Saturday, October 27, 2007

Black Out of Hell

26 October 2007

Reports of my demise, as they say, have been exaggerated. Or have they? I wonder occasionally if I have a bit of the vampire in me. (How often am I seen in L.A.’s arts and cultural venues during the day?) In truth I love it when I have the candle burning at both ends – which seems to be a requirement for functioning successfully in this town – either that or at least two personal assistants. You feel tremendously alive, vital, productive. For a few minutes anyway. The afterglow depends upon what is actually seen, heard, appraised, accomplished. But how do you measure or quantify that? And then the candle is spent. It’s all about chasing the dawn. Vite, vite, vite, vite, vite…. I can feel like the Countess Balthory (the fabulous Delphine Seyrig!) in Les Lèvres rouges. Of course she ends up impaled upon some trees along the side of a road – a glam ‘car crash’ (I’m thinking of the Warhol Green Car Crash that fetched a record at Christie’s last spring) if there ever was one – in that fabulous Bernard Perris wardrobe. (I have to hit Barney’s as soon as I get out of bed.) So hard maneuvering from that position. Then you wake up only to find your gorgeous young protégée has stripped you of your glitter and hitched a ride with – well, fresh blood, anyway – to the nearest château. Or the Château M. Whatever.

It’s been more than three weeks since my last appearance in this space. And although I am just getting over a really bad cold, it was really only the last week-end that saw me seriously demobilized. Not that I was exactly where I should have been. (No I did NOT go through a looking glass at Harvey Nick’s en route to Regents Park. Fortunately I think I’ll be able to pick up some intel from a few interested parties who DID make it to Regents Park (the ever reliable fette was there (at Zoo, under Chung King’s auspices), as was Marc Foxx (& Rodney H??)). But hey – we don’t call it awol for nothing. And it’s not as if you’re entirely cut off from the art world in L.A. – even if half the city is half a world away. You could be stranded at a freeway interchange and find yourself diverted by ….(I was suddenly thinking of Sandra Tsing Loh in those halcyon days when she was playing a grand piano in just such a venue.) … well, by something.

I just left the DMV (I think that’s where I live now) following the press preview of the © Murakami press preview at MOCA. That Arnault-sponsored gala is actually Sunday night (I’m glad I’m not the only one whose schedule seems to be almost turned upside down by the sheer press of business) – not the usual Thursday or Friday night dinner. The press materials make a big deal out of the Louis Vuitton boutique embedded (or maybe embunkered is a better way of putting it) in the show – the sprawling Geffen space is just cavernous enough to accommodate it. But I’m happy to report that – although it announces itself somewhat oppressively in its white antiseptic cube overhanging the central space – it’s just out of the way enough not to interfere with the rest of the show. Paul Schimmel actually smiled at me from the reading room (where he was steering the scheduled one-on-one interviews with Murakami and, I guess, himself) as I entered the main space of the show. Anticipating my relief? And yet I begin to see his point – inasmuch as he’s encapsulated it in the show’s title, i.e., that Murakami's studio production is largely of a piece with the rest of his mass-manufactured production. Walt Disney meets the Land of the Rising Sun. The famous floating DOB or Mr. DOB avatars – which have always struck me as a kind of anime hybrid of Alfred E. Neuman (“What Me Worry?” – from MAD Magazine) and Mickey Mouse seem to have undergone a similar evolution to Disney’s immortal rodent. Murakami’s L.A. otaku will have a chance to reacquaint themselves with other Murakami/Kaikai Kiki characters such as “Miss ko2” and a host of ‘superflat’ progeny including Kiki and Kaikai, Inochi, Stew, and Mr. Pointy, and of course more mushrooms and floating ‘jellyfish’ eyes than you’ve ever seen together in one place in your life.

Regardless of what you make of the totality of Murakami’s various enterprises artistic and commercial, he cannot be dismissed. The show is impressive and, setting aside the Vuitton excrescence, beautifully installed. Unlike Disney, Murakami is willing to push through the glass darkly just a bit – even with his mass-manufactured toy biz – and also retains a sense of what he comes from in the largest, most generous sense – the entire Japanese legacy of culture and history, beauty and atrocity. Miss ko2, along with his hyper-lactating Hiropon and hyper-ejaculating My Lonesome Cowboy (take that Andy Warhol!) were flanked by the elegant paneled ‘screens’, Milk and Cream (natch) which in their surreal minimalism evoked both Miro and Ruscha as well as the entire tradition of the Japanese screen. Walking through the exhibition, it was impossible to miss the affinities Murakami shares with Dalí, and, more specifically, the affinities between this show and Dalí: Painting and Film at LACMA – each instinctively surrealist, endlessly inventive, relentlessly commercial. If Dalí begins with an interior, contradictory chaos of the unconscious, externalized into a kind of pictorial declamation, Murakami begins with an exterior, historically contextualized but almost ritualistically declaimed chaos, and abstracts it into a realm of absurd and outlandish fantasy.that might well be the stuff of a child’s id-centered unconscious.

It’s absurd to invoke Freud in a discussion, however cursory, of Murakami – and I think I’ll end it right here for a moment. (Let’s see if I come back to it.) Nevertheless the permutations of each vocabulary – Murakami’s aided notably, it would appear, by digital manipulations – appear to be endless and often surprisingly subtle.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Swerving off course (or 'sleight of blog')

30 September 2007

I know -- you're waiting for me to track back. Believe it or not, I actually do have something more to post about Allison Miller (I made a quick reconnaissance over ACME last weeek just to make sure I hadn't lost it between galleries and autostrada that particular night; I have a certain distrust of my own enthusiasms and obsessions); and there were the other shows I mentioned. Then there was the sleight-handed Whitney Bedford's show I saw that Friday night (the 21st) at Cherry & Martin which was notable (though perhaps alarmingly perishable), as well as the Vincent Valdez at Western Project the previous week, where I ran into my old L.A. Weekly pal, Lynnell George and met my new Weekly pal, Daniel Hernandez. (Kidding -- though I wish he were. A moot point in any case: he's off to Mexico City to write a book taking off from the feature on Mexican electoral politics he wrote for the Weekly this past year. He was a model for some of the Valdez paintings.] Oh yeah -- Ry Cooder ... [sound of my heart stopping] ... was there. What a gas.

And no -- I'm not going to spend much time right now on the Francis Älys show at the Hammer. Yeah, I went to the opening (though not to the press preview; I haven't read the catalogue, which I'm assuming is either written entirely by, or at least features an essay by, Russell Ferguson; he co-wrote the Phaidon monograph on Älys). It's both a little too 'interactive' and perhaps not interactive enough (if you can grasp that paradox) to give a meaningful or coherent précis of its various components and presentations, much less a critique of its overall success as a show. By that, I mean I need to play with it a little more; and I hope I'll have an opportunity to do that.

And I missed the Swerve festival stuff, the openings downtown and in Westwood (I mean, besides the Hammer). I'm exhausted, of course; but beyond that, I'm absorbed in a magazine feature I'm writing on an important L.A.-based artist, whose work has such a sweeping and richly resonant cultural compass, that it seems to be threatening a breakdown in the electric grid of my synapses and vacuuming up every bit of cultural intel and awareness (okay I didn't say it wasn't limited) around them. It's like summer in my brain with less than adequate air conditioning. Or something like that. Anyway, my brain's smithereening in a zillion directions from Calvino to the Clash, Barbarella to La Notte and everything in between ('so what else is new?' you say), and I'm just trying to pull it all together so a reader can follow it on the page. Does that make any sense? Anyway, bear with me. Hopefully, it will be worth it.