Saturday, August 25, 2007

La Vie En Grise

25 August 2007

It’s called EXHAUSTION. It’s called: I’ve had enough. Of the bad, certainly; and maybe even the good. (Although it only takes one amazing thing to shake me out of my somnolence – a line of music or poetry, the right word. An image. An abstraction. . . . of . . . . A semaphore, a signal. A jewel. The right look. “Tell me . . . .” Say anything.) When we last spoke (Of course I hear you. Some of you. Some of the time.), I was on deadline. I think I mentioned my Flynt Building duties – which only intensified over the last couple of weeks. (All those Tiffany lamps to dust; boiseries to re-gild; or something like that.) I finally saw La Vie En Rose. (How’s that for a non-sequitur?) The pitch is somewhere beyond irony – it’s straightforwardly, unrelentingly dark; the life of Paris’s petite moineau was darkness-at-noon grim. But she never broke faith with her ville lumière. She had an obscure sense of herself as an instrument through which the city, even France, resonated. She sang the anthem of its underbelly. (I suddenly think the phrase in French as I write this – elle chantait l’anthème de la sous-ventre.) She stumbled through the first years of her life virtually blind – and ran through the rest of it in a kind of blindness, too. The narrative moves back and forth in time, closing finally on a jaundiced Piaf on her deathbed in Grasse – clear-sighted only for the nightmare events of her early life – un mort en jaune. Clair de cauchemar.

I’m not sure why I’m even mentioning it. It does put my grisaille life ‘behind the black curtain-wall’ into some perspective. (Also my “de-france-dration” – see previous posts.) Also I was writing about movies last time I posted (though I didn’t actually post that stuff – maybe some other time). I also distrust my perceptions to the extent they’re filtered through such exhaustion. It’s like I’m sleepwalking through my evenings (to say nothing of my black-and-white days) in a chronic Epstein-Barr funk.

But I’m still going out a bit. (I’m the elegantly (or not so) disheveled old lady apparently (but not really) on the nod, stumbling up the staircase of the Hammer, stumbing towards the bar, adjusting her specs to have a better look, etc.) Speaking of the Hammer, I went to have a final walk-through of the Eden’s Edge show Thursday night. As did several hundred other Angelenos. Another late night chez Flynt meant I missed Jim Shaw’s performance. Domage – was there music? No one seemed to mention it in the galleries – what do you think that means? I ran into John Knuth, who I’d only just met a week earlier at his own gallery, Circus, on Lexington at Sycamore in Hollywood. (Just to gauge my exhaustion: I pulled John’s name up effortlessly and stumbled over the name of an artist I’ve known FOREVER – Paul Arden; I don’t think I even coughed out his name before we were already moving on. FORGIVE ME!) John didn’t like the show as much as I had – though he admired a few of the artists I singled out in my review. Ran into Anthony Ausgang (and his fabulously statuesque girl-friend), too – who did not share my enthusiasm for Rebecca Morales. (I liked the work MORE THAN EVER.) Elliott Hundley’s work gave renewed pleasure; ditto Anna Sew Hoy.

The week before (Tuesday) marked my first visit to the Circus Gallery. I had gone principally to see a performance by Joe Deutch. (Deutch had himself recommended it to me as a performance venue, so I wasn’t going to miss it.) I have no idea, though, what “Hansen’s Kitten” was going to be about (I half expected some video or video accompaniment) because Deutch apparently performed it in the guise of the Invisible Man. Unfortunately, he forgot to don the requisite sunglasses and gauze. (Aren’t there rules about that sort of thing? I can recall Joe Frank having something to say about this.) Kiersten Puusemp, on the other hand, appeared in the flesh – all but pumping the flesh (it was clear she’d pumped her share of iron) – taking on all comers in her arm-wrestling challenge performance. After besting (or perhaps not) a gauntlet of what looked to be ‘roid-reinforced men in the audience (is it possible artists and aesthetes really do steroids??), John Knuth apparently judged her sufficiently weakened to encourage the wimps and wusses among us to march up to her table. Including me. I was all but dragged kicking and screaming to the table, but once there dutifully planted my elbow and hung on for dear life. Personally, I think Puusemp let me win – except that she definitely had me beat on the left arm wrestle. Until I started whining “but I’m EXHAUSTED!” and finally all but screaming: “I’M AN OLD LADY” – and Puusemp’s left arm did a 180 back in her direction. An (unconscious) theatrical strategy that worked. I guess I’m just a geriatric Monica Seles. (Wish my tennis were in that class.)

