Saturday, September 29, 2007

Light Night (The Priss-tine Collection)

28 September 2007

Before I track back to the 21st (and the 8th and 15th before that), a note about last night. Kim Light hosted a reception for the curator and artists of the group show up at her gallery – styled, I would say, as much as curated (a good thing) – a Janus-look, as much forward as backward, at her own legacy, that is to say the legacy of the Kim Light Gallery which staked out a trend-setting spot on La Brea Avenue in the early 1990s, much as Blum & Poe, in many ways its godchild gallery, staked out its place at the Culver City end of La Cienega, setting the pace for the gallery development both at Washington and La Cienega Boulevards and throughout Culver City – a trend which, some might say inevitably, included Kim Light herself. They are neighbors within half a block of each other.

Everyone was there: artists, including the somewhat reclusive (in recent years) – or maybe just busy with her day job, Fatty’s & Co. – Kim Dingle. I had no idea she was still deeply involved in the enterprise, but is she EVER. No silent partner – but up to her elbows – maybe her eyeballs – in icing and pastry dough. The pastry motifs and preoccupations of recent work (Sperone Westwater – and presumably to be seen next month here at Kim Light/Lightbox) are NO COINCIDENCE. It was funny, having arrived at the Gallery completely frazzled and fit to be pissed after an encounter with opera buddy in the parking lot. [“How do you think [I am]? I’m exhausted and a little aggravated. But you know where I just came from.” OB (laughing): “NO – where are you coming from?”] I just walked away rolling my eyes – to a welcome glass of champagne in the back room, where Gary Garrels was holding forth on the very handsome Sol LeWitt – one of his monochromatic wavy line paintings, prominently featured in the retrospective Garrels organized for S.F. MOMA way back when the world was young – or 2000. (Am I the only one who sometimes thinks 2001 is the new 1963?) I’d never noticed the handsome George Rickey before. Wow, Kim. Then to the office – to borrow a digital camera (I’d left mine – barely out of its packaging – at home) – thanks Kim. And seated right before me – Kim Dingle. I was thrilled to meet her – especially after that amazing triptych Lightbox was showing only a couple of months ago – the ultimate angst-envoi to a pretty terrific group show. We related perfectly in our shared EXHAUSTION. (But I can’t imagine anything that powerful coming out of MY exhaustion. It made me wonder: what’s the legal/financial/forensic equivalent to that bit of Priss-pastry-Lord-of-the-Flies rage?). Curators, collectors, other dealers (e.g., Natalia Tkachev of Balmoral) (was that all just one run-on sentence above?), L.A. Weekly people – it felt like high school homecoming week. (I left my pom-poms at home, too.)

Jeff Poe was conspicuous by his absence. The show was really a tribute to the two of them, Kim Light and Jeff Poe, beautifully, meticulously curated by that über-curator, Carole Ann Klonarides (who put together the brilliant Without Sun show this past spring at Christopher Grimes and Chung King Project. But as if to exemplify the spirit of that pivotal moment, Skip Arnold was there, the contrails of chaos streaming behind him like smoke from the cigarette he held clenched in his cigarette holder. The video (and other) documentation of his performances (e.g., “Hood Ornament,”the “Axis Powers Tour” – a kind of existential picaresque) retain a good deal of their tense, anarchic power. So were Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, Monica Majoli, and Gregory Green. The main gallery was book-ended by Chris Wilder’s “painting” of white (synthetic) fur on canvas.(executed this year) and the Yonemotos’ “Achrome III” matrix of squares wrapped in silver projection screen material (for sale!), the Anya Gallaccio “Red on White” seemed to both sink and levitate between the two.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Boadwee’s – but his work circa 1993 – those targets and enemas – becomes more interesting in retrospect in terms of its foreshadowing (though not necessarily directly influencing) work that has only seen light in the last few years. (e.g.., Gallaccio’s more recent work). In that light, I would take issue with the notion of “Red on White” as being either exceptionally a ‘vanitas’ – a great deal of Gallaccio’s work plays on this notion (cf., “Red on Green,” “Intensities and Surfaces” – which shares a certain affinity with Karen Finley, of course); still less as something that “def[ies] stereotypes of femininity” (though Gallaccio’s feminist ‘cred’ hardly needs amplification). “Red on White” certainly alludes to decay with some finality (though not necessarily through appearance), but also to the indelible human stain (although technically, uh, cow’s blood – as Klonarides pointed out in her amusing intro Thursday night); also, dematerialization as a function of performance (cf., Skip Arnold).

