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.

Phantom drivers; all-wheel vehicles (going nowhere)

5 May 2008
What was originally on tap for the afternoon and evening was the Brahms B-flat major piano concerto with Leif Ove Andsnes. Instead, an afternoon of errands (with yet another detour into the endlessly fascinating Phantom Sightings show at LACMA) turned into dinner turned into … well, not one of the movies we had originally contemplated. A shlep into Beverly Hills or even the Arclight was out of the question. Fortunately, there are a couple of theatres in my neighborhood, including, most conveniently, the fabulous Vista straight back up Sunset. The fare: Iron Man. A decathalon might have been less tedious. As it was it looked as if at least ten men (and I mean men) wrote it – though they had to have been inspired to some extent by Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Ripley in her anti-Mama Alien full body scaffolding in Alien. I recall that L.A. Weekly’s Scott Foundas mentioned that, in addition to the obvious resemblance (on many story levels) to its direct ancestor, Robocop, this alternately lumbering and rocketing Golem of gold, steel, titanium, palladium – and just about every super-strong or super-conducting (or neither) alloy EXCEPT IRON bore some resemblance to the death-ray gazing robot of The Day the Earth Stood Still. (By the way, Scott, the name of the robot in that film is Gort, not “Klaatu.” “Klaatu” is simply the first word in the command Michael Rennie gives Gort to return to the spaceship – sparing humanity the fate we probably richly deserved then and still more today.) Unfortunately, if it weren’t thundering around in its crust-crunching, temblor-triggering boots or careering like a missile with its rocket boosters, it could almost be titled “The Night the Movie Stood Still.” Or perhaps – with director Jon Favreau playing a cameo as “Iron Man” Tony Stark’s chauffeur – Unengaging At Any Speed. Movies like this, the business theory goes, are supposed to be about putting the “dollars on the screen.” But aren’t they supposed to do something? You’re given more credible cinematic action and thrills in the opening credit sequence of the typical Bond movie than this. You get a lot of props, hardware, robotics, circuitry, wonderful computer graphic imagery, but they don’t exactly propel the plot forward at warp speed. That’s partially because the plot would like to be all things to all partisans, from America-First mothercouragefuckers to 9/11/01 conspiracy theorists – much as Stan Lee, Jon Favreau, etc., et al. want the character to embody every superhero from Beowulf to Batman (or is it Luke Skywalker? or Indiana Jones? There are little “Raiders” touches everywhere – from location shots of Afghan caves and desert dunes to musical flourishes). Which makes Jeff Bridges’ character a composite of Grendel, Darth Vader, Big Mama Alien, Dick Cheney and the Michelin Man. Ah – we are “the hollow men” – all those big chassis’s on steroids – aren’t we? In the meantime, the wasted planet doesn’t get any greener while our secretaries take great notes. (That’s what our role is here, sisters – amanuensis and handmaiden to the (apparently male) engineering geniuses.) All Gwenyth Paltrow really has to do in her anemic role is model – which apparently is enough. All you really need is a nice dinner suit or evening gown. She wears them well. The role isn’t nearly so kind to her. The dollars you can actually see working on the screen probably represent Robert Downey, Jr.’s salary. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have all that much to sink his boots into. If only the writers had had the courage to make Stark a thorough-going “merchant of death” (jesus – the American electorate elected a couple of them to the highest offices in the land); Downey could have really stretched. The production design is pretty pedestrian, too (by comparison with, say, the Bond franchise or the Alien movies). Fortunately some of the architecture was already paid for (I made it to Disney Hall after all – by way of a scene in the movie; though the super-sized Lautner-esque Malibu lair was probably CGI). The ending of the movie is nothing short of absurd. What – did they just take a scissors to it? (Which makes me wonder – was Scott Foundas drugged through the movie? Or was he paid off to write that nonsensical screed?)