Which made it all the more intriguing to see John Knuth’s work (I had no idea he was even an artist, and wasn’t sure it was the same person until I asked) last night in the “Shotgun” Space upstairs from another year in L.A. It was a scatter installation on the floor of the gallery -- recycled household paint in wan, malignant colors (or perhaps blended or recombined colors), rolled and dried up into irregular balls and clods and scattered across the floor without heed for the viewer’s path through the space to take in the work on the walls – and all the better for it. (There was another very interesting piece – also on the floor of the space: “George Mallory’s Cradle (Waxing Gibbous)” by Joey Lehman Morris – a framed magnified photograph of a moonlit patch of desert floor – which reminded me of some of Robert Smithson’s photographs of earth works and installation pieces, though even more elegant. I’m a little mystified by the titles, though. (What does “Tirz” mean, John? I’m assuming it’s not about tax increment reinvestment zones. Or is it?)

I have to say I was delighted by the installation of Brian Dewan instruments (there’s really no other word for them – constructed with his cousin, Leon, apparently a wizard with the alchemy of solid-state electronics) at another year in L.A. – which looked like H.C. Westermann elaborations of archaic radio works and electronica – but I wondered if it was incipient nostalgia for an era when music and broadcasting machines were housed in grand and rather overblown cabinetry of oak, mahogany and Bakelite plastics – fitting oracles for the oracular voices of my grandfather’s age (one could easily imagine the voice of Orson Welles narrating The War of the Worlds through one of these devices – though these would have also given one the option of tweaking and twiddling His Master’s Voice – or reducing it to, uh, magic noise). You can’t help but think of the electronic cathedrals of Philco; Magnavox; RCA. (I’m there already – the RCA Building (now alas, GE) – only blocks away from St. Patrick’s. Thank you General Sarnoff.) One of them was practically a pastiche of the Albert Memorial. Viewers were invited to tweak and twiddle with the arrayed switches and dials – as if on a mixing console – to program their own music – or at least a few rhythmic and harmonic effects and parameters. I liked Brian Dewan’s quasi-conceptual watercolor paintings, too. (I take it these can be ‘read’ serially – he photographs them for filmstrips – though each clearly stands on its own.) MORE on the “Dewanatron” later. I’m going out. (I told you I was.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Specific ambiguities: the blur distilled

No -- I haven't followed Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan into that black hole (I'm tireless about tracking a story, donch'ya know); more like my head's fallen into one. I have a zillion notes to post (among other things, just off the top of my head, a fantastic group show at Western Project that must be shared, applauded -- "Beauty Is Embarrassing"; music and dance notes, too); and so much happened last week -- not without my noticing it either (and how could I not? Persona and La Notte are probably two of my favorite films.) Hey -- even some press notes (more like press astonishment). (Shocking -- people ALL OVER the blogosphere read the metro dailies and art press. Who knew?)

But I'm on deadline, my Flynt Building life is crazed (imagine something between Damages, Kramer v. Kramer, and, uh, Psycho -- with me in the Vera Miles role. Or is it Glenn Close? Maybe Meryl Streep -- as Mrs. Bates); and I'm de-france-drated -- that's when you don't have enough French or France in your system and your brain stops working and your body starts to shut down. (Liver failure without the land of foie-gras -- who knew?) So you'll have to take the posts as I decant them. We have most of the month to catch up, don't we?

Don't worry -- I've left in plenty of rants -- so you'll know it's me (and not the one Norman locked up in the fruit cellar).

30 July 2007

“He probably wasn’t sure what to expect from me… and I had a sense that Gordon Brown … is a man who really wants to get something done. . . . .A person who shares that vision [of ‘freedom and justice around the world’] and understands the call.”

Of course anyone – and not just a mass-murdering moron – would have lost me there. I mean, what is this? Some evangelical revival meeting? I swear I’m not hallucinating this – those were the guy’s words. And of course it just sped downhill from that. I stopped paying close attention at some point through his intro-soliloquy on ideology – as if he could actually articulate an ideology. Christ – he can barely enunciate the word. I had to fly off to the Flynt Building and I was running late. Am I the only one who wakes up with a sense of disbelief at all this – the very fact that this guy is President?


Yeah – I left the preamble in; so sue me. The suit that should be filed is against 1M2 (my formulation – his name and the desecration of his office are obscene to me). Except there should be a new word or words for his crimes. And new words for the kind of collective cowardice that seems to grip the country’s media and its consumerist culture. Which is why I exult in the fleeting oxygenated breezes – ‘points of light’ indeed – wafting through MOCA’s galleries today – and for the last time. A cool refuge from the sunlit ruins outside. (I’m not thinking of Grand Avenue/Bunker Hill as I write this. Actually it was the travertine-clad mausoleum to Eli Broad I just passed heading west on Wilshire Boulevard – right next to the new pavilion outside of which Michael Govan wants to park Jeff Koons’ crane with a hanging train locomotive – linking the Broad and May Co. buildings with the rest of the LACMA campus – that provoked the thought. As opera buddy is always quick to remind me – entertainment isn’t [‘necessarily,’ I qualify] art; and neither, I would add, is mere distraction. But come to think of it, isn’t Grand Avenue developed enough? What is it with Broad’s – and Frank Gehry’s (and I thought he actually had a clue about L.A.) – obsession with Bunker Hill/downtown development? It already has Gehry’s Disney Hall, Isozaki’s MOCA (and the adjacent California Plaza), and the Colburn School – to say nothing of the courts and culture palaces north of First. Downtown neighborhoods are developing/gentrifying at a truly alarming rate – driving up rents, pushing out the marginalized and the same artists Broad buys low to sell/donate/tax-deduct high. Get OVER it – and yourself – Mr. Broad. If you want to ‘save’ downtown, you might want to think about saving the PLANET first.)