The more explicitly feminist strain here was evoked by Dingle’s “Priss Room Installation” (1995) reconstructed here in all its scatological shrieking rage. (From controlled anarchy to controlled chaos.) Green’s mock explosive devices (1992, 1997) seem neither ‘pruriently thrilling’ nor particularly threatening – though they indicate another tendency, again foreshadowed by Boadwee (and possibly Dani Tull, too): towards a clinical deconstruction of the obscene or, more simply, the prurience of kitsch (cf., Tull). Monica Majoli alone has gone on to really plumb these motives to their depths – though it’s interesting to see again where she started with them.

None of this is to diminish what I think is a pretty fabulous show and a wonderful recapitulation of a certain moment. It breathes fresh here and the resonance with what is happening now in 2007 is all the more remarkable considering that watershed date I just alluded to.

As great as the show is, though, it was hard not to be distracted a little by the people, the great food and the dirty martinis. Though, as readers of this blog will already know, politics is never too far away from the scope of my concerns near or far, and something I hardly shy away from, I would have thought they might have been set aside to some extent for an evening like this. Especially this early in the season (I sigh). Alas art world politics never sleep. I would have liked not having to think about fairs this particular evening – though it was good to hear promising things about an upcoming fair. But here were two dealers strutting and fretting (respectively) dealer selection (and the all-important selection committees) and their booth/space placement in the fairs. Basel-Miami Beach and its many satellites may represent an inescapable force in this respect. But – and here the spirit of Jeff Poe was very much present – ‘if you build it,’ so to speak, ‘they will come.’ Presumably, these dealers advertise in the right publications (artillery, hopefully, among them). If you have what collectors are looking for, and you’re within a reasonable distance from an international airport, surely those collectors will make their way to your door. Alas, this very convenient end of La Cienega is rapidly filling up. Lucky, I think, to be Jeff Poe or Kim Light.

More later – though hopefully not about fairs (for a while).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Autumnal equinox and 'New Image' abstraction

21 September 2007

It’s an appropriately autumnal day – cool, overcast, threatening rain – but unusual for this time of the year in L.A. (related, I think, to some hurricane activity in Mexico and the Gulf). The autumnal equinox passes placidly here (discounting real estate uncertainties in the hills just above me and on the far sides of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys), even as another sort of equinox seems to pass with some violence, yet almost unnoticed by an American Congress that is almost perfectly oblivious to any political or economic actuality – to say nothing of history. The currency revaluations (the dollar at a new low against the Euro), the Blackwater diplomatic shuttle massacres (American diplomats and apparatchiks apparently can’t move without Iraqis dying) are really just the tip of this iceberg heading straight for our Titanic of a Republic. It was almost hilarious to listen on the radio to Lindsey Graham (the Republican senator from South Carolina) justify his vote (in line with the cowardly, possibly pre-senile, John Warner) against the bi-partisan military appropriations bill with the Webb amendment that would have slowed the pace of deployment and given troops additional recuperation time away from battle zones – effectively phasing out this bloody debacle by saving the military for another day (and alas another war, I guess). After considering the Petraeus testimony, Graham decided it was worth “taking a second look – politically or on the ground.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one coughing up my coffee on that line. “On the ground” – is he kidding? The ‘politically’ was implicitly (oxy)moronic – maybe he slept through that part of the Petraeus testimony. Then there was Chuck Schumer holding forth, absurdly, on Borse-Dubai’s purchase of a 20 percent stake in NASDAQ, one half of a double-barreled assault on American capital and equity markets, the other being the Carlyle Group’s sale of a discounted 20 percent interest to Abu Dhabi. If they didn’t grasp the concept and implications of peak oil a few years ago, they do now. (Alan Greenspan’s blunt remarks justifying his support of the Iraq war were as amusing as they were appalling in that regard.) Gee, somebody better invest in the American infrastructure because it’s clear the American government won’t. Apparently, they draw the line at destroying another country’s infrastructure. On borrowed Chinese money. And to think once upon a time, I thought America only knew how to entertain and/or sell products. I’m not sure how effectively we do that anymore, but apparently America is still good at blowing stuff up. (Come to think of it, that sounds like a lot of Hollywood summer movies.)

