Monday, November 19, 2007

Storyboards and stick-ups: an evening of dangerous curves

17 November 2007

Before I jump to Caroompas, Susan Silton (her Solway-Jones cannot be closing today – not while I’m still recuperating – not while my head feels this way), Barbara Zucker and Salvador Dalí – a note about last night. The evening was more or less evenly divided between events at Gemini G.E.L. and Dangerous Curve, each in very different ways oddly anti-climactic, each offering surprises, each smashingly successful. The Gemini event began on the early side of the evening – or did it? The guests of honor didn’t show until what was supposed to be (and at the very earliest) the last hour of the reception; and a number of quasi-celeb and art star invitees seemed to directly follow them over the next half-hour, so I have to wonder if there was some MOCA-sponsored (not sure why – but I know Stephanie Barron and Ann Philbin were there long before Jeremy Strick arrived with Dagny Corcoran) dinner or something beforehand. The show was a dual exhibition by that dynamic duo. . . . . that L.A. power-couple of fine art lithography and print editions. . . . . uh, not exactly. I was sort of prepared for the Ed Ruscha – I mean the new lithographs – because, if I’m not mistaken, Gemini already had one or two of these to take to Art Basel this summer. These were more in the same vein – a series Ruscha calls Cityscapes – a deliberately obtuse, sadistically ironic title; an abstraction; mordant yet opaque in its near transparency; an anti-map, an ‘anti-mask’, a cipher. ‘Meaning what?’ I had to wonder. The faint – as if delicately penciled in – inscriptions reinforced the ‘anti-map/anti-mask’ aspect – the implied violence carrying an urban ‘mean streets’ connotation. (E.g., “Stick Up” or “Listen If You Ever Tell,” or “If I Was You.” The actual inscription ‘clarifies’ the ‘context/content’; e.g., “LISTEN IF YOU EVER TELL, I’LL HURT YOUR MAMA REAL REAL BAD. THIS IS NO JOKE. I’M AFTER YOU STUPID PUNK.”) With one or two exceptions, these were mostly 3- and 4-color lithographs in grainy, earthen or heathery tones, with the imprint of what looked like sheer gauzy fabrics, or a digital output that might be a grassy surface, on paper or board, perforated in somewhat irregular rows or configurations by rectangular or squarish white spaces. It couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. They resembled nothing so much as storyboards with blank cards. So I suppose in a strictly L.A./Hollywood sense, these could be ‘cityscapes’ – the mean streets, the naked cities of police procedurals yet to be written, much less filmed or taped. Or ‘forget it better still’ – just like D.A. Fred Thompson, who seems to be recycling his old Law and Order lines into his stump speeches. Is it too much to ask, to dream, that within a few months, that gasbag will not only be off the campaign trail, but off the American political landscape and off of our airwaves for good? I’m not too concerned about the ‘cityscapes’ – as long as we can keep him out of New York and L.A., I’m happy – happiER.

Anyway, as much of a departure as these are from previous ‘word’ pieces, the Ruscha 5-card/10-card/etc.monte/storyboards were the dry, witty, elegant works one might have expected them to be. Who would’ve thunk that these might just be a teaser for the real graphic, textu/r-al – textile – drama yet to come? And who’d’ve thunk that drama might be coming from Ann Hamilton? Do I sound surprised? Mmmmm. . . . .well . . . just a bit. I would never exactly write off someone like Hamilton. But two points: until relatively recently, her most characteristic work has been both unusually (a) body/boundary-conscious and (b) installation-oriented; with, for the most part, the two characteristics inextricably bound up with each other. Oh yeah – one more thing: it didn’t always work. Now consider one or two other things: Hamilton has some background in textiles. Her B.F.A. was in textile arts. (I only noticed this recently.) Now, go back to the Ruscha's for just a split second and consider their tactile/textural aspect. (I know – I’m building this up into just another TEASE.)

As with previous events like this, Gemini had opened up its entire space, including press, engraving and work rooms. The bar/buffet tent began filling up relatively early, but, minus my companion Gemini, and not seeing any familiar faces, I began to meander aimlessly with a lovely glass of merlot through the back-rooms, sighting here a Ruscha, there a Baldessari, here a Nauman, there a Serra – and finally in a printing room just behind the front gallery, where I found myself facing an ethereal matrix (odd to juxtapose those two words) of blue, pooling, whorling, eddying, as if in tidal motion, subdivided into separately configured sections. Mounted against another wall was a simple, more or less A-line coat in ivory-white wool, with black piping. On the opposite wall, an exquisite work on paper that, to look at it from only a couple of feet away, registered as fabric – a silky gauze in a kind of puce-plum with blue, green and brown undertones (even after examining it closely, it registers in memory as fabric) – transparent, and similarly whorling and eddying across the surface, not unlike the multiple-sectioned print hanging only a few feet away. Then I saw a pair of long bronze ladle-like implements in a box (a sculptural edition I was already aware of) and put it together. But it was still later, as I was noshing on the fabulous tortes, terrines, and shrimp-gazpacho shooters, that I considered Hamilton’s original background in textiles, and for that matter, the relationship of this work to more explicitly body/boundary-conscious (and mostly installation) work.

An odd, lucky coincidence, I thought, that the Ruscha lithographs should present a similarly membranous aspect (which of course harmonized beautifully with the stocking/ski mask implications of a title like “Stick Up”). But much as I admired the almost sadistically sardonic Ruscha’s – their wit and elegance, I felt, at least for the evening, transported by the Hamiltons. They easily eclipsed almost everything in sight. At least on the first floor. (Yeah, I know – this is a non-stop TEASE.)

No, I’m not forgetting the Gehry lithos. Do I really have to say ANYTHING about those cocktail napkin scribblings? I’m sure they were perfectly charming – on those original cocktail napkins – but I still wouldn’t pay a price like that for them. Not even with the cocktail thrown in.

(Hang on with me just another moment, angels. MORE DANGEROUS CURVES COMING THIS WAY.)

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