It used to be that Hollywood’s big problem was blow. Now it seems to be steroids. Or maybe it’s just ADHD. Isn’t there some doctor who can write these producers a collective prescription for Ritalin? I have a writer’s (or perhaps writer-director’s) bias about this sort of business (or do I just mean the business?); but you have to wonder who’s at the helm in these sorts of vehicles – and maybe where they think they’re driving the audience. A director should be more than just a Teamster-driver at the wheel of an all-wheel drive utility vehicle. It was when people like Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges were practicing their profession.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Fictional spaces; stranger-than-fiction life

4-5 May 2008

The last stop of the evening was Scalo/Guye for a show of photography by Daniele Albright – if you could legitimately call it that. The blurb on the invite described them as “photographs” yet “not photographic documents” in the same breath. The title for the show was Fictional Spaces. Well, having just come from the Crewdson luau, I felt I was ready to address a fresh take without reconfiguring my entire explication d’image m.o. But there is ‘fiction’; and then there is le nouveau romanà la Robbe-Grillet (You’d think I’d know something about this. Apparently not enough.) I’m not sure about the fictional stuff. The images were definitely distorted, blurred (in both exposure and printing processes), cropped both horizontally and vertically, segmented laterally, and irregularly staggered with respect to each segment. Something about the four-segment photograph(s) of undulating, ice-blue ocean waves reminded me a little of Vija Celmins, both in comparison and contrast – the fixation of it (in more than one sense), as opposed to Celmins’ obsessive hyper-attentive rendering. But Albright’s point also seemed to undermine the notion of fixation. You had the sense of an abruptly shifting viewpoint, foregrounded, if not about to be submerged or pushed outside the conceptual ‘frame’, within a space that was both shallow and deep – reaching to a horizon-line not quite encompassed in the shot. In other words – now you’re treading water; now you’re, uh, NOWHERE; or perhaps just OUT THERE. Now, here’s the title: “these propagations and interfaces continue to multiply their interactions.” Ohhhhh-kaaaayyy. I have to ask: It’s in four panels. Just how many interactions were we supposed to see? I’m thinking the very deliberate discontinuities give the lie to this. The invite blurb further refined Albright’s photographic method and approach as “reformulations of perception that suspend the visual field between the known and the impossible.” Gee – sounds like some of the legal briefs I’ve glanced over within the last few months. (Oh yeah: the OTHER GUYS’.)

In general, I thought the longer panoramic, ‘horizon-line’ pieces (in four or five segments) were the strongest – though in no way did they compel a reconsideration of my phenomenology (hey – I studied with Heidegger’s English translator, donch’ya know?). Speaking of panoramas, I was just as taken with some of the dark, almost brutal, yet eerily beautiful landscapes and cityscapes of Balthasar Burkhard – whose show is scheduled to close at the end of the month. Somebody remind me to look at Resnais’ L’année dernière à Marienbad again – or maybe just about any Robbe-Grillet novel, any one of which might read as a straight transcription of the facts of my stranger-than-fiction life, lately.

Dazzling darkness -- the sapphire hour

3-4 May 2008

There were three (maybe four, if you count Gagosian) big events this evening; and I only made it to two. I just missed the RAID Projects “Swap Meet” opening – the last show for an independent space that has really earned its street cred and then some – which might be the show I really wanted to go to the most; and I also skipped out on the Incognito benefit for the Santa Monica Museum which is usually so much fun – such a great place to see my favorite artist buddies, who are as busy as I am and so – rarely to be seen out except at events like these. I just couldn’t muster the energy (physical or petrochemical) to get out there; and besides it’s too much of a temptation. (I have an art habit; and unlike Nancy Reagan, I can’t say – and won’t bully myself into saying – no.) My first stop was the Murakami show, Davy Jones’ Tear, at Blum & Poe, which I thought had to be overkill after the LA MOCA and Brooklyn Museum circus; but was actually interesting enough to renew my fascination with Murakami.

I didn’t quite understand the “Davy Jones” reference – having missed Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest, the Disney/Bruckheimer extravaganza featuring Johnny Depp. From where I stood, it seemed that Murakami was both reaching back and picking up where he left off – specifically with the Daruma portraits that were a kind of elegiac pendant to the ebulliently ‘bright, guilty world’ of the (other) extravaganza that was (and is) the Murakami retrospective. When I was writing last fall about the dark undercurrents, commercial, political and otherwise, that linked such a surrealist sui generis as Dalí with someone like Murakami, I was struck by certain less-than-fully-acknowledged post-war and mid-century Japanese influences on Murakami, such as that echt disaster film-maker, Inoshiro Honda. Now, moving from the transmogrified classicism of these Daruma fantasies to the ‘landscapes’ and abstractions in the next gallery, it occurred to me that not only was Murakami expanding further on his own playfully abstracted extrapolation of Edo screen painting traditions and the Nihonga hybrid painting of his earliest academic excursions, but also moving forward through the last century’s mad clash of formal and pop cultural influences -- from varying degrees of abstraction and expressionism, from ab-ex drip painting to the pastiched graphic half-tones of Pop, to intensely saturated primary and secondary hues, to quasi-calligraphic eruptions and various quasi-historical or cultural references (e.g., Murakami roundels that morph into ttraditional Japanese stylized chrysanthemums), to the psychedelic hues and graphics of late-1960s commercial art (cf., Kubrick 2001 Star Child poster, referenced in the posting just below.)