Okay – another mini-rant. But actually the refuge is there, too – no, not in the rant – but in that glimpsed procession of shapes, that blur of small movements around them, that slash of light and shadow in one’s peripheral vision, now tinted gray, verdigris, blue – with a hint of gold – as you drive by. (Oh – and then a little visual joke as you pass the 99-Cent store window with its trademark successive stacked product displays.) It’s the pre- or post-cognitive image; the blurred, just past, barely registered, now barely remembered image, event – that now assumes a new import or significance.

It goes to the heart of – not of Tuttle’s art, per se – I’m not entirely sure what that actually is – but of one’s experience of these drawings (I use the word in a very broad sense – as in something that might be drawn in pencil and pigments, but also in three-dimensional materials and their shadows in space), objects, these gestures, incidents and events. For all of its poetry, and even drama, Tuttle’s work resists (calculatedly?) definition as something fixed or emblematic, even in the moment (unless perhaps a kind of emblematic ambiguity). No – there’s always a freshness to the shape (almost always irregular, however consistent – i.e., in arcs or semi-circular sections, rectilinear, trapezoid or rectangular pieces, etc.), the color; a rawness to the join of one section to another – something grasped in the moment, on the fly. I can’t remember who once suggested an analogy to kites – but there’s something to that. Poetry is something his work can scarcely avoid – he’s acknowledged its influence, his immersion in it (and his wife is a poet) – but Tuttle’s are an entirely original kind of visual sonnets (I use the word, ‘sonnet’ very loosely – yes, we need an entirely new word here), with its own structure and metre. There’s a scatter piece here – fairly well-known – of the 26 letters of the alphabet, in which the individual letters appear both extrapolated into something slightly beyond yet simultaneously pared down to their ur-strokes or expressions in rune-like perpendiculars – as if they were spun into something from another language. A ‘sans-serif’ typography a several stars away from Helvetica. (Or maybe this is where the serifs all went.)

And that‘s another thing that goes to the architecture of Tuttle’s three-dimensional work (how do you talk about ‘serifs’ in the 3-dimensions?): it’s completely simple and infinitely – not complex, but something like pi – the cumulative expression of a subtle, elusive, yet necessary and perfect shape, moment, construct.

Perhaps some of the larger and more complicated pieces fall beneath that sublime standard (not that I’ve articulated one), that level of ‘perfection’; I think particularly of some larger pieces with wood and wiring and electrical illumination. Of course I’m exaggerating a bit to make a point. But even at their most specific, Tuttle’s objects remain in a domain of ambiguity, of the ephemeral.

Tuttle’s is an art, not of ‘specific objects’ (pace Judd, et al.), but of specific incident, specific moment (or a series of moments). But it is also an art of aleatoric events, chance. The genius of his best work lies somewhere in that paradox. Much is made of his minimalist influences – or his resistance to them; but it’s nowhere near that simple. There’s something to be said about Agnes Martin’s mentorship; but John Cage’s influence seems more evident here. (And in no sense are artists like Robert Morris ignored.) But I see so much more – arte povera, even Saul Steinberg; and we’re kidding ourselves if we think the legacies of the preceding generation(s) are entirely set aside. You don’t have to be an ‘action painter’ or ‘post-painterly abstractionist’ to cull the ideas or techniques you need from either. It’s all a part of Tuttle’s emblematic ambiguities. He’s absorbed something of the best from each of them for his visual poetry.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Pressed Between Parallel Universes

29 July 2007

I left off with some remarks about Shirley Tse – those looms, or racks – or pasta machines? – for what looked like plastic tagliatelle. I’m more familiar with Tse’s mostly hanging, mostly more or less flat, work on panels (though of course they’re not flat at all) – again with a variety of plastics and films, which have become a kind of trademark medium for her; and where those panels seem to invite dispassionate inquiry into their topography, her more explicitly sculptural objects tend to engage the viewer on a slightly more ambiguous and affective level. (To elaborate for just a moment – there are the concrete issues of cut and coverage; also, disclosure, transparency (or concealment), insulation, projection; there is the package and also, the product.) The objects at Shoshana Wayne left me with a queasy sense of resection and dissection – a contingency which underscored their ambivalent, morphing definition as objects, their ambiguous ‘operability’, their placement and projection in both space and time.

