Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Last Wave Good-Bye

8 September 2008

Seven nights or so ago, Gregory Poe left our company. My beloved Gregory Poe – I’m not sure if he ever made an appearance in this blog, under his own name or under some made-up monicker (something I occasionally do here). He was not ‘officially’ of the ‘art world’, though he certainly had an abiding interest, indeed a passion for it. And a great eye for it – or just about anything that touched the aesthetic realm. Or out of that ‘realm’ – meaning life. Gregory was one of those people, who for all their immersion in the world of art and the aesthetic (including design and style, generally), understood the difference between the two and was wise enough to choose life every time. Yes, wise – in spite of his own flaws and some foolish decisions, which he usually managed to see clearly amid many, many problems, difficulties, adversities enough to challenge anyone’s faith in life or art. Wise almost in spite of himself – he seemed to vanquish cynicism with his own cynical sensibility. Even in the fog of physical pain, depression, and (yes) drug dependency, he had a certain clarity that could cut through it all. He had no patience for anything less – from himself as much as anyone else.

Our ‘company’ – you were always on your best with Gregory – or you certainly tried to be. I make it sound a bit as if he were leaving a small party; and maybe that applies. You knew a party had already peaked when Gregory was about to leave. It was more or less, “Okay – yeah.” (Done this, seen that, made my point – the ‘point’, however subtle, however nuanced, always trenchant, even emphatic.) For someone who understood the social context as well and as deeply as Jane Austen and Joan Didion – especially L.A.’s – it’s hardly surprising that he knew how to navigate it. Gregory was famous for his own parties – some of them pretty big. (Gregory’s natural working environment might be the couture studio or the fashion runway, but I always thought the most natural habitat for him, at least here in L.A., was the rooftop of the Chateau Marmont.) And with Gregory you always felt as if you were at the hip center of the best, hippest party in town.

I should add that being on your best was less about how you looked (though, given Greg’s acute and encompassing gaze, it could hardly be overlooked) than what you presented – an idea, a story, an original voice, a line (in any sense), even a riff. It was all about the improvisation, the dance, the conversation. Greg loved jazz and jazz singers; and I think that was far from coincidental. Start anywhere (a blues line – or just a blue line – would be just fine) and see where it took you; see where and with what (or in what) you might end up. At the same time, the sensualist in Greg could not help but be aware of ‘key’, ‘choreography’, shape, texture and tactility, composition, architecture. He consumed it all voraciously and returned it back in full as story, performance (yes – even over the phone – a kind of performance; no one who knew him, especially in L.A., will forget some of those telephone conversations), his work. You could almost say that Greg’s working method involved a similar aesthetic immersion. His genius was an uncanny blend of the cerebral and the tactile or sensual.

Genius. It’s not a word I use lightly; and I would be hard pressed to give an example of one of his creations that represented a crystallization or culmination of that genius. (I have no doubt, though – especially if I went back through archives of his years designing in Japan – that I would find something worthy of this description. There was so much that was amazing on its own terms.) Nevertheless, there was an audacity to Greg’s creativity, his vision that at its strongest, at its best, was akin to genius.

Some years ago I began to notice a type of street fashion that I described to one editor as a kind of bricolage – something that might have evolved out of grunge or similar tendencies, but far more individual, refined and with a far broader range of affect; and it occurs to me that Greg was a kind of bricoleur of couture and style long before the term even had much currency in the art world, much less the world of fashion and style-making. I wouldn’t exactly call what Greg did couture povera (though as I write this, I’m thinking Greg would find this worth a giggle); but, just as there was nothing in the aesthetic realm that escaped his notice, there was nothing in the world at large, however humble or luxurious, that he might not seize upon as material. Greg was the perpetual ‘daft – and deft – punk.’ It was no accident that his star emerged as punk began to crest. The aesthetic he created – at first in accessories that were seen at that hip mecca of the time, Fiorucci – was both one version of it and a retort to it that could have only originated in L.A. or southern California. (It was a viewpoint or aesthetic that began to be consolidated for a time in the magazine Wet. I remember going to the Opening Ceremony store here in L.A. for the first time, and, seeing the old Wet magazines scattered about the décor, having a sense of homecoming. I knew I had to bring Greg there. Once upon a time, Gregory would have sold his fashion lines there.) Our friend, Carla Weber, put her finger on Gregory’s working method brilliantly, I thought, at his wake just yesterday afternoon, drawing a bead on days spent working, watching movies hanging out, and all but losing (or finding) oneself in the hilarity of his conversation. “His output was massive, and fun and silly and naïve and glorious and absolutely sophisticated.”

It would be impossible to put one’s finger on Gregory’s particular creative spark, but somehow, out of this cocktail of conceptual guile and naiveté, he managed to synthesize something entirely original, provocative and on the pulse. It had to do with being open to inspiration from anything and anywhere – movies, music, the endless conversation, the moment. Carla says it far better than I can: “He kept you laughing, entertaining you with his beautiful, ludicrous vision and yet creating an intimacy that was highly intoxicating.” Yes. (I’m thinking of Gregory as the close friend he was now – that moment when, having disarmed you utterly with some amazing story – a ‘fractured flicker’ of the real and surreal in one sublimely told anecdote – he would touch down to earth and quietly elicit our own dark secrets and intimacies.) Carla again: “[H]e was excellent at not just dissecting people, but human nature in all its glorious vulnerability.”

Gregory’s talent as a raconteur partook, yet almost stood apart from his design gifts. I’m not sure I would go as far as Carla, who said the other day, “His capacity to create a new language from the English language was hilarious.” But I know what she means. It was that volatile synthesis of verbal and visual. Greg had the story-telling talent of a film-maker, and by that I mean a great film-maker. (The comparison that comes to mind most readily is Billy Wilder – especially in his Paramount collaborations with Charles Brackett. Greg could have written Foreign Affair – or maybe his own updated version. Another is Preston Sturges. I think of conversations I had with Greg – at bars, openings, after-parties, even on the phone – that could have been entire scenes out of Sturges movies.) No coincidence either that his knowledge of film was exhaustive. And, though he designed costumes for several films, it was a pity he didn't do more. He had an almost innate sense of story arc; and his comic timing was sui generis. (Move over – WAAAAYYY over – Andy Kaufman – and a million others. Greg as a newly minted angel: “Hey, YOU – all hundred of you – get off of MY cloud.”) He knew how to build the story, the moment, then throw it away. At his best it was almost breath-taking. (Maybe you’re right, Carla.)

And of course there’s the musical side to that gifted timing – and I think a bit of Oscar Levant. We were both fans; and I think somewhere at the surly, cynical edge of Greg’s wit was something that descends from the Levantine line. I remember my first encounter with Gregory (at the old Studio Grill on Santa Monica Boulevard across from Trader Joe’s), followed not long thereafter by a telephone conversation – a rundown (in every sense) of local design talent, each thumbnail sketch more scathing and hilarious than the last. (I was co-editing a special issue of L.A. Weekly at the time.) Greg’s telephone narrative could almost have been published verbatim (and probably should have, now that I think of the problems we had putting that issue together). By the time we put the issue to bed, Greg was on his way back to Japan; but I made a mental note to stay in touch, and somehow we did.

Gregory was formidable then. I can’t imagine what kind of impression I could have made at the time. My VERY brief jag of dressing in boutique or designer threads had long since passed and I felt lucky to have a nice pair of shoes on my feet. (Maybe it was the shoes.) But then, as Carla has noted many times, there was beneath that edge, that temperament (and boy did Greg have a temper) and genius, a fundamental humanity in touch with an entire spectrum of human nature. I was always amazed at how well Gregory – haut-bourgeois, Beverly Hills boy that he was to his core – could relate to everyone and anyone. Over the years, that surf samurai stance began to give way to something not quite so hard-edged and perhaps a bit vulnerable. Gregory was vulnerable. He stood up to the corporate Establishment as it was then arrayed in his industry and was tsunamied right back down. He picked himself up, of course, and took his surfboard back to L.A. But L.A., a city he loved and knew better than anyone I know, could also be the fabled City of Nets to its native son – something that Greg in his infinite cynicism could undoubtedly see through; yet he was repeatedly stymied by its upsets and betrayals. To look at the profusion of surf- and skate-wear lines here, to say nothing of elements seen in contemporary design everywhere from New York to Milan, is to see the remnants of a hundred design careers Greg might have had.

Greg and I never really discussed that local brand of shmatte – the kind of surf- and skate-wear that’s a drug on the market these days – at any length, though it’s impossible to ignore his enormous influence. Regardless of its ‘artistic’ embellishments, it would seem so passé, almost irrelevant in the context of Gregory’s own work and overall perspective. I can just imagine his withering assessment: e.g., ‘How THIRTY years ago – which was, fortunately, NOT the Sixties.’

He could still look fierce (he was fierce). Every once in a while, especially when it rained, he would wear a leatherette hood that looked like the sort of headgear a Roman Catholic prelate of the Late Renaissance or the Baroque might wear – on the battlefield or in the torture chambers of the Inquisition. He made one think of a Medici or Barberini cardinal or pope (in or out of the Bacon-esque blur). About a year ago, after undergoing a long (and long overdue) rehabilitation for his long-standing chemical dependencies, he emerged healthier than he’d been for more than a decade, but nevertheless delicate, still clearly in recovery. It would be a long road back to full health. Now his look took on something gentler, almost saintly (especially in those quiet moments that, to those of us who knew him well, signaled something more alarming, perhaps deadly, than it looked – the absolute exhaustion of his patience: ‘I’m going to suffer your idiocy for another 15 seconds and then I’m going to have to blow your head off, darling.’). How would Bacon have rendered Saint Jerome? I wonder.

It is almost too ironic that Greg’s latest design line was to be a line of urns and funerary objects (the designs I saw before his death were fantastic) – an irony Greg would of course have been the first to appreciate. But the cruelty of Greg being cut down on the eve of his third act is almost too much to bear at the moment. One season ends and another begins and it almost feels unseemly that Greg’s passing should be lost in this tumult (to say nothing of the distractions of politics). Or perhaps we’re just trying to find his voice, hear it again clearly in that confusion of sights and sounds. Only a few evenings ago, I was chatting with Mary Woronov, another close mutual friend, and we were trying to locate, recapture something of that voice, wit, that way of telling a story – something that between the two of us (or maybe three or four) we might, in theory, be able to do. We couldn’t come close.

