-up – and who really knew? It occurred to me that one or more of the ‘on-the-verge’ set might also be veering in a wildly new direction. So that would be something – roguish? raffish? – to see. But a migraine has a way of really changing the way you look at something in the moment. That night I really only had eyes for a pillow or the ceiling – or my cats, natch. So I was running – first from Beverly Hills east to Silver Lake, figuring I could do a mid-afternoon change and head back west, all the way to Louver by late afternoon and then over to Bergamot, where I wanted to do some serious reconnaissance. It was not to be – not even close – and I was not exactly looking my best when I submitted myself to the mercies of Marc Selwyn, et al. (After Tom Knechtel’s sublime show, I felt painfully inadequate in my underdressed, bedraggled state.)

I stopped first at Roberts & Tilton for a wine-cooler – I needed it. (Kidding – but it was that kind of a late afternoon-into-evening). It was a great way to cool off. R&T shows are almost always beautifully installed and this was no exception. I only skimmed over the press material, the point of departure here seemed to be the West Coast Semina movement (already well documented in Michael Duncan’s and Kristine McKenna’s show and massive catalogue from that show) and the assemblage work of those artists and other L.A. artists in that orbit, dovetailed (at least as Bennett and Julie would have it) to contemporaneous art by (at that time) under-recognized African-American artists, including stand-out (and eventually moved-out) David Hammons. Setting aside the fact that most of the work exhibited here was made in Los Angeles, Hammons is the odd man out here. Although the Body Prints, which R&T make a focus here, are multi-textural, collaged works, and Hammons may well share similar assemblage, California funk and ethnic lineage, they have clearly moved some distance away from it, both in motive and treatment. Hammons may have been living in Los Angeles; but is already addressing what seem to be post-modernist issues. LaMonte Westmoreland is similarly addressing a cultural, or – perhaps as emphasized here – a colonial palimpsest. John Outterbridge’s work comes closer to a successful synthesis of these strains. If I haven’t mentioned Betye Saar (who is also in the show), it’s simply because her work is simply at another level entirely. Of course it comprehends all of those strains – and a whole lot more.

It was interesting looking at the Saar piece – a kind of retablo of ethnic (and racist) Americana funk – after having just scanned Doug Harvey’s piece on the Jeffrey Vallance curated show in Fullerton in the L.A. Weekly. Vallance’s fascination with the ex voto has been a mainstay of his art for as long as I can remember. But it’s not as if it hasn’t been around (perhaps especially in California, and other parts of the Southwest) forever, much less as if he discovered it. As I mentioned in a posting only a few weeks back, this kind of ethnic-inflected devotional/fetishistic art has been making something of a comeback over the last year or so. (MORE on the Date Farmers [see that post, below], et al. to come – but not in this space.) Coincidentally only a week or so after my date with the Date Farmers, I was at dinner at a friend’s and took note (had I missed it before – or simply assumed it was part of the décor for the last party I attended there?) of her surprisingly extensive collection of santos, ex-votos and other religious art (and maybe a little more impressive given her atheism). Yes – there is definitely something in the air. Anticipating the autos-da-fé to come???

It was nice to have a chance to cool off a bit before I hit the Richard Ross show at ACME. The announcement card was a tip-off that Architecture of Authority would not be about, say, Greco-Roman classicism. (A metal folding chair sits against a wall in a plain white-walled room, black baseboards; a handcuff hangs from a slender rack right beside it.) If you needed a wine-cooler before you walked into the show, you felt like having a Mies van der Rohe highball when you walked out. I couldn’t help feeling a bit less self-conscious, though: it was the appropriate show for a just-got-out-of-jail look. Randy S. thought my T-shirt hilarious (a Russ Meyer poster – or perhaps he was just being his adorable self). It amused me to actually be able to tell him something about Meyer and his leading ladies (e.g., Tura Satana). (And I thought you knew everything, Randy.)

The Ross photographs evince the sterile, suffocating white-heat of oppression, repression, authoritarianism, fascism, the systematized, systematic desecration and extinction of dignity from humans by humans – those humans who would be robots if they could. (Not Nazis or fascists, necessarily – they haven’t gotten that far in the thought process; more specifically, these are people who don’t think, who are afraid to think.) The physical details are precise and succinctly defined; the lighting, relatively atmospheric, unenhanced, yet dissolved into an overall atmosphere which, even in relatively innocuous settings (a schoolroom, a telephone closet at a Four Seasons hotel), casts a pall. The geometric aspect of the focus and presentation is a bit elegant, ritualized for its subject matter (though ritual – or at least ritual in fascist states – is, perhaps, a subsidiary theme: one of the photographs is of a presidential reviewing stand placed in front of a mosque in Iran). It begins early (that schoolroom) – what could be more innocent, less authoritarian, than a kindergarten classroom – but that circle drawn on the floor speaks volumes. It proceeds mundanely, lugubriously (e.g., a DMV waiting area). It ends disastrously.

I’ll spare you for the moment. I’ll take that highball now.