(4 May)

The unanswered question here is just what is being represented or expressed. After the elegance and flashiness (yes, they coexist here) of the show, the B&P press release is informative but doesn’t help me draw any conclusion. The coupling of abstracted ‘landscape’ or ‘seascape’ or waves (or an abstracted hybrid pictorial formula whose ambiguity is underscored by the artist’s and staff’s obscure intentions) and ‘keyholes,’ surface ‘eruptions,’ dripped paint that seems to enter from another world, the surface play of traditional Japanese elements – all of it seems intended to juxtapose two actualities, each ambiguously exterior and interior: the ‘natural’ world (however defined or stylized), and an interior, ‘denatured’ or abstracted world – the world evoked by the Daruma paintings (or alternatively, the Inochi character and objects, the robot/replicant boy seen in the retrospective). But that may be part of the point: to stretch the 2001 analogy (since I seem to have it at hand), it’s that keyhole or black hole into another, possibly parallel universe (consider the Keir Dullea character’s (Bowman) re-birth in an antiseptic Alberti space), replete with the cultural and historical emblems of the other seeping, wafting through it; or alternatively, one universe afloat atop another. In the meantime, does the Daruma Zen icon simply answer the open-ended ‘Why?’ of the Mr. DOB trademark? A kind of ‘tune in, turn on, drop out’ for the 21st century? Or simply emblematic of a permanent oscillation between stasis or inertia and historical cycles – watchsprings in a perpetual motion machine? But there’s almost too much going on here – from the lushness of the jewel-like saturated colors, to the clash of surface incident, to the flash and polish of the silver and gold screen backgrounds. Murakami may be looking for the way out of one misconceived/misbegotten universe, but you feel lost in its dazzle before you find your way into the next one.

What did I just mean by that? That whatever ‘parallel’ universe we conceive freshly is bound to be as mathematically/aesthetically warped, inaccurate, messed up as the one we’re swirling around in? Gee – something else to think about as I take (took) in the very here/now (well, (t)here/then) universe of Gregory Crewdson’s show at Gagosian. As in so many Crewdson productions, it’s the magic hour settling over a quiet suburban setting – this one a Midwestern-looking community, by turns winter-bound and spring-thawed, of wood-frame gabled and saltbox houses, some opened or partially opened up to reveal a private moment of nascent or inchoate drama. I want to say, Crewdson is about the ‘magic hour visible’ – analogous obviously to the Miltonic ‘darkness visible.’ Whether the ‘magic hour’ (sunrise or sunset – or some simulation of it), or the glowing jewel-like twilight of so many of his other photographs (a kind of ‘sapphire hour’), there’s something anti-nostalgic about Crewdson’s superficially ‘nostalgia’ imbued pictorials (and similarly, an ‘anti-mystery’ about his ‘mystery’ shots) – the kind of hell Cheever mapped so masterfully in his novels and stories. These are Sartrean suburbs – imagine Huis Clos set on the Wisteria Lane of ABC’s Desperate Housewives.