Another mutual friend rang up to say, "Wow -- this is really going to blow a hole in your life." He wasn't kidding; but I'm in -- well, good company: Mary, Carla, Pat Loud, Robbie Cavolina, among others; and, it goes without saying, his brother, Jeff -- the Poe of Blum and Poe -- as formidable as a sibling as he is in that global province we call the art world. No one loved his brother as well as Jeff.

There was laughter as well as tears at Greg’s wake; but – you couldn’t help but think – not as much as there would have been if Greg had been there. It’s a cliché to mourn the passing of youth and laughter in the wake of an untimely passing; but there was a kind of joie and verve, spontaneity and effervescence that seemed to pass before us and into the shadows, despite the afternoon’s lambent sunlight. I thought of the end of a book I had recently finished in a jag of research for a pitch – Nancy Mitford’s biography of the Marquise de Pompadour. Mitford’s description of Pompadour’s final recessional goes as follows:

“[The King] watched the Marquise as she went back up the long Avenue de Paris; in the bitter wind he stood there without coat or hat until she was out of sight. Then he turned away, tears pouring down his cheeks. ‘That is the only tribute I can pay her.’

“After this a great dullness fell upon the Château of Versailles.”

After Gregory’s passing, a great dullness seemed to fall upon the aquamarine skies of Los Angeles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sweet flipping bird

1 September 2008

Where does a wild woman go?* Well look – I don’t call it awol for nothing. You want a story? Let’s see: I was doing corporate espionage in Prague and Budapest. Or was it just Prague? Or Buda? Or Pest? (Not an unlikely scenario when you think about it – assuming one of the people involved was divorce litigant, no? Kidding. Seriously – kidding.) I was pirating (legal) substances between Spain and Morrocco. But that took all the fun out of it, right? Like you need to have MORE FUN in Spain?? But then Fez – not necessarily about FUN, right? But I really don’t know anything beyond Barcelona and Casablanca. Seriously. (Oh jesus if you only knew who I sounded like right now.) I was held hostage by Robert Wilson’s minions at the Water Mill in Southampton. Or was it just a toxic reaction to that Botox blitz after a multi-magnum Champagne OD in some designer’s digs in Montauk? Or Malibu? Return to the Chateau. Marmont.

No – the closest I got to Barcelona this summer was via Woody Allen and Vicky Cristina. Disappointing but delicious anyway. My immobility puts a new spin on the stay-cation concept altogether. Oh I’m getting around a bit – but it’s exhausting – I’m not sure which is more – the fuel prices or just the endless driving (it would be so nice to have a driver in this town ). I’ve been out a bit – films (well it’s summer; you know you’re going to go to some movies even if they’re bad), performances, new music, the usual action in the museums and galleries. There’ve been a few interesting group shows around town (e.g., Circus, Fette; a nice sculpture show at Western Project). I haven’t been to the Conceptualism show at MOCA yet; but seems as if it would be a great follow-up to the Lawrence Weiner show that closed a month or so ago. But the last few nights have been mostly about politics. Thursday was officially Barack’s night – in L.A. as well as Denver; but so was Sunday afternoon. My genius producer pals Jane Cantillon and Richard Ross, who have lately reincarnated themselves as a nightclub act (so much more entertaining than your garden-variety superhero/heroine), threw a benefit together in their beautiful garden and raised a small truckload of money for Obama. I suppose that means for the U.S.A. – since the Bush administration have put a whole new perverse spin on the “Ask not what your country can do for you;” concept. They’ve made it pretty clear that that a Republican government is not going to be doing anything for anyone or any part of this country outside the wealthiest .25 percent or the oil/energy or military industrial sectors. Am I hopeful? It’s too early to ask. But at least it makes me feel less exhausted.

Oh who am I kidding? If I were any more exhausted, I’d be something like Alexandra del Lago in Sweet Bird of Youth – “Oxygen. Oxygen!” – trying to connect with my inhaler. (“Who are you? I don’t know you.”) Gee, isn’t that an appropriate metaphor for life in Los Angeles? Trying to stay connected to that creative spark without blowing up the hotel room. Trying to connect to the inhaler or oxygen mask. Just trying to breathe. It gets a little overwhelming.

Or maybe just exasperating. I’m not the most patient person around. Certainly not at 9:00 in the morning. (My father says it’s just our DNA – of which mine is a particularly defective specimen.) Which is around the time I was flipping through the latest W Magazine this past Saturday morning. What can I say? It’s that time of the year, kids (I almost typed ‘ids’ – I guess that would apply, too). No, no, no – I’m so past the shmatte – no patience for that, either (and goddess knows, no money for it). But…. well, there’s always something in les modes, no? Whether it’s some jacket in pink-satin that looks like a cross between a bed-jacket and a life-preserver, or some bauble that looks like a prosthetic or silicone implant. (Okay, I’m looking for something, uh, new, okay??) Or – I don’t know – I’ve gotta figure out some way to look, no? And then there’s the terrific photography. Fabulous editorial spread by Juergen Teller, featuring that terrific actress and human work of art, Tilda Swinton. (You thought I was going to say, Björk, huh?) A couple of others -- two Kates -- by the team of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot -- Hudson (new and improved); Moss -- same-old and fabulous). Of course, this being that time of year, as I said, they're also going to throw some art and culture at us, and of course they do. Tara Donovan -- show coming up, great studio, great new house in Brooklyn; Philippe de Montebello -- getting ready to retire, not exactly someone making the rounds in Chelsea every week, but a class act nonetheless; Liza Lou -- show coming up (at L&M), colonizing the bead craft work force of Durban, South Africa to build her over-sized lunatic baubles. (Come to think of it, it would almost make sense as jewellery.)

Yeah -- did anyone else read that? It was too early in the morning for the adrenaline to start flowing. In the hour or two before cocktails, believe me I would have been seeing stars -- no need for Ms. Lou's sparklers, thank you. As if there hasn't been enough ink spilled over her sorry ass -- we have to have a full color spread documenting her exploitation for the sake of kitsch on a grand scale? On a fascist scale. Make no mistake about it -- this kitsch Guantanamo in fiberglass, crystal and bugle beads -- in no way transfigures its grim subject. It's just a Disney-fied monument to fetish. As if her being awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant wasn't enough to make you throw up. And the writer's (Christopher Bagley) studied neutrality gets to be a bit much.

Lou tries to answer her critics and just digs herself a deeper hole. "It's summing up someone's lifework as a mental oddity.... What's far more frightening for people is to consider the possibility that I'm completely aware of what I'm doing." Yes -- it is a lifework as "mental oddity"; and yes, her awareness of what she's doing makes it far more frightening." Her studio/workshop set-up sounds like a Jim Jones/People's Temple cult camp. Everything but the cyanide Kool-Aid, which I'm sure you'd be begging for at the end of a workday. If you didn't figure in the desert/heat and the overseers with the whips, you'd think the Egyptian slaves building the pyramids got a better deal. At least they were building an architectual monument, a wonder of the world. Lou's wage-slaves (and you can imagine what those wages probably are) are only building a monument to their master's fatuousness. (Robert Pincus-Whitten is quoted and it's hilarious -- and embarrassing, and damning -- in its absurdity: "There's that ambiguity between the extremely luxurious and the politically terrifying." Move over Damien Hirst -- let Liza Lou and Walt Disney show you how it's REALLY done. Did he get paid to write that? Or is he suffering from dementia?) And please don't even think about throwing that comparison with Late Antique or Renaissance mosaic work at me. Those artists and artisans may have worked like slaves, but they were artisans, not slaves, not piece-workers; cognizant of their important creative role in the great studios and workshops.

Setting aside the colonialism, the exploitation, even the not-so-latent fascism of the work -- it's just BAD. Lou is quoted as saying that in art school, "I was really hated for what I was doing." Are you sure YOU were hated, Liza? Maybe what was hated was just the work -- what you were doing. The rest of the pull-quote is "I was this strange little person, making things." Yeah -- you could say the same thing about the Unabomber. I could go on. There's sheer insanity in every paragraph -- presented entirely without comment, challenge, cross-examination or any qualification or analysis whatsoever by the apparently anesthetized reporter.

Enough. To think -- all those thousands of man- (or woman-)hours of drudgery and all those thousands of beaded and sequinned dresses all over the world that need repair -- including one or two in my closet. Can we talk about some real sparklers now? The healing kind -- brought to you by Shirley MacLaine. She calls it "Chakra Sky Jewelry." "Align your Spirit, Body, and Mind with sacred geometrical forms and healing colors of the rainbow that are imprinted with Chi energy." A priestess in the Rat Pack -- who knew? Oh, if they could see you now, honey. (What would Dino say???) You can't make this stuff up. Does Warren know about this? Why couldn't she just stick to acting and dancing? Or even writing. Honey, this time you've gone WAY too far out on that limb.

* The line (by Susan Tyrrell and Gregory Poe) is from Susan Tyrrell's one-woman show, My Rotten Life.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Champagne III -- Between the Ozone and the Carpet of Lights

19 July 2008

I had a relatively quiet Bastille Day -- spent with, among others, L.A.'s Dopest and a small section of her posse at Il Buco and a few other pals at Vermont. But, after the fireworks of the week-end, I was ready to call it an early evening and dive back into (appropriately enough -- see below) War and Peace.

14 July 2008

That line below, of course, from the film, Boom, which was adapted by Tennessee Williams from his play, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth (Taylor), one of the ‘world’s richest women’ to inquiring writer/journalist/fortune-seeker or who-knows-what, Chris Flanders (Burton), who’s also known as an ‘angel of death’ because all the women he visits die soon after he leaves. Needless to say, Goforth/Taylor is not ‘going forth’, as she puts it, without one helluva fight. (I’ve gotta say, this is not a very good movie; but just writing those lines makes me want to see it again. What’s wrong with me? Frustrated Lautner-lust? PS – if the people involved with those Lautner house tours, including the hosts, wouldn’t mind, awol would love to come along – with Opera Buddy maybe? Or how about my Glam Gemini Genius collector pal (a/k/a, Marvellous (the Other) Marlene? I promise to be on my best behavior.)