But I can’t really do a show – any show, let alone a show as interesting as Tse’s – justice without some immersion in that ‘space’ over some period of ‘time’ – to say nothing of just seeing the entire show. It was something I knew I had to return to – only to learn there would be no coming back. Story of my blog.

So I’ll loom into the present just a bit – to recap last night. Projection, perception, progression – an infinitely repeating series recapitulated day and night in the logistics of the art world itinerary. The risks fluctuate endlessly. In theory, they may be either multiplied or hedged or diffused in a group show; and conversely, the risk ‘reduced’ yet intensified in a solo show. A solo show this late into the summer is almost by itself a freak event and invites attention for that reason alone. I fastened onto one such show, if anything, too intensely for that reason among several, including my own passions for topics related to the artist’s chosen theme. The work was every bit as exquisite as I could have hoped for – exquisite, erudite, elegant. And dissatisfying. Setting aside their illustrational intention, the compositions would have resided comfortably among the pages of a book. Not to discount such considerable virtues – but there was no sense of departure. The issue isn’t originality; it’s combustibility, maybe even aerodynamics – an idea to catch fire or simply take flight. A fresh view, an unexpected turn, an unsettling (breathtaking?) perspective. I don’t ask for much more. One or two of the pieces in the show evinced a true wit. No names. The talent and technique are all there. All that’s required is fuel, friction and the oxygen of art.

I’d never been to Honor Fraser (I only just discovered she’s the Honor Fraser (like -- how many could there be?) – as stunning as ever and completely charming.) in Venice – but there’s always that first show that gets me anywhere; and Kristin Calabrese has an enviable curatorial talent that I think can be safely relied upon to assemble a compelling ensemble and show, regardless how well (or not) she articulates her theme. Hovering Over the Universe is the title – an almost oxymoronic/blasphemous paradox of a conceit that, considered in the company of her 12 or so peers (planning a Last Supper, are we? or a jury trial?), actually made a kind of sense. Maybe it should have been titled something like ‘Pressed against the Universe,’ or ‘Trapped between two parallel universes.’ Whatever – the work on view made sense of the loose concept – which is all that matters. Calabrese’s own canvas effectively stated her theme, a sky-filled – and cracked? – car windshield – brise-soleil, to stretch the point (or at least I will), lengths of yarn floating carelessly over the ‘cracks’ – continuous and very non-standard ‘stoppages’ in this measure of the “universe.” The simultaneously ineffable and implacable actuality of the material universe; what immerses us yet cannot be grasped, can barely be apprehended; the ambiguous gulf between the proven construct and the perceived ‘reality.’ It’s hard to say whether she’s even aware of the scope of her ambition – in a way, I think she might not be – because I think it takes a certain fearlessness to put this kind of show, however small or contained, together. Notwithstanding a few misses, it’s excellent. Brenna Youngblood’s mixed media panels of collaged painting and photography and photo-fragments are becoming something of a signature style – but there’s absolutely nothing stale about it. She goes from strength to strength; and the panel here – rich with personal and ‘parallel’ universes, textures both earthbound and entirely of the imagination – stands with her best work. It was well placed directly across a lushly painted JP Munro panel of dense red flaming foliage (“All the World Is A Battlefield” is the title) – which made me think both of Max Ernst and the Terminator movies. Mark Grotjahn departed from his own signature style with a dark yet expressive oil that evoked the dark, infathomable universe evoked by a ‘face’, or indeed any species of physiognomy, an intimate, meditative panel complemented by a mask-like objet trouvé construction reminiscent of H.C. Westermann. Mary Heilmann’s small canvas – scrawled red incised horizontal lines, intervals marked with hatchings, against a gold-ish ground, in turn, was a meditation on the mark – determined, ephemeral – our hapless registration against the universe.

I’m already going on longer than I intended – and before I go back to it, let’s jump into the now – before it’s too late. And that’s part of the problem. I am almost ecstatic as I write this – and despondent at the same time. I just came from the Richard Tuttle show at MOCA – from meeting Richard Tuttle – and am entirely transported. (I’m listening to Callas in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia as I write this, and between the two – vision of Tuttle, voice of Callas – my head feels as if it’s going to explode.) It’s expansive, exhilarating, sublime; by Tuttle’s own estimation, the best installation the show has had over its four- or five-museum run (it’s definitely the most spacious, generously laid out). And it’s closing tomorrow. I’ll come back to this. I've got to lie down.