Where was I? Allison Miller? That’s right – she has a show up at ACME. I can appreciate the distance I have now on this particular show (though I know it annoys some of the readers who check in here routinely who are looking for the info/intel NOW, not two weeks later). Miller’s abstractions grow on one. Viewing the show that Saturday night – if not on the run, not exactly contemplatively, either – so much of the impact was sheer scale and shape – these deliberated, purposeful ‘doodles’ arrayed on an imposing scale (e.g., 4x5 sq.ft. were typical dimensions). ‘New Image Abstraction,’ I summed it up to myself then; and in a way, I think the appellation almost holds. There’s a kind of Guston-ish reliance on a few dominant shapes – whether abstracted from a figurative source or purely non-objective – repeated, extended or extrapolated, and/or reinterpreted – by way of size or rendering, color modulation, division or abrupt discontinuity; and therein lies its departure from the ‘Guston’ type image or motif, which usually builds into something more concrete or readily identifiable. Miller’s work dispenses with – I would go so far as to say, discredits – the concrete. The ‘concrete’ here may be a separation, a ‘divide’ – but this is exactly where her brand of abstract veers off ambiguously into the domain of illusion. The process is fascinating and I would love to get into her brain while she’s working. Her work (though I really haven’t seen that much of it – here at ACME, some group shows, etc.) has come in for comparison with Bart Exposito, with whom she shares certain obvious affinities (coloristic, among others). But her work is soooooo different from Exposito’s. It almost challenges the very foundation of such ‘hard edge’ type work (though I don’t mean to simplify Exposito’s work quite to that extent either). Consider, by way of example, the image on the announcement card (which is what is sitting in front of me). (I’d never do a critique on that basis – or even my memory, which I don’t entirely trust; but it will serve in this context with respect to Miller’s use of shape, the non-/anti-concrete, etc.) In “Trumpet,” Miller gives us a succession of swagged crescents gradually settling over a dark trapezoidal form which bisected both vertically and, near its top edge, horizontally (an allusion to something ‘concrete’? -- an extrusion, a bevel? Miller teases us with a line, a color gradation – as the bright yellow of the ‘trumpet’s’ bell ‘sinks’ beneath that line, that ‘lip’; and all the while, the graduated swags – in umber, mauve, white, blue (and yellow) – rise to the very top and extend to the width of the panel. But then the eye is drawn from these contrasting geometries – the trapezoid ‘base’ (bass?) and ‘trumpet’ parabolas off to the side. Miller has a certain fearlessness with the way she uses black and white, light and dark space; but here it’s as if there’s something else going on altogether in the lower half of the painting, a sequence of ridged tissues of pigment (oil I assume) in vertical strokes, ranging from inky black at the bottom to slate and steel blues tinged with violet and pale graphite or grays fading to sheer smoke. What – brushes on the snare or cymbals? Strings? It’s a different mood, a different episode in the same tune, the same ‘story.’ There’s no way to reconcile the contrasting zones, masses, geometries – and no need to. It somehow holds its own tenuous balance, the strength of those shapes, the mystery of those more ‘painterly’ passages, the balance between what is revealed and what obscured. I have a bit more on this, but I'll leave off for a moment. Hold that paradox if you can.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lari's Night (2); Bernie's Party -- Luxe without Calme

15 September 2007

Good morning – and it’s off to the DMV (again!). I fell asleep reading The New Yorker (what else is new?). It felt appropriate somehow lullabying the kitties to something titled, “Fame” and then something by, uh – Joni Mitchell?? – but uncannily suited to a week when it was disclosed that there was now a completely navigable route through the Arctic Sea, essentially confirming what we’ve feared for the last decade or so: the Arctic Sea is now liquid year-round and the polar icecap is melting. Oh Amelia – this is no false alarm. (FORGIVE me, Joni.) The Regen second space was aglow with that dubious aura last night. But also the aura of talent, originality, genius. A number of Pittman’s Regen peers made an appearance, most notably, Raymond Pettibon. Also artists like Tom Knechtel and Nancy Riegelman (looking sensational) and Roger Herman. Also k.d. lang. Collectors aplenty, including Eileen Norton, Barry Sloane. The aforementioned culture commissars. Which is where I believe we left off. I would have much rather talked about Pittman – and Michael Duncan was not too many steps away; I needed to pick his brain about his own chat with Lari Pittman about the series of smaller works on the west wall – but Shaw was on the table for the moment, as I was recalling for Paul Schimmel that moment when his Donner Party was on the block at Christie’s. I assumed (or maybe just hoped) at the time that MOCA had someone either in the room or on the phone. I apparently assumed/hoped wrong. “We don’t have anywhere near that kind of money; we can’t compete in that arena.” The Donner Party wasn’t exactly a bargain, of course; actually the price set a record, or perhaps just under a record, for Shaw. That said, although you don’t exactly go to an auction house looking for a bargain, not all auctions are pitched into the monetary stratosphere (as the Spring New York sales were by and large). (Interestingly, a lot of Shaw drawings failed to sell that evening.) In fact, the Huber hammer prices were not wildly out of scale with the rest of the market. There are a number of factors and circumstances that influence and motivate this market; but I don’t think it’s oversimplifying to say that the most important motivating factor is essentially: you go to get what you can’t get anywhere else. I thought back to another moment that month: the three Blums – Irving, Jackie, and Tim (no relation) – joined by Schimmel in the Armory lounge. I don’t know what the revenues were like for the Armory (or the Armory uptown, Scope, etc.), but there were probably enough loose dollars floating around that room, let alone the Pier, to put together a bid. I sure hope somebody is working to build up MOCA’s acquisitions funds and overall endowment.