By the way, before I skip on, what’s the deal with Lautner (in a zillion different texts I’ve come across recently – though not the catalog, which I haven’t seen yet) being referred to as a “little known” L.A. architect? Gee, that’s news to me. As compared to whom?? As far as I was aware, he’s been a fairly big name since I arrived on the scene here in Los Angeles some 20 years ago, at least in architectural circles. And of course, who could miss some of his more iconic houses from their many appearances in films and on broadcast television? Taschen of course now famously owns the famous Chemosphere house (ps – Benedikt, Angelika – perhaps we could have a chat up at the house about that book I should be writing for you. Big Kiss x 2.) (Oh no – am I beginning to sound like Edward (“Art Talk”) Goldman of KCRW? Please shoot me if that ever happens.)

Even before we got to the car, Opera Buddy was suddenly not feeling too well; and her dogs had to be walked before she could rest; so we parted at ACE. I had no sooner reached the elevator, though, when I was told they had stopped letting people up. I could understand that the galleries might be crowded (this was an ACE opening after all – which always attracts small cities of people, many of whom don’t ordinarily go to art openings), but it was before 10 p.m. and (as I was told initially) the opening didn’t officially begin until 8:00 p.m. Two hours would be a short time simply to take in this rather extensive and large-scale show – forget about the opening. But now I was told the opening was to close at 10 p.m. and no one would be admitted upstairs regardless how many came down. I almost gave up, but fortunately one of Doug’s lovely staffers came downstairs to rescue me. Security was heavy throughout the gallery, and I doubt I would have been able to make it beyond the first two galleries if not for the gallery staff and Pullen, herself, who, overheated and exhausted, was finally beginning to blow off steam and getting ready to go to the after-party at Luna Park.

As I indicated below, in part, the show is an outgrowth and extension of the Revolutionary Soldiers she presented through ACE at their photoLA booth in January. This was some of the strongest work seen at that fair – but what was interesting was how much darker some of these panels were, though, no differently from the brighter ones, also 3-layer Dura transparencies (as far as I am aware). Moving further into the galleries, though, we were suddently brought shockingly up to date – with close-up images of soldiers, some apparently wounded or languishing in various war-theatre settings – in bright vivid color. It only got stranger and more surreal as one moved through the cavernous galleries and as Pullen segued from wounded soldiers and battlefields to the weaponry itself, not excluding the microcosmic frontiers of warfare our brass were so apprehensive about in the lead-up to and initial invasion of Iraq. I’m talking about biological and chemical warefare. Transparencies of enlarged specimens of bacteria like anthrax glowed like surreal landscapes in their dark recessed spaces – subterranean, malevolent Miros – yet magnetic and compelling; dazzling in cerulean blues, cerises and glowing ambers. ACE was the perfect setting for a show – and it is a show – of this scale; but, no question about it, I’m going to have to re-visit it at a slightly more leisurely pace. There’s simply too much to see. I mean, this is almost a kind of surreal movie; and I had to wonder if this is a direction Pullen may be moving in. (She would not be alone, of course – consider Bruce Conner (may that genius rest in peace) or Julian Schnabel.) It is an enormous, almost visionary, undertaking of considerable historical as well as aesthetic sweep.

Pullen and her exhausted crew were already toasting with vodka shots before everyone was out of the gallery; and by the time she arrived at Luna Park, she was already coming apart a bit, with the release of what must have been an enormous burden of energy, angst and sheer physical tension from the exhausting ordeal of putting the show together and installing it that she had just come through. It was as if she had just come home from World War III and was overwhelmed by it all – the crushing agony of everything seen and done and the sudden emptiness of the safe place she suddenly found herself surrounded by. There were clearly a few issues to be addressed; but she was at that moment entirely unequipped to deal with them. After her triumph, she needed some reassurance; and I certainly hope she got it (and perhaps something to eat, too). There wasn’t too much I could add to the accolades besides, ‘Relax, Melanie – you won.'

Champagne II: Valium of the Dolls

Late as always -- I'm posting these notes under a full moon (easily eclipsing Warner/Nolan's Dark Knight, I think, notwithstanding record grosses).

13-14 July 2008

Where was I? I make it sound (see below) as if Opera Buddy and I couldn’t wait to get away from the Fraser/Angstrom shows – but that’s not entirely true. In fact, the collector pal we were waiting for had already skipped over to the Hammer; and, aside from that shlep, we had quite a bit of ground to cover. (OB does tend to breeze through shows; but there were movies to see and dogs (2) to walk, so I think we can both be excused for pushing the pace a bit.) I have to say, we both enjoy the Fraser openings, which usually bring together a number of different contingents from L.A.’s art scene – from Honor’s own posse of artists (I think I’ve seen Rosson Crow at almost all the openings I’ve been to (including her own, natch), always looking smashing, whether done up as a Vegas chorine (as she was at her opening), or as her own glam self – in a charming pale sequined shift last night), to L.A. and visiting artists, to the scenesters, students and looky-loos (I guess that includes people like me), to the collectors. Honor brings out the collectors (e.g., Lenore and Herb Schorr – who were there last night, just as they had been to Honor’s Kristin Calabrese-curated group show last summer) because, between her curators and her own savvy pulse-taking of the Zeitgeist, she can usually be counted on to bring gallery audiences something both bracingly intelligent and just under the radar – stuff we may only be seeing for the first time, but find immediately compelling if not irresistible – in short what any serious collector of contemporary art is looking for. In other words – it’s a good party: the boldface names, known quantities, together with the ingénues, the ciphers, and perhaps a few unwitting geniuses.

The title of the Hammer Lautner show was Between Heaven and Earth, but the scene there Saturday night was more like “Between Tokyo and Mumbai.” It was more crowded than any opening I’ve ever attended there. We casually sauntered in, thinking it couldn’t be any more crowded than the entry areas seemed to indicate; but the very fact neither our invites nor credentials were checked should have given us some sense of the enormous surge that had just made its way into the museum’s courtyard. But there was no trouble getting to the bar, and it was only once we were on the second floor that we realized that something like a quarter of the L.A. art world might be there. The galleries were literally packed – with a line snaking out the door and extending clear down one side past the bar towards the bookstore and deejays. It might as well have been the line for Hellboy II (which extended around the corner of Hillhurst and Sunset Drive just past the Vista Theatre in my neighborhood). We headed for the bookstore – which is one of my favorite museum bookstores. It also has the best children’s section of any museum bookstore – maybe one of the best children’s sections of any bookstore; I’ve dropped a small fortune on books and toys for my nephew, Rufus, there and usually head straight to it – bypassing the catalogs and critical texts (of which they also have an excellent selection) until I’ve found something fabulous for him (and occasionally myself).

We took our time in the bookstore, but by the time we stepped out, there was still a line – a bit shorter, but nevertheless. A glimpse inside one of the galleries confirmed our worst expectations – i.e., what would we actually see? It was as if the entire Day of the Locusts swarm from Thursday night’s downtown art walk, had reconstituted itself in the two Lautner galleries. (About that scene, more later perhaps – talk about madding crowds! – you have no idea.) We strolled around a bit; we certainly weren’t alone. There were many familiar amid the many not-so-familiar faces in the throng. OB said she probably wouldn’t recognize Ann Philbin because she changes her look (or hair, mostly) too frequently – and indeed she had this evening; but there’s no mistaking her for anyone else – different hair, as chic as ever. OB wanted to look at the Henry Coombes video; but finally decided she lacked the patience to sit through it. I may have strained OB’s patience a bit myself, getting caught up in an engaging conversation triggered by – what else? – our admiring a pair of shoes (Louboutin). The conversation, though, was mostly with her equally chic pal, Neely, who runs a boutique a stone’s throw away from Fred Segal called Xin (I could be wrong about the store name). I had to ask her if her parents had named her after the character, Neely O’Hara (from Jackie Susann’s Valley of the Dolls); and she confessed they had. The real irony, as should be plain, is that there are a million Neelys in this town (and about a thousand of them might have been right there at the Hammer that night); but Xin’s Neely is definitely not one of them. On the other hand, she probably helps dress or accessorize half those Neelys at her boutique. Our conversation, however, was about neither shoes, nor clothes, accessories, pulp fiction, or even art or architecture, but about police harassment, and the grim aftermath of almost any arrest or detention – especially here in Los Angeles. Her scary (but hilariously told) narrative of a detention under the most slender of pretexts by some machineheads in blue in Fresno, prompted me to mention my acquaintance with “L.A.’s Dopest,” the criminal defense attorney, Allison Margolin (an artillery advertiser, I am delighted to disclose), whose business card I carry with me always – packed in my shoulder bag in close proximity to my Valium, another psycho-pharmaceutical essential for coping with the boys in blue (slow your racing heart as you speed-dial La Dopest on the cell). I suppose the logical thing would be to have a bail-bondsman’s card in there, too; but that’s more reality than I can bear.

Neely O’Hara (or at least the updated character from the movie version), of course, would have lived in a Lautner house. How could she not, with that reaching for the stars ambition, the skyscraping highs (in every sense) and the plunge-to-the-canyon floor lows? Lautner’s Marbrisa residence in Acapulco – stretched eerily (airily?) between its defiance of gravity and reach for infinity – always struck me as the kind of residence in which only gods or movie superstars could fashion a viable domesticity. It makes me think of the Burtons in Joseph Losey's Boom (although Marbrisa was built somewhat later – in 1973). Lautner would have known how to build a sort of chambered Nautilus of a doll, poised cliffside as if spilling artlessly from a prescription pill bottle. I guess I’m also getting at the particular mystery and mystique Lautner’s architecture holds for me, the contradictions; the qualities that are soaring and transcendent and the qualities that seem alienated and distinctly anti-urban. (Lautner was famously contemptuous of the city his houses were designed to overlook.) I can’t wait to see the show. I’ve heard the catalog is pretty good, too.

In the meantime, while Neely and I were chatting it up, our Very Independent Topanga Artist pal told us we had just missed our collector pal, and we were anxious to get back to ACE to see the Pullen show. So it was back into the night – the stars, the cars … “Ah, the insincere sympathy of the faraway stars.”

