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….


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