Saturday, January 12, 2008

Up Against the Wall (or Back to Broad)

Darlings -- I'm back -- but not exactly all there yet. There's so much to say -- and so much better left unsaid. I've been in an L.A. Breakdown mode lately and I'm grateful just to be let back into MY LIFE -- forget about the City itself or for that matter the L.A. art world. There are notes -- oh yes, there are notes -- and I mean to post them. But rather than throw them all out in an omnibus posting, I'm just going to start in media res, so to speak, posting just a bit (a couple days' worth, say) at a time. Bear with me -- and thanks for checking in.

8-9 January 2008

Jesus I hate to break my month-long silence just for a news item. As readers of this blog are only too aware, awol isn’t exactly about news, per se. More like (I would like to think, anyway), the back-story or up-front (and hopefully way ahead) story – or maybe a lateral cross-reference to some sidebar or ancillary story or just a bit removed from the ‘front’ page – which, as we all know, always requires some reading between-the-lines – and perhaps a bit more in recent years as they’ve been co-opted into PR mouthpieces for establishment agendas. (My brother used to be a virtuoso at this kind of cross-reading of The New York Times front-page political stories, and it sometimes surprises me he never ended up there editing it (he’s at one of the other major metro dailies); but I wonder now how he would have dealt with this subterfuge.) As many of my friends and colleagues here in Los Angeles are aware, I haven’t exactly been in seclusion over the last month. More like, submersion – as in, almost drowning, as in fighting for my life. But it’s not as if I couldn’t manage to bob to the surface now and then. I surfaced at Regen for Matthew Barney, for example – though arguably, that might easily have blended in with the overall drowning sensation I was trying to overcome. E.g., the (photographic) work on the walls appeared to be mostly a retread of Cremaster 3 – art direction shots and production stills – and the film shown appeared to be of a live ritual-cum-performance involving animals (always nervous-making) and elegantly shod but otherwise nude models performing a kind of static limbo and controlled excretions of foreign (to their bodies anyway) fluids (honey? Oil? Chocolate? Who knew?) – too mechanical to be dream-like but seeming to unfold in dead air. Not exactly Barney’s take on the ‘money-shot’ – but what? From cremaster to sphincter – is this Barney’s reply to the Courbet ‘origin-of-the-world’-view? I know life’s end is frequently accompanied by incontinence; but I’m not sure how this applies to the world’s end. But you’d think he might be ready to pull his focus out of the crotch. (I know that sounds funny coming from me, as I write this from my perch at the Flynt Building.) Barney was there – personable, still handsome, and very down-to-earth. Bj√∂rk loves him; why can’t I?

But see – I’m already getting away from what pulled me out from under my security blanket, if you will. Yeah, yeah – I was out last Saturday, too. But can we save it for a minute? (Yes, I forgive your skepticism – since I assume you forgive my jaundice.) The first shock – and I didn’t even see it first thing – is that The New York (and not the Los Angeles) Times broke the story. What’s with that? Sam Zell transition issues? Okay, I’m sure everyone knows by now that Eli Broad announced today (yesterday?) that his Art Foundation would retain full control of his collections, rather than donating any significant segment of them to major art institutions. And I’m sure we all know which local art institution had the most riding on this decision. Why am I not surprised? Was it LACMA’s dubious track record with this sort of business? Goddess only knows how many L.A. collections have passed on LACMA in favor of other institutions, or simply the auction block. Then there are the notorious instances of those not-quite-ready-for-the auction-house curated exhibitions of private collections which, stamped with LACMA’s (no less dubious) imprimatur, headed straight to New York, leaving only a souvenir or two behind (e.g., the Maslon collection, which ultimately went to Sotheby’s). Then there was LACMA’s own foolish deaccessioning of a few years ago, which included unique, irreplaceable works by Ernst, Beckmann, Masson and Modigliani. Just how foolish we can finally judge today in concrete terms. (Do I mean that literally?) Hmmm…. In theory, the funds (and the auction results were less than spectacular) were to be used to acquire new works. I suppose we have to trust LACMA on that one. Except that I don’t trust anyone – I don’t have either the experiential or genetic architecture to support it (hell my life has been one long Charley Brown kick for a non-existent field goal). But without getting all forensic on their asses, and speaking of concrete, there’s been a whole lot of it poured into the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (already acronymized by the LACMA crew as “BCAM”) on the west side of the LACMA campus.