Monday, July 14, 2008

Are You There, Champagne? It's Me, Ezrha.*

* [with apologies to Chelsea Handler]

13 July 2008 (later)

(Okay, bear in mind I’m a bit looped – several glasses of Champagne + 1 yerba buena non-filtered will have that effect – but that’s this afternoon, not last night, so my impressions should stand unencumbered by tonight’s perceptual alterations.) It was sort of a hoot to be followed only a few paces behind by Maestro Baldessari – in the company of Meg Cranston, whom I hadn’t seen for an even longer interval. I wasn’t really eavesdropping on his comments and conversation, but Opera Buddy and I enjoyed picking up the occasional tidbit here and there. It’s weird – I was weird – but I sometimes feel a bit sheepish in his company. I said hello to Meg, but not to – I almost want to say ‘God’. I’m out of my mind – so much l’étudiante devant le maître – which in a sense I must always be; but then back in the car, I’m ready to tear apart each and every thing and maybe even the entire show entirely on my own criteria. (Which we sort of did – OB & moi.) I will say, the god JB did seem to echo my own impressions about a couple of the pieces in the show. Out of the 12 or 13 artists in the show, only half made a particularly strong impression, though there was wit in abundance. Renee Petropoulos’s wall hangings in dense overlaid matrices of black and white ribbon, “Hello, Hello” and “Naaa, Na Na Na Naaa” were by far the most completely realized formally and perhaps the most successful pieces in the show, even achieving some degree of concordance with Klonarides’ title or theme for the show, (Dis)Concert, which in other ways made scant sense overall. (I can see an element of ‘disconcert’ or even simply, ‘dis’; but the point of many if not most of these pieces is quite distant if not entirely opposed to any notion of ‘concert’. There were exceptions – e.g., Cindy Bernard’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” single-channel video – which was pretty hilarious, albeit more or less static. (Cindy Bernard also did the almost scary photograph of Tower Records on Sunset – many months after its closing and stripped of all identifying insignia. Yeah, that too works on the level of ‘disconcert’. There’s an element of memento mori in a lot of this material.) But, as I say, these were exceptions. I liked Jennie C. Jones’ ‘drawings,’ if you will, in magnetic audiotape pressed under its glass. I’ll bet you never thought there was any use for Kenny G recordings (I include all media, of course). Well, after these witty, diagrammatic, almost epigrammatic ‘relief’ drawings, there’s one less use. They’re called “Breathless,” after Kenny G’s 1992 recording, Breathless. I also liked her impeccably titled hanging in cascading earbuds and wires, “Silent Clusterfuck (Black and Blue).” Kaz Oshiro’s “Wall Cabinet #2 (Sonic Youth), with its witty homage to Raymond Pettibon via that old record cover, is absolutely killer, of course. Delightful to see it here. I could go on a bit, but I’m just going to stop there. Among the other artists – Martin Kersels, Steve Roden (problematic), Stephen Vitiello (jokey or manipulative), Nadine Robinson, and Eamon Ore-Giron (speaking of album covers).

I noticed that for some of the pieces, there was a reference on the checklist to a “percentage of proceeds [of the sale presumably]” “serv(ing) as a donation to SASSAS – The Society for the Activation of Social Space Through Art and Sound.” Gee – we have to make a donation for that? We need a special “Society” for that?? I thought that was already done through, uh, sound and – oh yeah -- society – as in our not-so-Great one. Of course art never hurts; ditto that special kind of sound we call, music, even when it’s not very good. But isn’t that kind of ‘activation’ really just about engagement? Conversation? Communication? I’ll take that discount now, Steve (Roden), Martin (Kersels) -- & Steve (Turner). Kidding. Anyway, the one I really want is that elegant …. Oh forget about it. Or have I already? That’s the other thing. The premise for the show seemed a bit thin. Whatever the merits of the individual pieces, they didn’t necessarily add up to a thesis of any particular consistency much less cogency.

So much for the conceptual. John, cher Maître – isn’t it nice to know you’re still needed? And judging from what’s out there now, it looks like you always will be. Anyway, after I-Kinda-Wanna-High-Concept, we headed over to Honor Fraser, who was opening what seemed a far more eclectic (also simply bigger) group show. We had tentative plans to hook up with a collector pal who I thought should reacquaint herself with Honor as well as some of the gallery’s more recent offerings; but it was not to be. (She will eventually, I have no doubt; there is simply way too much going on here.) Coincicidentally, there was almost way too much going on in the show – with another double-bind kind of title, Jekyll Island – curated by Max Henry and Erik Parker (I know absolutely nothing about either of them). The title still throws me a bit. “Jekyll”? “Island” As in “Doctor”? Or are we talking about the Barrier island off the north coast of Georgia? With its famed plantations? Or its late 19th/early 20th century club for the emerging American ruling class? All of the above? There’s just a whiff of the political/paranoiac in a number of these (mostly) paintings. It’s the sort of thing that sort of oozes through the pores, in a manner of speaking, of the kind of painting that Steve DiBenedetto does (a kind of wildly expressionist fantasy that once upon a time I would have said was influenced by looking at too much comicbook porn – but now? Well, no one else has a palette (or palate?) quite like DiBenedetto’s). And, looking over the checklist again, what about something titled “Fuck the Flag” (Lizzi Bougatsos)? I guess there’s no getting away from either the porn or the political. But there’s also a risk of excessive calculation, of literal-mindedness here; in other words, the stuff that kills art. Agit-prop may go over well enough with a population of sheep (ask Rove and Cheney); but agit-porn is more fun for the rest of us. That includes the kind of agit-pastiche represented here by Joop van Liefland. ‘How old are you?’ I want to ask. 'Nineteen? You didn’t get this out of your system in art school?' Come back to the art world after your nineteenth nervous breakdown. I’m not a great fan of Glenn Brown, but there’s no denying he’s an interesting artist and no telling where he might go with the material he’s working with – in this instance the straightforwardly iconic, both as painting and as object (these from 1994 and 1999, respectively), both poignantly titled: “Beatification” and “These Days.” There was also beautiful painting from Shintaro Miyake and Jin Meyerson (though the kind of overbroad excursive style of something like his “The Lost Splendor of Meanings” became self-fulfilling prophesy – negating both splendor and meaning). Peter Saul, whose pop expressionism has never shied from the political, was of course hard to miss (“Stuck” (2007) – I always think Saul’s 20-odd year stint in Texas had some warping effect on his art – not that that’s a bad thing). But I was far more intrigued by Phoebe Unwin’s more elusive, miasmic style (offset in the smaller panels by a deep, almost jewel-like palette). I’m looking for Jekylls and Hydes in my ‘political’ ‘iconography’, or maybe the Hydes buried somewhere deep within – or his victims. (And then you wonder how we politically orchestrate this business. That usually leads me straight to the bar.)

Instead, after a quick stroll through the group show at Angstrom (there were a few interesting things – but maybe I can get to that another time), we got back into the car and drove to the Hammer for the John Lautner opening. (MORE TO COME)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Mid-Summer Night's Concept High -- just try smoking this.

12-13 July 2008

It was a classic L.A. mid-summer’s evening: competing priority openings – both group and solo shows – or premieres, hot movies, a Hammer opening bash (John Lautner architecture), and a pre-apocalyptic ‘conceptual art’ event on the Santa Monica beach and Pier. (The balance swung heavily to the conceptual end of things from the get-go. As we parked Opera Buddy’s dog-mobile around the corner from Carl Berg, we noticed a car with a white-haired gent pulling in behind us. “That looks like John Baldessari,” I said. “I don’t think so,” OB says. “Oh yeah, he’s probably too wrapped up in that “Glow” business in Santa Monica.” Then we walked into Carl Berg – and there he was, right behind us.) Too much heat in every sense (not to mention the unusual humidity), too much driving, and too much drinking – hopefully not mixed (I mean the driving and drinking), but by evening’s end (or morning’s beginning – the Santa Monica thing was scheduled to wrap at 7:00 a.m.), who could tell?

Fearless Leader had dictated a stop at ACE (the mid-Wilshire galleries) – and besides, I was anxious to see what Melanie Pullen was going to show after the major studio soundstage shoots she had planned immediately after the photoLA debut of her revolutionary soldier series. What had been tentatively planned sounded nothing short of amazing – something on the order of a fire-bombed Berlin, circa April 1945. My Flynt Building duties kept me away from the shoot, but my imagination drifted to baroque-bunker grotesqueries somewhere between Gregory Crewdson, Joel-Peter Witkin and – well, Melanie Pullen. It wasn’t as if the High Fashion Crime Victim series lacked for elaborate scenarios. The scheduled show was titled Violent Times which seemed to promise both a broad expansion of the thematic drift of what I saw at photoLA and perhaps an excursion into the brutal actualities of the contemporary social, cultural and political landscapes. It was – and on more levels and by entirely unexpected and unpredictable means than I’m prepared to address immediately – but it almost didn’t matter because I could scarcely lay eyes on more than a half dozen of the panels before I was told to come back later, that the opening would not start until 8:00 p.m. I could see that workmen were still installing show; but still, the irony was almost too killing. I am almost NEVER even on time for anything, much less early. And it was 6:00 p.m., not even 5:00 p.m., which is not an unusual start time for these things. Opera Buddy buzzed me from her car as I was about to get into the elevator, not realizing I was already there. We had a laugh over it as we regrouped and headed over to LACMA-land. The only thing I really had a good look at were a few of the American Revolutionary soldier pictures I had previously seen at photoLA; but peering deep down the hall into the back galleries, I could see some darker panels that looked different from anything I had previously seen from Pullen, so we were intrigued enough to want to come back.

Our next scheduled stop was Steve Turner, where Carole Ann Klonarides was curating a conceptual show based on sound – objects that made sound, were about sound or who-knows-what. All we knew was that Carole Ann curated it, Opera Buddy’s pals recommended it, and that was enough for both of us. But there was no point stopping there and not checking out the Carl Berg group show, too, which also seemed to have a pronounced conceptual bent – with a few twists and turns amid the sensory and occult. Time, Space & Alchemy was the title, and the only artist I knew anything about was Andrew Krasnow – whose piece – an hourglass trickling sand onto a pair of iron rods seemed to have both cosmic and very earthbound implications (impossible not to think of the WTC twin towers in that configuration – that a bit of a bore). It only got more conceptual from there (that should be a good thing, right? uh, maybe not). Ephraim Puusemp showed “Thirteen Balls” (2000-2008), somehow rolled together from dust found in tires (no shit) and presented in an elaborate box with a legend engraved on an aluminum plate – and a somewhat elaborate explanation. I’m sure there are some notes somewhere that can enlighten me about this; but my feeling generally, is that if a piece takes longer than the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle to figure out, it’s . . . . – well, it’s a problem. Carrie Paterson showed what looked like molecular models that were actually flagons for perfume essences (which could be sampled at a counter she set up in the second gallery). It beats the perfume counters at Barneys anyway – Simon Doonan, take note. Opera Buddy liked Claudia Bucher’s “Probe” – a kind of giant laser dragonfly constructed out of plastic tool packaging and Plexiglas – and so did I; but although OB liked the delicacy of the flickering LEDs in the “laser” housing, I thought it just made the thing hokier. So it was on to Steven Turner’s.