Since we know it was François Pinault who acquired the Shaw, I felt comfortable moving from Pinault and his luxury goods zillions to Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods empire, specifically one of his flagship brands, Louis Vuitton. Setting aside the debased standard of luxury Vuitton’s brand of status-retailing more or less pioneered (which is above all retailing the brand; who needs sizzle when you’ve got a pedigreed logo?), and some rather dark episodes in its retailing history, it was hard not to feel dismayed that what would amount to a small free-standing Vuitton boutique right on site at the Geffen would not share some percentage of its revenues with MOCA. Who, I asked, was responsible for this disastrous decision? (I left out the adjective – but it hardly needed to be spoken aloud.) “It was absolutely, one hundred percent my decision…. I mean, it’s [meaning Murakami’s commercial style ventures and commercial production] already there….” Schimmel seemed to confirm what I knew only as a rumor – that the Vuitton products or boutique would not only function as a museum/souvenir/etc. shop, but actually be an integral part of the exhibition. (I give him credit for sheer bravado.) But shouldn’t the museum be at least granted some profit participation in what amounted to a dual promotional/retailing windfall for LVMH? Here, Schimmel seemed to implicate some aspect of Murakami’s artistic (or perhaps just business) practice. But surely the museum (Schimmel or Strick) could simply have said, no. Is the intention here to erase the line between art and commerce altogether? “Anyway,” Schimmel continued, “[LVMH] will pick up the cost of the [opening] gala.” This could conceivably run up more than a few pennies, I realize. (MOCA’s patrons no doubt have some fabulous schwag coming their way.) But let’s get real here. LVMH is a US$17+ billion company. Arnault probably has sufficient funds parked somewhere offshore to fuel a dozen such galas. This ought to go down as smoothly as a flute of Dom Perignon; this will impact Arnault about as much as a draught of L’Heure Bleue across a cool room; he’ll feel this about as much as . . . you get the idea.

Added to which – Arnault and Murakami will be making some money from this venture. In other words, it’s a wash on the LVMH balance sheet. It almost amounts to a free promotion. On a certain level, Schimmel is right: Murakami’s commercial enterprises are part and parcel of his artistic practice. (And certainly no one makes art to lose money.) But a museum is hardly obligated to embrace every aspect of an artist’s practice any more than it is obligated to include every variety or period of an artist’s output in a show. Moreover, setting aside Murakami’s practice/business, the Vuitton bags were designed as bags, not as art. The trademark Murakami icons and motifs, whatever their connection to his art, are here nothing more than design elements, subordinate to the overall style. These are style products – they are aimed to sell as fashion, not as art.

I have no illusions about the art business. It is a business. Art may even be on some level about business. But it’s mostly something altogether different. Although (like any other commodity) the stuff of commerce, livelihoods, financial leverage, it has a much larger and open-ended mission in culture, communication and society that largely transcends its status as commodity or even as sheer idea. It is apprehended, decoded and hopefully enjoyed entirely without reference to commercial valuation, currency, decimal points or micro- and macro-economic models. Don’t get me wrong – I love commercial galleries. Commerce is an essential form of communication. Some of the most acute, insightful and passionate people I know in the art world are dealers (auction house people, too – Amy Cappellazzo and Toby Meyer come to mind). But I also cherish the museum (and kunsthalle) as a refuge from commerce, a place to take the measure of an artwork, to examine and cross-examine it, entirely outside the stream of contemporary culture and commerce, the noise of the commercial context. Luxe or not-so-luxe – I don’t need the noise of LVMH brands (I include the ones I use) buzzing about in a museum.