When some years ago Broad exhibited a generous 40 odd year swath of his art collection at LACMA – this was some time before his commitment to a building on the LACMA campus – I again wondered what the Museum itself might stand to keep from what was placed on view. (If nothing else, it seemed Broad seemed to be giving the nod to LACMA, as opposed to MOCA, on whose board he also sits.) There were of course the teasers: the token gifts – “Promised Gift of Eli and Edythe Broad” – though I noted that these were few and far between. None of the best Rauschenbergs or Johns bore such a caption. It was also interesting that one of the “promised gifts” was a room-sized Marcel Broodthaers installation – implicitly raising the issue of space.

What was also noteworthy was a certain lack of zing to the collection. Notwithstanding the masterpiece caliber, with a few exceptions (the Broodthaers, for example), it all seemed so safe, and – it sounds so cynical – “blue-chip.” (And of course the flip-side of this is that what is blue-chip today may not look so tomorrow.) A collection usually says something about its collector(s) and about his/their passions and ambitions. This was an impenetrable wall of currency in every sense.

Or maybe it’s about the wall. Just the wall. Broad is a builder – and he’s not too particular about what he’s building or how the real estate is squandered and the planet plundered with it. He started out ruining vast tracts of southern California with thousands of acres of mediocre housing – more suburban blight; and now he’s embarked on an almost megalomanical building program for Bunker Hill downtown. It’s Eli’s No-Trump bid. But of course there had to be some Wilshire Boulevard presence – another Name up there along with those of Ahmanson, Simon, Bing and Anderson. Was it mere coincidence that Michael Govan – who made his reputation as a builder – got Broad's endorsement for the Museum Directorship?

And so another culture palazzo is born. I was on the horn with Fearless Leader before you could say Sean Scully; but she’d only read the apparently blacked-out L.A. papers and was still going through her e-mail or something. I read her a few grafs and she joined me in my shocked-not-shocked space. Speaking of palazzos – believe me, unless they’ve somehow cauterized half their neural snynapses (you know – the ones that scream, ‘hey I need a 10-mg Valium stat’ when your prized shit isn’t hitting the fan so much as just blowing away), they’re plotzing over at LACMA. We’re talking about a mausoleum (somehow I always think of the Skull & Bones tomb whenever I pass it, which is a minimum of six times a week) with twice the square footage of the Whitney for chrissakes. Needless to say there’s plenty of room for that Broodthaers – to say nothing of the Chris Burden apparently to be shared with MOCA. (By the way, is that necessarily such a good thing? It’s fairly sizeable – which means it’s going to be a hassle shlepping it between Fairfax and downtown.) And how many Beuys pieces did they just acquire? Something over FIVE HUNDRED? You’d think they might WANT to spare a few. It’s not like they’re going to always be on view at The Broad Art Foundation. (The Broad Art Foundation is open to the public only on a very selective and by-appointment basis.) Which leads me to the obvious question. What the fuck was he talking about? – “We don’t want it to end up in storage, …” Honey, it already is in storage in your Art Fortress.

I see Michael Govan has made a further comment here (this morning’s (Jan. 9) New York Times. Talk about spinning – he might as well be a Whirling Dervish.“[H]e believed Eli Broad’s decision to keep his art collection in a private foundation that makes loans to museums is a positive development because it means none of the artworks will be sold…” Of course it means nothing of the kind – and more on that later. “Since Day 1 he’s privately and publicly given me a lot of support.” Uh, yeah. You built him a super-sized Skull & Bones. And for that you should have asked him for a helluva lot MORE.

1 comment:

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