(I interrupt this narrative (or its editing anyway) to go to my publisher’s birthday party. MORE TO COME – I promise.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Interesting": Euphemism for "Sucks"? Or just what it says?

14 June 2008

I realize my last preamble turned into something of an essay. I don’t think I need to apologize – and I never would anyway; but it occurs to me that the reader might be forgiven for thinking s/he had stumbled into the wrong blog. However, (again) before I post any notes on what I’ve actually been looking at (last night, an old – but dazzling – movie, War and Peace – the first two parts of a four part, seven-hour marathon of a movie – the 1965-68 Russian treatment of the Tolstoy novel (I think there was an older attempt – American or international co-production – made in the late 1950s, which, from what I’ve seen of it, is markedly inferior) – parts of which I can’t get out of my head), a postamble, if you will, on the sort of thing that might, hypothetically, be going through my head as I walk through or view a show (any show, really) for the first time. In other words, a headnote in the most literal sense. I was downtown for some openings this evening, including a couple in Chinatown (ps – I love Chinatown). Tennis Buddy was there, along with her brainiac sister, Jill; also, genius bricoleur and compleat artist, Frohawk Two Feathers – and a host of others from all parts of the L.A. art world – in fact all parts of the world. As openings go, a complete success. (Uh-oh – I can see the alarms going off – hang on for a second, will ya?) It was not, however, a particularly easy show (or certainly not in any but the most ridiculously superficial sense). In fact, appearances to the contrary (or not), it was fairly dense in context (historical and otherwise), craft and media, and, generally, in the process of its making, effectively setting up a dynamic tension with the finished work itself. (I was certainly not alone in remarking on this apparent emphasis on process.) As I stepped outside for a breath of air, I was greeted again by the gallerist putting on the show. “So – what do you think?” At this point, of course, I was the one heavily immersed in 'process'; in short I was still mentally processing the show – there was a lot to take in and a lot to think about. “It’s very interesting,” I said, aware that I probably sounded pretty neutral, or even a bit pat, about it. “Interesting?” she shot back, laughing a bit. “That means it sucked!”

There’s no escaping the fact that when a presumably friendly viewer says something like this at an opening/private view, at least 50 percent of the time, that is almost exactly what it means. Of course, the other 50 percent of the time, it simply means what it says, and even possibly something slightly more flattering. Chez moi, more often than not, it means, ‘I need to take my eyes off of it for a second and take my brain for a little stroll down the La Cienega and Washington Boulevards (or for that matter Wilshire or Chung King or Michigan or Main Streets) of recent memory.’ Sometimes it means anything between ‘I’m absolutely dazzled’, and – see above – and ‘I’m simply perplexed’, and – ditto. In this particular instance, what I had seen resonated on certain levels with a number of different things (mostly painting; also some photography) I had seen within the last month or several months, both here (in fact, on the aforementioned La Cienega) and in New York. So I was thinking about the fact that a number of artists seemed to be referencing certain (historical, among others) sources, subjects and structures in common; and also, as I mentioned, the relative complexity, even density of this particular artist’s process, more or less transparent in the work itself. Also about the specific historical contexts referenced. Now, many hours later, I actually can give a (still completely superficial) opinion. Yes – I liked the show. Dazzled? No – but that doesn’t say anything about the artist or the show, either. It wasn’t that kind of a show (and he’s not really that kind of an artist).

Just one more thing that separates fine art from – well, theatre for starters. It’s a tricky business. As everyone knows, this is stuff for the long haul. More than dance, theatre, music, literature, film, we tend to be thinking (if not looking) across the far horizon line; fully aware, furthermore, just how that horizon line may shift over ten, fifty, or the next 100 years. We’re not sitting through the after party or waiting overnight for the notices. What is to be celebrated is simply that it happened. To the extent that it is noticed – ideally, in some dynamic relation with the way it’s produced, perhaps – is all gravy. Fortunately, there are committed audiences here in Los Angeles and around the world for the fine art produced here (or for our galleries). The dialogue may not shape the art; but it may refine it to some extent; and certainly it contributes to the way we view it and think about it.

And anyway who cares what I think? At least for now – until my next deadline. (Coming up in another ten days or so, if I’m not mistaken.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Elegance as protest: Yves Saint Laurent -- Exemplary Sufferer, Exemplary Pleasure-Seeker

I started writing this, thinking it would simply be a preamble to the rest of my C.O.L.A. and L.A.C.E. auction (RePresent) notes (and a few other things); but, as you can see, it turned into a more extended digression -- almost an essay which, rather than pick over further, as it seems like I've been doing the last few days in and out of the Flynt Building (or in and out of bed), I've decided to post as is before I even post the rest of my notes (as well as the notes from the last couple of week-ends). I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'd need to take a breath after the block of text that follows. (Sorry about that.) You'd be forgiven for calling it nostalgia; but I prefer to look at it as Obama damage -- the 'damage' of hope. After this past Tuesday, I think I can be forgiven.

My hopes are now ... with the Lakers, of course.

2-3 June 2008

Saint Laurent is dead this evening as I write this. Shocking to think how large his shadow loomed only a few years ago – though, of course, it was just a shadow. He went out with fireworks – closing his house as if he were drawing the curtain on the spectacle of a century. But his glory – the sense of celebration and rebellion; the rigorous luxury; the avant-garde snickering at and seduction of the bourgeoisie; the seriously subversive, seriously elegant, seriously Parisian, seriously French qualities that characterized his greatest couture productions and the original rive gauche boutique lines – of his glory days had long since passed. To watch Saint Laurent moving haltingly, almost painfully among the sumptuous fabrics, the beautiful fitting models -- and his staff of brilliant couture professionals under the guidance of his muse and major domo, Loulou de la Falaise, taking the pulse, as it were, of both designs and designer – in the film, 5 Avenue Marceau, was almost painful. You had the sense that the pleasure of a luxurious fabric sculpted into a finished piece, the fragile beauty of the dressed model were his only oxygen. (It couldn’t have helped that he smoked incessantly.) You had the sense that the work alone was keeping him alive.

That Tom Ford managed to resurrect some of the qualities of his past successes could not have given him much cheer. His best work always had the spirit and currency of the new; whatever pleasure luxury and refinement could supply could never revive that spirit. The Saint Laurent we see in 5, Avenue Marceau is an almost shattered human being. But there’s something about this portrait (if we can really call it that) that leads the viewer to wonder if what we’re watching is an unfolding inevitability – a kind of via Dolorosa, the inexorable progression of a king’s court to its end (as if Saint Laurent, like Elizabeth I of England, was determined to die standing up).

It was Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s longtime companion and business partner, who said that Saint Laurent was “born with a nervous breakdown”; and there were many episodes of the designer’s life over the years that gave ample testimony to his emotional delicacy and imbalance, neurasthenia, his addictions, breakdowns and endless neuroses. Even the boy wonder cachet he enjoyed for his brief tenure at Dior was accentuated by an apparent reticence, what comes across in news footage from that period as almost a terror of press and publicity. He eventually conquered that terror; but would remain forever haunted by his demons.

Yet Saint Laurent’s life was also poised on the fulcrum of generational and cultural change. Born before war’s end in Oran, Algeria, a born cosmopolite in a colonial outpost; a homosexual during a time when, at least in the early part of his adult life, homosexuals were persecuted and stigmatized, notwithstanding whatever protective sanction his profession might have provided – he was a man flying by the seams of his trapeze dress. It could not have helped that not long after his success at Dior, he was drafted into the army for service in a cursed war that would have taken him back to Algeria. An apparently relentless hazing by fellow draftees and recruits was enough to break that delicate balance. (The only celebrity of the time whose military draft received more (and obviously far more flattering) attention was Elvis Presley.) His military hospital treatments probably ensured he would never be entirely free of his demons – particularly drugs.

But the world Saint Laurent returned to was already changing. Saint Laurent’s emergence as a star designer came at a pivotal cultural moment: the Sixties – a moment that saw an exploding youth culture, accompanied by an explosive surge of pop culture amounting to a mass renaissance, a blurring of distinctions between high culture and pop or mass culture, an erosion (if not leveling) of class differences; a moment of protest, rebellion, experimentation and sexual liberation. It was a moment Saint Laurent was perfectly suited, by culture, temperament and sensibility, to exploit. Having explored youth culture, Left Bank-style, even before he left Dior, Saint Laurent would now be free to take his inspiration as he found it – 20th century art (e.g., Mondrian, Cocteau, Massine, Miro, Picasso, Pop), Hollywood and film noir glamour (e.g., Dietrich/von Sternberg, Hawks, Huston), 19th and 20th century literature – Flaubert, Proust, Gide; rock’n’roll; and a certain street glamour as American as it was Parisian.

Saint Laurent’s genius was in trusting those sometimes impulsive sparks of inspiration and connecting them with the energy of the street, the circulatory rush of everyday life, particularly women’s lives; also a connection to the street as the ultimate stage, the ultimate runway, resonating with certain touchstones of a specifically French visual, cinematic and literary aesthetic. It was no accident that Luis Buñuel tapped him to design the costumes for Belle de Jour. Deneuve’s wardrobe as Séverine are a witty subversion of bourgeois proprieties: a severe, almost exaggeratedly proper, tailleur, elegantly, rigorously cut dresses, the trench coats of subtly varying lengths and details, with their variable military touches (collars, epaulets), in fabrics variously luxe and risqué (from wool boucle to black vinyl so shiny it looks like patent or even latex – rendered with clerical rather than military details, fit for the celebrant of a black mass), those patent leather pilgrim-buckle shoes, the luxurious fabrics themselves, which the film also make a joke of – all connect the worlds of comme il faut with comme ca veut, so to speak; Séverine’s dream world – the masochistic fantasy, the daytime brothel (a fantasy perhaps equally enhanced by Geneviève Page’s innate elegance) – with the quotidian realities of bourgeois households and commercial streets. (Saint Laurent also designed costumes for Resnais’ Stavisky, which – set in a world of 1930s “Biarritz bonheur” – must have been a romp for him.)