Oh yeah – and the buzz. Schimmel took some delight at the thought of the crowds of new museum patrons the show might attract – presumably among the chic, the aspiring chic, status-seekers, and the merely clueless. (What next? – a K-Mart Blue Light special in the middle of an exhibition? I think I’d prefer that to Vuitton.) But museums cannot just be about heads, attendance. Museums are not for absolutely everyone – sometimes not even for those of us who love museums. Not everyone takes the Kant seminar at school, and not everyone is going to need to join a museum – or even visit one at all. There are other ways of engaging the culture; other means I daresay of asking the same kinds of questions we ask in a museum or kunsthalle.

Getting back to business for a moment, though. Considering the apparently threadbare state of MOCA’s endowment or acquisitions fund, wouldn’t it be prudent to look to a corporate/commercial sponsor (or in this case beneficiary) for more than just the cost of the opening reception? Assuming the gala runs less than half a mil, I don’t think 2.5 or 3.5 million would be unreasonable. Yes – $3.5 million. That would be about six Donner Partys. Speaking of parties.

But this was Lari’s party – and I was enjoying it – piqued by a taste of something new in (what appeared to be) the gouaches on the west wall – something implied to some extent by motifs in the larger panels and canvases – but here isolated, elaborated and developed into something entirely new. They reminded me alternately of magnified fragments of medieval illuminated texts and orientalist hour book pages (or something that would take its cues from Persian or Mogul miniatures). I lingered too long here. I would have happily spent an hour with them. So I missed Barry McGee’s show downtown at REDCAT. And I haven’t even said anything about Allison Miller, yet. I’ll come back to her – and Lisa Adams, Dan McCleary, Lucas Reiner, George Stoll, Lauren Lavitt, et al. I’m always one party behind with yet another down the road; and I’d rather just go home to my own party of three – and attend to my own (politically) Red Cats.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lari's Night

14 September 2007

Where was I? Allison Miller? Okay – but it’s Friday night and I have to add a note about the show I just came from – Lari Pittman at Regen Projects’ second space on Santa Monica Blvd. – apparently the event of the evening. It almost goes without saying that it’s a must-see (please don’t EVER confuse awol with that sometimes ridiculously off-the-mark column). Who knew the opening was also going to be a must-attend? EVERYONE was there – even one of my docs. (I knew he was interested in art; but had NO idea he was collecting at this level until I saw him and his wife zoom in on Yasmine (one of the associate directors) for details on a piece. Well.) No, I’m not on life-support yet; but chances are by the end of the season (or if I have one more crisis at the Flynt Bldg.), I will be. The work on view seems to have evolved fairly coherently from the most recent work included in the Hammer’s Eden’s Edge show this spring/summer; although the palette seems to veer towards a slightly more autumnal, vegetal range. The compositional architecture evolves as well, not necessarily less complex – and certainly with as much transparency as ever – but more plainly subordinate to a dominant overall structure or motif or figure(s) (whether that be a body or bodies, organic or vegetal forms – e.g., apples, pumpkins (jack-o-lanterns?), cacti); also a sweeping fluidity to some of these forms. It’s a little freer – but no less controlled. There were a number of cacti – an opening for Pittman to visually pun on the spines. There were other novel motifs within the quintessentially Pittman-esque transparencies – roundels and foils that had an oriental quality, later echoed in some of the smaller gouache (I think) panels on the west wall of the gallery. These were some of the most interesting pieces here. But I can’t get into them just yet.

At one point in the evening, I came into proximity with Paul Schimmel. He was chatting volubly with Ann Philbin and Russell Ferguson. I was of course dying to know what they were talking about. But that’s one threesome I knew would not be thrilled to have me eavesdropping so I gave them a wide berth. It was impossible to pull away completely, though, simply because of the crowd. And so I found myself almost face to face with Paul Schimmel. There was no point in avoiding it. I HAD to ask him a couple of questions about the whole Murakami, Vuitton business. The revelations in the Times and Mitchell Mulholland’s artillery column begged for a response – and, well, there I was notebook (and artillerys) in hand. (By the way, just to set the record straight – I am NOT Mitchell Mulholland – though I sure wish I had his sources.) I decided to open on my home – and slightly friendlier – turf, and asked him about MOCA’s bidding posture with respect to the Shaw Donner Party installation that Pierre Huber sold at Christie’s last February. But I’ll have to leave you there for a few minutes. The two grand duchesses (my cats) are driving me crazy and I think I have to read them a bedtime story to get them in the mood for their 9x40 winks. (They’re not the same since late night television disappeared from their lives.) I might need a few myself.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Summer's twilight; The Night of 100 Openings