Regardless of his inspirations high or low, the best Saint Laurent looks partake of a certain cool elegance – without excessive refinement, a shade more street smart than, say, Givenchy; and with a nod (or slouch) to the specifically Parisian glamour of street and café. It was in its own way a kind of democratization of elegance that American designers – I think Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, particularly; also Marc Jacobs and Stephen Srpouse – would be heavily influenced by. Saint Laurent reached across the Seine to Saint Germain-des-Près and the Quartier Latin only to make his influence felt clear across the East River. If the New York street glamour that is so familiar to us, especially in its downtown incarnations, was a by-product of Warhol’s enterprise, Saint Laurent had already put his finger on it and was ready to turn it into fashion. The kind of street fashion/street glamour that now seems a commonplace everywhere from Manhattan to L.A. (and one of the trademarks of Sex and the City) owes so much to Saint Laurent’s glory days – the days when he segued from couture to the boutique ready-to-wear of the rive gauche stores – the late 1960s and early 1970s when he partied with muses Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux; the time of his fabulously androgynous safari pieces and evening “smoking” ensembles, so memorably photographed by Helmut Newton, among others.

Beyond that, Saint Laurent’s glory was something he shared with other great cultural trend-setters (icons, really) of that particular moment, from rock stars like Dylan, Jagger and the Stones, Lennon-McCartney and the Beatles, the Who, literary lions like Mailer and Vidal; Rudolf Nureyev; to filmmakers like Bergman, Godard, Fellini, Antonioni – a will to turn the mal de siècle into something like a joie de siècle. Saint Laurent embodies something akin to what Susan Sontag ascribed to, among others, Cesare Pavese – the ‘artist as exemplary sufferer’ So much of this period as it transitions into the following decade and the rest of the century is about, not so much idealism, as the failure of idealism. The flip side of Saint Laurent’s glory, the life of urban adventure, of pleasure, that he both sought and embodied, was his intense vulnerability – the ‘demons’ and often painful solitariness of his creative process; the legacy of a shy boy repressed by a colonial bourgeoisie, conventional mores, scarred by the brutality of the military establishment; the demons of his drug addictions. If you look closely enough, you can see it in the clothes (cf., especially, le smoking). Saint Laurent exemplifies the modern creative spirit as simultaneously one of exemplary suffering and exemplary pleasure-seeking. The pleasure is almost a measure of the pain.

One of the first ‘designer’ items I ever purchased for myself (on sale) after college was a pair of Saint Laurent/rive gauche pants, which I wore almost until the fabric was as frail as the lining. They remain the most perfect pair of pants I’ve ever worn (I include the many great pairs of jeans I’ve had over the years). Santayana called dress the "badge of lost innocence" – which doesn’t necessarily imply its opposite, whether an accrual of sophistication, cynicism or wisdom. Saint Laurent’s clothes are nothing if not sophisticated, but they’re much more. There is luxury in the fabric, the cut, drape, fit and details; but that’s only the beginning of their pleasure. The pleasure is in the wearing, even wearing out – a pleasure we pay for dearly; but in the failure of ideals, in the absence of love, it’s sometimes worth protesting our claim on both with the defiance of elegance, the ‘badge’ embodied in, as much as worn on, the sleeve – or the pants or the dress; to stride forward in the face of wisdom and cynicism both, with beauty itself our only shield.

Friday, May 30, 2008

To Bordellos or Bedlam -- No Way Back

Looking again at the post below, I see my reference to a “second gallery,” by which I meant at the time the upper gallery. Having had a second look, let me remind myself and the reader that there was also an adjunct space (not the special project space) with a few more choice items from Ms. Schnibbe, including the not-quite-ready-for-icon-status teddy bear and bunny rabbit figures of “Are You My Mother?” and “Smilee’s Love Child” and Schnibbe’s kawaii riposte to Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, “Death Drive.” Aside from Schnibbe’s way with purples and pinks and the kawaii charm of these floating quasi-fetal creatures, this gallery also merited a look

18 May 2008

(Schnibbe cont’d.) The second level of Circus was given over to larger panels of abstract painting along the lines of “The Pornographic Imagination.” – with the Leger aspect morphing on this slightly reduced scale (yet apparently magnified) into curving quasi-organic Arp-like mazes, canals, and appendices (and ‘teeth’ and ‘nipples’ – and why shouldn’t they be in close proximity?) in deep matte reds and blacks (which also echoed the embryonic aspect of the teddies and bunnies downstairs). “For the Love of Amber Vega” was another porn set piece – though less porn ‘set’, per se, and more a slightly streamlined, even clinical (triangular red satin pillows), bordello chamber, albeit with some calculated ‘homey’ touches (the macramé chandelier drape; the knit bolster – with a skein of multi-colored yarns rolled up on the bed, ready to be taken up with knitting needles.

Schnibbe is fairly explicit (here and elsewhere in the show) about certain aspects of fetish the work explores. Where the paintings and drawings tease form and fetish (the thwarted drive), the ‘sets’ tend to explode it (the death drive untrammeled – or unraveled, as it were). Put the knives away – all you need is a pair of needles. Or maybe just your eyes.


C.O.L.A. was absolutely fantastic this year – aside from the fact that Tulsa Kinney’s (referred to elsewhere here as Fearless Leader) doppelganger was finally exposed to the art world spotlight and revealed as – (what else?) an artist. An extremely interesting, even superb artist – Judie Bamber works with Polaroids and family photographs to produce obliquely observed, almost (at moments) severe, sometimes slightly off-kilter drawings and paintings of (among others presumably) family members – here, specifically, her mother (apparently relating to an on-going series of paintings and drawings). They’re quietly, unassumingly, but sometimes astonishingly beautiful, casting a stark light on both an extremely private and broadly cultural moment (via clothes, hairstyles, settings). That her mother is a beauty doesn’t hurt, of course; but the poetry is about far more than physical beauty. They can be almost chillingly matter of fact, yet – as rendered here in pencil and pigments – touch something deeper, harsher, yet humanly vulnerable. It’s halfway to Bedlam (à la Anne Sexton) but more than halfway back (without the manic touches) and almost as moving. (Interesting coincidence that Tulsa Kinney herself has painted more than one series of (vividly expressionist, and sometimes quite powerful) paintings based loosely on photographic material.) So – separated at birth, anyone?

Walking into the show, you were greeted by a stunning installation – a kind of dive-bomber greeting – cranes and planes and fighters and stealth flying wings in treated or what looked like vintage book leaves or pages – themselves altogether in a kind of fighting wing formation – Descent by Joyce Dallal, with the whole anchored by rocks and chunks of concrete at the floor. Although Dallal has worked loosely in this mode, and on this scale before (she has done many installations), it was impossible not to sense a certain debt to Pae White’s similar raining suspensions. Unlike White, Dallal apparently also works a great deal with text, as she does here; but – drama aside – it’s hard to know how effectively. There was the obvious cultural-political statement; and, well .... It's not as if we can actually read these texts -- even if we had the texts printed out for us -- on the vari-colored papers, to boot. Maybe I need to 'refresh (my) view' on this. (I should complain about drama??) And there was so much MORE.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Other Side of Coy: Schnibbe, etc.

17-18 May 2008

What a night. I’ve been obsessed with erotics lately – or maybe it’s just a symptom of some emotional/sexual flameout (my imagination in overdrive, my attitude as clinical as ever) – but even as certain things tend to clarify or cast an analytic bead on it, others seem to just pour fuel on the fire. That was the feeling coming away from Margie Schnibbe’s breakthrough show at Circus Gallery in Hollywood. Schnibbe is one of those people whose imaginations can be in several places – light and dark, playful and serious, physical/intellectual, actual/abstract, pornographic/platonic, child-like and adult, simultaneously – places which for her must seem both adjacent and always available – the playroom just the other side of the porn set, the bedroom just this side of the burial plot. Need I say I can, on some or many levels, ‘relate’?

She’s titled the show Honey Bunny, a title simultaneously coy and disingenuous. Coyness – and the flip side of coyness – is what the show is in part about. This is familiar turf for many of us (and not just those of us who work at the Flynt Publications Building) – Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley have both tracked this terrain to one degree or another – but Schnibbe’s approach is both more direct and deconstructed. The very emphasis on text, on typography, however simple (or coy), conveys a sense of both thwarted expression and ulterior motive. ‘What are you trying to say?’ The drawings frequently take the form of thought bubbles, white or black ‘child’s script’, or perhaps more precisely, the kind of child-like characters printed onto text or title cards for greeting cards, children’s educational or cartoon shows or toy advertising, or subtitles – set against a dense carpet of doodling – Murakami gone mad – that from a distance seem a vague gray scumble. (No accident those “googly eyes” she uses elsewhere; there are lots of googly eyes if you look more closely.) The vague scrim – or an explosion of pattern – those vaguely psychedelic mazes of swirling curves and spirals and stretched and broken teardrops and paisleys – or simply, in other instances, the wall – conveys another part of the ‘message’, perhaps more direct than any text. The names of the porn stars in the individual drawings Schnibbe has assembled into “The Birthday Party” installation are interchangeable. The point is the wall – and the ‘openings’ the drawings, thought ‘bubbles’, stars/names (even I daresay orgasms) represent. “The Pornographic Imagination,” Schnibbe’s large wall hanging on the north wall of the gallery’s lower level, both exemplifies this ‘scrim’ notion, but goes far beyond it. In fact, there’s nothing really ‘psychedelic’ or even kitsch/pastiched about it. In fact, Schnibbe’s deconstructive impulse is very much in evidence in what on extended view is a canny, even brilliant abstraction – with a nod to both Haring and Leger. Aside from its vivid yet controlled color scheme in dense purples and blacks and indigos, its broken and subdivided or truncated arcs, curves, loops, lines and circles give almost the sense of animated characters broken (or blocked, hidden) and suspended against (or behind) what is beneath/above (you see where it gets a bit tricky). It’s a piece that bears closer scrutiny – and if that’s not maddening enough, you’re invited to consider the installation right along side it – directly the opposite of that wall of porn stars, and (literally?) the set piece of the show – “Today Is A Good Day,” with the title descending in black-edged pink puffs towards what might as well be a gigantic sprawled stuffed animal à la Kelley. Well not exactly – it’s a little pillow-covered couch flanked by a dense pile of colored and patterned pillows (pink and fuschia seem to dominate the color scheme). Yes, it just might be. Coy or – well, collapsed (‘corruption’ per se is not the issue here) – you decide. I almost hesitate to talk about it further (and in any case may save my discussion for a review) simply out of reluctance to treat its post-existential/post-structural implications too literally (and naively? what the hell do I know? I haven’t really read/thought about this sort of thing since university). It’s the sort of thing that’s likely to send me fleeing to my part of the Flynt Building where all I have to deal with are the legal (and financial) aspects of these ideas (in a word, as the maîtres of, variously, French courts, lycées, ateliers -- and musées might deploy it, 'jouir'). In a nutshell, that’s the fascination of this show. Schnibbe’s take and handling on these issues is both playful and deadly serious.