9 September 2007

It was the night of 100 openings. If we count Thursday, Friday and today, it was probably the week-end of 500 openings. Okay, I’m exaggerating – but it sure feels that way. The L.A. Opera – with Fidelio (I am dying to see it) and a one-night only performance of the Verdi Requiem (uh – make that one afternoon only, if I’m hearing this right – I’m listening to it on the radio – hmmm…); a slew of theatre openings; the usual raft of concerts and club dates; and, according to one maven’s count, exactly 85 art openings. I think I’d call that a full lid. (And I think Curb Your Enthusiasm starts up again tonight. Right?) Oh, and by the way, that show/movie/exhibition/exposition/dance/concert/recital/club date/record release/event you were going to catch before it ended its summer-whatever run (you know which one(s))? It’s closed, baby. Look – you needed that week-end at the beach. Or the hospital. Whatever.

I got a giggle from Fearless Leader’s editorial letter in the artillery just out. Setting aside the perennial (or bi/quint/dec-ennial) summer fairs, festivals, and international exhibitions – which for the most part take us either some (more often that not, absolutely magical) location in Europe or resort location elsewhere – which we have half a chance of turning into something of a vacation (however illusory that seems to be for most Americans), summer used to be the slow season, with August all but dead except for late summer movie releases, blow-out rock concerts, and (in L.A.) the Hollywood Bowl (that’s Mostly Mozart/Tanglewood/etc. for the rest of us). But not anymore. I’ll admit August (in L.A.) was a little slower – and the last couple weeks gave me some much needed breathing room (if you discount that killer heat wave that all but did me in). But that’s about it. Hey – they don’t call it Arts & Leisure for nothing. I’m thinking we need a moratorium on art production at least one month out of the year; otherwise it’s going to take a global village to resuscitate me for the next season (assuming I make it through this one). I mean – my therapist is out of town, and I have a stack of unread books next to my bed. Leave me the fuck alone already! will ya?

She asked rhetorically. I guess that’s what I miss – the summer stuff. I actually haven’t been to the Hollywood Bowl this summer. I haven’t been to Dodger Stadium. I only just finished a Vidal novel I started years ago – which makes me want to dip into Mailer (go figure). (Coincidentally, did you notice Norris Church Mailer’s new novel in the Review today? She uses the Mailer name now. It was just Norris Church when she was painting. Well. A guilty pleasure? Maybe I’ll stick to Norman. Or maybe not.) Want to know what I’m reading now? Daphne Du Maurier (House on the Strand) and Colette (La Chatte). And there are literally twenty more I’m dying to read/finish.

Okay it’s officially a rant. Where was I? Bergamot Station, to begin with. Or I should say, circling the perimeter of the entire old railroad yard neighborhood looking for a parking place. I GAVE UP. It’s never happened before. I always found SOMETHING (at least) on the other side of Cloverfield. Not yesterday. I really wanted to look at the Francesca Gabbiani collages at Patrick Painter, the Brad Spence show at Shoshana Wayne, as well as the shows at Felsen, Faure, Heller, etc.; but they’ll have to wait. By that time, it was too late to nip over to Christopher Grimes for the Kellndorfer photography, which I probably should have run to from fette’s gallery Friday night. I had already made the painful decision to forego the Ann Hamilton/Joan Simon (both of whom I admire tremendously) conversation at the Hammer (WHY did they have to schedule it on that night – OF ALL NIGHTS??)

I overheard fette chatting with Robert Berman Friday night (he brought Sophie, his completely charming pug, with him) and wondered if there might be something to the group show there, as well. But it will just have to wait along with the rest. I was already feeling over-extended – which was one reason I decided to skip Suzanne Vielmetter and Kim Light. With any luck, I’ll follow up during the week (it’s a bee-line down La Cienega from the Flynt Building). But I still hadn’t SEEN ANYTHING. It was back to Wilshire Boulevard. I figure the only reason the mob was more or less penetrable at 6150 was because it was entirely impenetrable at Bergamot.