I want to mention (or have I already mentioned?) something disturbing about … well, it was an evening for disturbing thoughts and images (even as they were playful and philosophical) – now I’m the one being being coy – flat out. Bear with me as I try to keep these juggled ideas airborne. (There was an entire second gallery level to explore.) (MORE)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Messages in bottles and embryonic stars

I mentioned the “week-end just past” in the last post and I realize we’re already coming up on the NEXT week-end. I might be inclined to say that Margie Schnibbe’s show at Circus was the singular ‘event’ of the week-end, about which I hope to expand at greater length both here and pages elsewhere (including, of course, artillery). Except that the COLA show was something of a blockbuster – really one of the best in years – flanked to boot by a show by Dana Maiden (the Feitelson Award recipient) – a stunning L.A. debut. And Richard Telles had another impressive pairing: new (and very different) work by Monika Baer and some very dark, disturbing (and beautiful) painting by an artist named Tom Allen. Did I mention how beautiful L.A. has looked the last few days? Uncharacteristically cool, gray, stormy, the jacurandas in bloom, the air clean and fragrant with the mingled frangrances of citrus, jasmine and honeysuckle; and the Lakers headed (knock wood) for the NBA finals.

12 May 2008 (cont’d.)

From Chinatown, I headed north on Sunset back towards Silver Lake and Gallery Revisited which has regrouped its overall concept, so to speak, in the direction of – (voila) The Group – group shows exclusively for the next several months by its stable of artists – which is interesting in the sense it gives both of the impulses, ideas and aesthetics circulating among a certain segment (or segments) of the Los Angeles (or larger, or smaller) art community, as well as the tastes (whimsical, eclectic) and thinking (probing, enigmatic) of its director, Leora Lutz. Lutz is completely serious about the mission of her gallery and about getting the best out of her artists, at which she seems to have had some success with this show, without necessarily burdening them with too many constraints. At the same time (and if her artists are any reflection of this), she’s all over the map (or at least one part of that ‘map’); and, for all her focus and seriousness, she’s sly, quick-witted (and changeable), and one of those people who can never fail to make me laugh. Without getting too much into the specifics (or the specific pieces), the direction the show elicits is about the enigmatic abstraction and the enigmatic object, which may be two sides of the same coin. It’s a terrain Hammer curators have explored in some breadth (if not depth) – both with Thing and even Russell Ferguson’s The Undiscovered Country. The abstraction here is not on the same order as Ferguson’s ‘undiscovered country,’ which had a figurative/representational bias, but partakes of a similar sensibility: e.g., a cool abstraction like Elana Kundell’s oil “It’s A Wash” (which is really an incredible painting). (I’m happy to say that my publisher, Paige Wery’s, painting was no less creditable in this regard. The painting/object was heavily worked – but I think to a successful end. There were surfaces here that seemed not lunar, not Martian, but Jovian. We may all be be in the gutter, but some of us are looking at – uh, apparently Jupiter.) It was interesting that Paige’s piece somewhat straddled the turf between painting and object – and the terrestrial (specifically, a tree) and extra-terrestrial. More definitively ‘object’ and perhaps also extra-terrestrial was Ya-Ya Chou’s embryonic/placental object in blown glass and red plastic – call it ‘Star Fetus’ or Star Embryo (I don’t remember what the title was). Then there was something that had at least the familiarity of one of those Steuben paperweights – containing a text – you might as well call that ‘Message in a bottle from another planet’ (again, I don’t know what the title was). Familiar at least conceptually was the vividly enlarged tongue segment with its clustered, nipple-like papillae, by Lana Shuttleworth (“Tongues Will Wag:”). Yes, they will. Another vivid, and utterly mysterious construction, something that looked vaguely like a pair of red peppers was actually a collaboration between Julie Hughes (who also showed work of her own) and another artist (Pete Goldlust?).

It sounds far out; and it only got farther out – almost to the verge of ‘outsider’ status. But then aren’t we all, until someone ‘sends the car’ for us? (L.A.-speak – that may be going out of fashion; what with the price of gas, they’ll soon be sending a bike and sidecar – or maybe a pedicab. I’ll settle for the invite.) I’m probably getting a lot of this completely wrong; what notes I have are completely illegible. (I hope the artists – or Leora, who apparently has her own blog now – will set the record straight.)

I had to bypass Eagle Rock more or less (a mistake) for La Brea, where one of my amici Italiani insisted I come to a show at Liz’s Loft – that’s Liz of Liz’s Antique Hardware, who has opened up the space upstairs from her amazing emporium of antique and vintage hardware, fittings and lighting to display everything from arts decoratifs to fine art. It’s a fabulous space – and the party was fabulous, too – fabulous wine, food (Liz is a great cook on top of everything else) – maybe a bit too fabulous for the art (by Anna Dusi). The action was definitely on the floor (I was craving a Dolce Vita/Otto e mezzo make-over a la Ekberg or Aimée) – or maybe the ceilings. There were beautiful chandeliers – long flanges and fingers of frosted glass or rock crystal (Venetian, 1980s) that almost eclipsed what was on the walls. (Credit my pal, Alessandra Montagna, genius art director and purveyor of chic antiques, who apparently procured them for Liz.) I missed the art in Eagle Rock (e.g., Kristi Engle), but Liz and Sandra had gossip for me about Big-Penn (see previous posts) that was nothing if not distracting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Inhaling, exhaling -- and still off-balance

Before I continue posting this, a quick note about the week-end just past and the spring New York sales. I mentioned sometime earlier that they shook out more or less as I expected, though not necessarily with respect to specifics. The first principle is that quality trumps all – cultural iconography, historicity, provenance. (So much for the DeDe Brooks doctrine of “provenance, provenance, provenance.” Though it’s not like there aren’t exceptions; it’s a big, wide-open market out there.) Scanning over the most outstanding results, the quality is inescapable. Just to take randomly, say, the Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes bild (625), that fetched a record for the artist, it is not simply a prime example of Richter’s abstract style, it’s almost an epitome – and its style-setting influence over an entire range of visual arts is fairly apparent. So, to put it another way, regardless of the specific lots on the block, this is generally a thin, and pretty rarefied segment of the larger art market. Looking more closely at specific lots, I continue to be surprised at how strong the market for both Bacon and Prince (and to some extent, even Rothko) are – though obviously that, too, says something about the overall state of visual arts and, more specifically, the culture’s ambivalent, even (well beyond ironic) alienated relationship to image-making (e.g., reversal, appropriation, reconfiguration, recontextualization). The fact that the iconic Lichtenstein Ball of Twine failed to sell also says something crass about both his market and the culture.

11-12 May 2008

It’s funny. I was just saying something about the inhale-exhale symbiosis of the Kordansky and Hug spaces that works so well you’d think they planned it that way; and after the Vergueiro show at Kordansky that just about knocked me off my feet, I was ‘waiting to exhale,’ so to speak. But it wasn’t quite that simple. Erika Vogt’s show of C-prints and video didn’t exactly knock me off my feet – but they sure as hell kept me off balance – and in a very good way. Vogt’s work (inasmuch as I know of it – which is probably as much in the context of group shows or stuff she’s done with other artists), her art – in film, video or mixed media – appears to be essentially an art of collage, in which the actual art-making process is itself ‘collaged’ into the work (cut, sectioned or cross-sectioned, displacement, reduction, fossil, sedimentary; falling back upon itself (reflection)). But unlike collage in the original quasi-Cubist sense, this is is a collage in flux, where both actuality and representation are shifting (which would seem where she is going with video – where the ‘representation’ seems to recede before the viewers who bring their own actuality – presence, attention, shadows – to what seems linear yet non-narrative) in both space and time. (Though the emphasis here is on time – movement; the performative aspect aside, this remains essentially two-dimensional work.) Although her large composite C-prints have a certain virtuoso, tour de force aspect – they’re very sophisticated productions – it’s her video that is truly extraordinary – in terms of texture, color, its evocative-in-spite-of-itself quality, and abstract beauty. Though I was initially taken with C-prints, Vogt’s strength and future is in the video work. The more conventional photography and ‘collage/assemblage’ modes tend to lock her down into a two-dimensional domain her overall scope as long since outgrown.

One of the events, if not the event, of the evening was the Terence Koh ‘walk-through’ installation at Peres Projects. This was apparently the destination in Chinatown Saturday night. Without going into specifics (which, in any case, I can’t legitimately do here), the palette was white and the texture was powdery – and possibly painterly. I ran into Kulov there, who restrained my native curiosity with a gentle reminder that my choice of shoes for the evening might be less than suitable for this event – as his were also apparently. Advisory to gallery visitors: suede may be cozy, but you might want to bring a pair of old sports shoes for the walk-through. In the meantme, Kulov reminded me that we could not afford to miss Sandeep Mukherjee’s show at Sister, which I hadn’t been to in quite a while anyway. I must say I would have hated missing it – for the first gallery’s (yes Sister apparently has a ‘sister’ space – down the block and around the corner at Cottage Home) panels alone. I have long been familiar with Mukherjee’s substantial yet somehow ethereal etched duralene panels – frequently in intense, vibrant colors – but these were in black and white, which nevertheless did not lack for intensity. As with much of his work in the past, these too bore affinities with fabric and fabric art, but here the effect was as much about the play of light – a complex topography of reflection and refraction, rather than simply drapery or stippling – a kind of seismic mapping of light, mounting, eddying, diffracting, radiating. Also interesting was the way he brought off this effect in jet black (the surfaces were fairly matte, which made the topography somewhat more legible). There was something really wonderful about these panels – which left me completely unprepared for the long, horizontally oriented panels at Cottage Home – rolling, roiling, cycloids, starbursts and supernovae, in a jewel-like yet somehow earthbound palette of golds, ambers and verdigris – golden, luminous – galaxies rolling by on a rain/wind-swept grassy plain. I must sound ridiculous trying to compress the impression of some very large and impressive works into a quasi-metaphorical impression; but first off, the panels themselves appear to compress a theme Mukherjee has explored ‘in large’ elsewhere (a Schindler House installation); secondly, the structure and color are far too dense, complex and vivid to do justice to in a single paragraph. For anyone who might have coveted any of that work at Schindler House, this show is a must-see. (MORE)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Seven veils between heaven and hell

I realize I'm posting this just following the Spring contemporary sales in New York -- and I may have a note or two about the results in the next day or so. For the moment, let's just say I'm not too surprised at the results overall (I'm intrigued to find out who picked up what) -- though perhaps a bit at exactly which lots failed to sell at their low estimate (or at all). For the moment, though, let me start feeding you last week-ends recap. (I'm feeling more confident since I predicted last night's Lakers-Jazz point spread -- which (coincidence??) exactly matched the Celtics win in Boston. Go Kobe (a true artist). Go Lakers.)