After the Gabbiani and Kellndorfer shows in Santa Monica, the Jessica Stockholder show at 1301PE was a priority. She’s one of the most brilliant assemblage artists around; and my fleeting taste of something new of hers at one of the New York fairs this past winter (Armory – the Mitchell-Innes space) whetted my appetite for whatever she had coming next. The title was intriguing, too (or have I just been spending too much time in the Flynt Building?): Sex In the Office (the announcement image: a braided raffia or wicker urn, two yellow sponge brushes (the kind used on toilet bowls), a bright orange traffic cone, one wastebasket poured into another, etc.) – but in fact, if you examined the list, you noticed the actual Sex In the Office was another piece altogether and far more elaborate (unless it was still a work in progress when the photograph was taken). I almost thought one of the pieces – on the order of Rauschenberg combines, but far more elaborate (even towering), aggressively extemporaneous in an almost Dada/Schwitters/Merzbau manner (which tends to cancel out the more passive, random Tuttle-esqe aspects which she clearly has some affinity for) – was that sculpture I saw in New York – juxtaposed rectangles of Plexiglas (it looked like a Tele-Promp-Ter screen) and carpet swatches mounted onto a plant stand. But that sculpture had a more distinctly figurative silhouette. This was more explicitly abstract, a play on frames, screens and squares, projection, tactility (sheer tackiness, too). Aluminum frames were a common element in at least three of the sculptures – as if to underscore some notion of what this kind of sculpture might be: a picture, conceit, exploded out of its frame, screen – randomly, messily, carrying along anything in its path. The use of color was interesting, too – now bright primary synthetics, now deliberately drab, the dead colors of dead objects (e.g., a pale yellow lamp shade over a banana palm leaf lamp base (or plant stand) collapsing into some box-like construction, the whole mounted onto a nightstand with fluted legs. Lights and mostly plastic mechanical parts (e.g., refrigeration or air-conditioning) appeared elsewhere. There were only five pieces; yet I longed for more space. However they may have been curated/coordinated to work with each other, I felt they needed a more ample surround space, even isolation, to be taken at their full measure. Two of Stockholder’s Pace Edition monoprints were hung in the office.

(Oh yeah – that was the Requiem performance – just in case any of us were thinking about cruising over to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – offered, in part, as a memorial to Luciano Pavarotti. Domingo conducted – fitting tribute to one of the unique and unforgettable voices of the last century.)

I hopped over to Karyn Lovegrove to check out a show of Benjamin Butler – New Trees. Same as the old trees. And then it was back downstairs. . . . Alright. I guess the thumbnail description I kept overhearing was “Pattern and Decoration.” But it’s misapplied here; Butler’s work is much more willfully abstracted – which is a good thing. (Interestingly, Kim MacConnel, who falls more comfortably within this category, was also opening a show Saturday evening at Rosamund Felsen.). Almost ritually abstracted. The schematic, quasi-iconic or symbolic ‘flowing-fountain’/’weeping-willow’ configurations could have been taken from a 19th century hymnal or devotional text. (They reminded me a bit of Shaker motives.). The palette reinforces the works’ ‘faded text’ aspect – the paint thinly staining the canvas in pale vegetal colors that manage to hold their pale integrity counterpointed against the vibratile, modish basket-weave grid of acid and neon colors undulating through the dominant motif – both surface and backdrop. Sounds clever and it is – maybe too clever by half. Less ‘pattern and decoration, ‘ I think, than the old Arts and Crafts – or maybe something Duncan Grant would have adored – or even painted. Call Liberty of London, I think, walking downstairs. Or William Morris – we’re in L.A. for chrissakes.

ACME was showing new work by Allison Miller. Another kind of abstraction altogether, but I'll get to it in a few. I pause to take in L.A.'s magic hour -- for me that's when it's starting to cool down.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Flâneur at Cruising Speed

8 September 2007

After a long slog of a summer – most of August anyway, and particularly the last couple of very hot weeks in Los Angeles – I needed an evening of unadulterated pleasure to kick off the season, and, happily, fette was there to provide it. Being fette, of course, there was much more – the provocation of the unexpectedly incongruous or disjunctive, the poignancy of transmuted perceptions, of charged, revised memory. Being fette, of course, the bill of fare was international and very much of the moment. Not a little surprising, though, for a show whose first incongruity was the title itself – Le Flâneur (entirely irresistible for a Baudelairean Parisienne manquée like me). What is flânerie in a city like Los Angeles? Leave it to fette to figure it out – or simply let the concept fly, as it were – to fan out over a suburban, meta-urban (or micro-urban) expanse and alight where it will – washed over, enveloped or entirely swallowed up by intersecting points, places (and their corresponding moments), the warrens and corridors lost in its vastness, the blur that crystallizes (or not) only after the car is parked.

It’s not entirely a surprise that my own intractably urban penchant for flânerie survives the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles; this is simply the way I live. But what surprises me is that a peculiar Los Angeles type of flânerie survives and thrives at cruising speed on its streets and boulevards. (I won’t say freeways; that’s an entirely different, and mostly alienating, experience.) It’s a flânerie born of fleeting perception, reflections (of light and of thought) anticipation, anxiety, dissonance and disjunction, destination and desire; and finally the seduction of places that unexpectedly fascinate and spark our imaginations when we finally slow or stop, or – surprise! – actually walk the finite number of blocks we can before giving in to L.A.’s oppressive scale.

Joshua Callaghan and Christiane Feser seize on different aspects of the suburban situation in terms of apprehension, dislocation and disjunction. In the darkness, I didn’t even see Callaghan’s steroidal pigeon, “Bubba,” perched on the rooftop of fette’s gallery – a ‘flâneur on the fly, quietly surveying the stream of first-nighters below. Feser’s C-prints (from her Strassen series) present their own kind of reversals – an inside-out world, digitally depopulated and depersonalized, of suburban streets and fields – warehouses – or simply houses – washed of their doors and windows, entrances, exits; purged of human ingress and egress; both fields and streetfronts are rendered even more anonymous, and indeed indistinguishable, where openings are closings and endless.

Christopher Davison’s gouache and papier collé reclining figures – one of them (with voodoo mask head clasped in a cup-like hand) parenthetically titled “Judith” – evoked the dream-like intersection of figure and land- or cityscape. Davison’s essentially symbolist vocabulary conveys a sense of figures painted, even tattooed (or conversely, eviscerated) by the flow of place, experience, dreams; the endlessly folded and re-folded maps literally folded into our laps.

Flânerie is also about the process of fastening on, and collecting the curiosities of the urban streets – as tangible souvenirs (perfect bilingual word) – exotica, antiques or antiquities, or simply fascinating detritus; things almost unconsciously sought after, the epiphanal object. Aya Saieto’s large drawings (if that is the correct word for them) in oil, acrylic and ink on paper are both journeys and curiosities, its distinctly figurative elements – physical, organic, animal, avian – extrapolated and abstracted into intricate, sinuous improvisations, yet woven into a whole, the macrocosmic emerging out of the microcosmic, and vice-versa.

There were affinities, however oblique, among these two very different artists, as well as a third (and a fourth?) – Ami Tallman, whose oil/gouache/watercolor (and ink and pencil) works on paper pulled us into a very concrete microcosmic sphere of objects, still lifes, halls and galleries (shades of those Baudelairean arcades!), fixtures, and drawing room interiors – slightly pompous but also slightly déraciné, conveying a sense of evacuation not too far removed from Feser’s streetscapes – with both aspects of ‘curiosity’ and alienation heightened, enriched by a warm, saturated palette of near-psychidelic intensity. (The alien quality is further emphasized by strokes of enamel worked over portions of the surface.) Tallman has a sure technique, a formal and tonal control that is almost breath-taking, and above all a sharp eye and a wit to match it.

The cabinet of curiosities closed fittingly with a suite of photograph C-prints from Adrien Missika’s Safari Classique series. (A Bas Louter portrait in charcoal shared the wall.) What appeared to be miniature landscapes – artful and somewhat romanticized composites of photographed foregrounds and painted backgrounds, photo-realist painting, or some combination of the two – turned out to be fragments of natural history museum dioramas (in fact, taken at the American Museum of Natural History in New York) – just the sort of thing I’d pick up from Deyrolle or a bord-de-la-Seine-bouquinist after a day wandering around Paris. (If there is a hint of nostalgia here, I think it’s probably my own: Paris me manque, and the Natural History Museum was always one of my favorite places in New York.)

The American writer Edmund White has noted that in recent years even Parisian-style flânerie veers far from the familiar, bourgeois boulevards of St. Germain des Près, Batignolles, Montparnasse, etc. into the most exotic ethnic quartiers of the city – even the banlieues. With fette, it seems to be the more or less consistent policy: to keep an open eye and an open door.