10 May 2008

The evening began well enough (though in an entirely unpredictable fashion) at High Energy Constructs. I’m not sure what I was expecting but the work took me a bit by surprise – which means that by the standards HEC impresario Michael Smoler has set for the space, it was a smashing success. You scarcely noticed the Laib-like (I’m not sure I really mean that) scaffold stairs against the north wall, for a heavily draped platform or balcony (a balcony!) obliquely opposite and looming directly overhead, covered in drapery – a balcony for an illicit assignation or dignitary visiting a theatre incognito. Or something. The title and (did I actually see a press release or comments? If so, I didn’t take them with me) checklist for the show – “The clarity of one is released in the other.” – didn’t exactly, uh, clarify whether these were distinctly individual pieces or collaborations between the two artists, Elonda Billera and Janice Gomez. But I suspect it was something of a dialectic between the two – at least that’s the way it came across – between the constructed and deconstructed, the concealed and chaotic, repression and rage. Specifically the hidden rages of domesticity set against the concealed repressions of public civilities – particularly, the civic space. E.g., broken and scattered tile, latticework, etc., disassembled drawers or shelving, etc. Although some of these pieces (by Billera?) seemed to recapitulate, or even a bit derivative, of what has become a fairly common strategy in contemporary sculpture (cf., e.g., Kaz Oshiro), there were exceptions – seemingly the footnotes to the show – which carried unexpected punch and poignancy (and wit); e.g., a cluster of egg-beaters or whisks dripping with what looked like a waxen better of flames – or maybe just something flambé. It was the kind of show that won you over with such small moments even as it was also the kind of show that was ‘greater than the sum of its parts.’ Still I seem to go from small moment to small moment. Directly across from the flaming whisks were a couple of tiny watercolors or gouaches, a figure study and a sort of landscape, by Branden Koch that immediately grabbed my attention – and (full disclosure) my checkbook. Should I be surprised that he also writes for artillery? They’re small but somehow almost sublime – something that touches the ephemeral, the sort of thing you have in your sights for a split second, but can scarcely grasp.

11 May 2008

Do I sound a bit on edge? Yes, I know I just said that the evening began “well enough.” But did it really? That sort of dialogue with that bit of fireworks at the end – the glittering jewel you glimpse as you quickly snap shut whatever little Pandora’s box you’ve sprung open for a split second – tends to leave me just a bit susceptible to whatever comes next. And my next stop was right across the street to Daniel Hug and David Kordansky. (Which means what? More trouble? Well … I was primed for something.)

That something was Nicolau Vergueiro’s show, Introducing Salomé – my hands were shaking slightly as I stuck the acute accent on the ‘e’. It sounds charged and it was – not just erotic (though it certainly was that) but with an energy that comes out of Vergueiro’s native Brazilian landscape itself. Yes – I confess some of this may simply be extrapolating from my conversation with the artist, who was there; but it does speak to something as sweeping and terrestrial as it is carnal and self-immolating – which, when you think about it, in the Brazilian context, are one in the same. And undoubtedly theatrical – you can practically hear the Strauss as you’re taking in the objects – though the theatricality is somewhat undermined by the disassembled, deconstructed, archaeological aspect of the pieces. There are pieces that seem to reference constume design (one with an inset sketch – a “Herod”) or props. But more important than the theatricality (or its frame, its proscenium, along the lines of an artist like Howard Hodgkin) is simply the performative aspect implied by both process and presentation. The ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ has here become an excavation or exfoliation of seven (or more, or fewer) skins, crusts; blooms, bodies, fragments. The only deadly sins here are the appropriating, all-consuming vision, and a transgressive imagination we (meaning Salome) are helpless to resist. Salome’s appropriation of the head of Iokannan here becomes an eye stood on end, an iris and aperture on fire, as it were, the flames licking the upper corner, which in this labial configuration becomes a bright silver clitoris, with the Baptist’s head either a floating image in the pupil or a kind of vaginal eucharist – ultimate communion and consummation. It’s a show of mitotic and metastasized meanings – fragments assembled from fabrics, pigments, glass, latex and found materials into objects that variously map or demarcate those extended meanings, or perform them in a sense (e.g., bits of text on one object that reflect personalities who developed or interpreted the Salome story – Nazimova, Rambova, et al.; objects that look to have been one thing or bits of several things reassembled into something slightly different, e.g., materials (including plastic bags) built up into another kind of receptacle or perhaps restraints (the “Herod Study” assembled two sack-like objects that might be described as bags or locks or restraints or shoes or who knows?); pieces variously laid flat or protruding in cascades of material that look like body parts or a configuration that appears modeled on the body (e.g., “Blooming Bodies at Every Intersection” or “Intercalations – Nine Miles East of the Dead Sea”). The very titles give some sense of the corrupting chemistry – of earth, sex, lust. ‘Intercalation,’ for example might connote a kind of extension or extrapolation or a strategic insertion or the introduction of a different chemical component (molecule or atom) into the reaction. The palette is earthen – soft pinks, tans, saffrons, verdigris – yes, the blood has already dried here. But then there’s that bit of silver glittering at the tip, asserting that signal moment of triumph over the material, its consumption and exhalation. Souvenir or saudades – or something still throbbing with life in all its unruly, intractable impulse, tumult and tumescence?

I sound a little unhinged (or maybe just a little frustrated – but not with the art). Fortunately, Daniel Hug usually promises the relief of an ‘exhalation’ after the heady ‘inhalation’ at Kordansky – though I have to say, although it was definitely a cooler show (in degrees Celsius) than the Vergueiro, Erika Vogt’s show of video and large composite lightjet C prints was just as thoughtful and provocative. (MORE)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bottom lines and bubble money versus Eternity

9-10 May 2008

I’m looking at what I wrote earlier this week (see foregoing post) as I think about the item in the Calendar section of today’s Los Angeles Times about Warner’s shuttering its independent divisions – I mean the whole enchilada. NO indie shop under the Warner umbrella – and no, I’m not particularly sanguine about the prospects for the New Line execs shepherding their projects adroitly within the Warners corporate flowchart (I realize this is just talking off the top of my head – I don’t routinely read the trades and rarely discuss the business with friends or family involved in it – but the last 20 years or so don’t give much cause for optimism). Am I the only one for whom this sounds just a bit draconian? (Oh yeah – and another seventy people out of work.) It’s sad when you think that some of the more interesting films showing up in the movie houses (Pan’s Labyrinth and La Vie en Rose, to name just the two the L.A. Times cited) came by way of Warner’s Picturehouse division.

The idea at Warners is that their regular development, financing, advertising and distribution arms will be able to perform the acquisition/development and/or promotion/distribution functions their indie kids did more or less, uh, independently. In other words, cut duplicative costs. Good bottom-line thinking, I’d say – assuming IT WORKS – which, given the difficulty some of these people have successfully putting out a picture at almost ANY price point, including the most astronomical, for anyone with an IQ over room temperature is pretty optimistic. In other words, if the company just puts out a few more bad movies or, worse, continues to hemorrhage cash, it’s NOT so cost-effective.

But – stepping back from the business for a sec and back to BUSINESS, as in Wall Street – this is just the news leader. The rest of the story is the same one that’s been going on for the last eight or nine months. The money has simply dried up. Would that the bad movies dried up, too – except that it’s almost too goddamned easy to make one. (But not, I would note, to write one.) The cash that was chasing these kinds of investments, thinking to score at least on the ancillaries or direct-to-video, is drying up. Haven’t you noticed? People in Hollywood are having trouble paying their bills. Sure, they’re still flying first-class, trying to kick up a little dust over breakfast wherever people breakfast these days in Beverly Hills or Manhattan (don’t look at me – I can barely crawl out of bed at that hour), dropping a few quid here and there. (Though it’s interesting to see the celebrity/designer clout behind all those new super-low priced lines for Target, H&M and all the knock-off chains.) But, as my sister has reminded me, that’s Hollywood – always keeping up appearances. The gardens will always look lush and manicured; the Bentley polished and detailed within a coronary-inch of your life.

Which brings us to – that’s right – the fine arts markets. (What – you thought I was going into Hollywood whine mode? Take me straight to Cedars next time that happens.) The relative strength, or at the very least, stability, has been noted in the most recent sales both in New York and London. Sure, there’ve been disappointments – unsold lots, guarantees that made the sales virtually break-even (or even slight losses) for the auction houses. But what’s surprising is that, on a certain level, it’s business as usual: the best works are commanding good prices – and not just from newly rich Russians or Asians or the petro-rich, but even those cash-poor (or poorer, anyway) Americans. Contemporary sales are always a bit trickier, as compared to Post-War Modern; but as we head into the week of the New York spring sales, I’m thinking that – especially as Chinese and other Asian money moves out of T-bills (hey – if nothing else works, starve the U.S. out of Iraq), hedge funds, derivatives and, well, everything from CDOs* to bad movies – it may find its way into the things that – relatively speaking anyway – endure. There are commodities and then there are commodities: stuff that resists ‘fungibility’, so to speak; the values that are, relatively speaking, eternal.

*** For those of you who don't read the business pages: collateralized debt obligation -- think junk cubed.