Yes, I liked the show – more than I thought I would – but so what? I was getting – not bored, but a little anxious, distracted; feeling crowded and unmoved (it’s a Gagosian opening, remember?) at the same time – when I ran into artist/curator Kristin Calabrese in the company of bright young thing Josh Aster. We chatted a bit about the last UCLA MFA show (which, after all is where I first encountered Aster’s work), which we’d both seen a couple days ago, and caught up with each other’s news. I’ve been a bit of a fan of Calabrese’s for a few years, and even more of a fan since a couple of shows she’s curated (both at Angstrom and Honor Fraser – long before they became next door neighbors) which both seemed very much on-the-pulse and brilliantly sweeping and perceptive surveys of their aesthetic and intellectual terrain. Anyway – so we’re wandering around in the upstairs gallery – and Kristin mentions she has a show coming up – which is exciting right there; and well, maybe Sarah Watson still has one of the new paintings in her office and … well, I saw it. I felt blown away by, let’s call it a Guston-gust, when I saw it. (In other words the kind of feeling I had when I first saw Guston’s works in the 1970s.) Speaking of Sartre – let’s just say, Crewdson suddenly felt like Sartre-lite compared to this very real presence. And there was another. We went back downstairs to the backroom and there it was – unobtrusively unforgettable. I’m not going to give it away; you’re just going to have to wait and see it. Let’s just say it’s Andrea Mantegna meets Charley Ray meets John McCracken. Those two paintings eclipsed everything else (including the dazzle of Murakami) that evening; I could have gone home right then and there and just spun a little Haydn on the speakers. I’ve always thought Calabrese was an artist and thinker of considerable scope, but it occurred to me I was only just beginning to take the measure of her range – which is amazing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Champagne for pale blue eyes

3 May 2008

This may be an odd place to pick up my blogging quiver again; but then I only choose where I begin again, not where I leave off. Looking at my notes, I see a couple of half-edited post-Armory posts that never quite made it up which I may dust off and inset somewhere here another time. But I prefer to look ahead – or back only as far as the night or week-end just past (assuming the standard complement of libations, can anyone really be trusted to do more with any accuracy?).

Anyway I’ll spare you the details regarding my post-Armory virus – which in any case didn’t entirely stop me from going out [highlights – filtered through my feverish haze: the stunning LACMA Phantom Sightings show; not unrelated – Danny Jauregui’s show last week-end at Acuna-Hansen; an enthusiasm for Tim Ebner’s new paintings at Rosamund Felsen (which needs re-visiting post-fever); Martin Scorsese’s film of The Rolling Stones’ 2006 Beacon Theatre concert, Shine A Light].

So – just when you thought I’d had enough fairs for one season (or four) – last night, I found myself at the Modernism Show at the Santa Monica Civic – really not the most unlikely place for me to be. My apartment is a shambles; and I’m finally taking some serious steps towards renovation and redecoration. Of course I’m starting (logically or no) with re-hanging the art (always the most important thing for me, if not the most rational procedure; I know I’ll probably end up re-hanging it again). The second and third steps involve calling 1-800-GOT-JUNK and an industrial cleaning crew (they usually show up in full haz-mat regalia, ready for everything from bubonic plague to plutonium contamination, which for all I know may be present – gee, as if my DNA needed fresh damage). Anyway, I could use a new credenza, lamps, lamp tables, nightstands, rugs, etc., etc. (Though I could probably buy myself off with a nice cocktail shaker or bangle.) I was joined for the evening by one of my bi-coastal pals, Big-Penn, who, by contrast, has been on the prowl for iconic architectural properties. (If you think the market is depressed for these properties, think again. Neutra’s iconic Kaufmann house in Palm Springs, which is being sold at Christie’s contemporary sale on the 13th is expected – as many other art works to be sold that evening are – to fetch a record price.)

And so I headed straight for the art. Okay – not really – it’s just that the perimeters of these fairs (and not just Modernism or other decorative arts markets) tend to favor, if not fine art necessarily, at the very least graphic arts and prints (the splashier the better) and/or printed matter (art, shelter books and magazines and the like). So while Big-Penn seriously mulled over the very handsome pastel and pencil drawings, architectural renderings, and sketches of, among other things, iconic Neutra houses, at Edward Cella, I was diverted by the vintage movie posters (and an old acquaintance) at Walter Reuben, including a stunning Italian poster for the Leone/Grimaldi/UA Il Buono, il brutto, e il cattivo (very different emphasis from the American version which distinctly plays up Eastwood’s “Buono”), a Japanese poster for the DeLaurentiis/Paramount/Vadim Barbarella, which anticipates the craze-to-come for anime, and the psychidelic, eye-popping image for a poster for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, once intended to merely paper vacant walls and construction sites and now fetching a whopping $16,000. (Wonder what the poster for Buñuel’s Belle de Jour would fetch.) This is really not such a stretch for me: I collected movie posters long before I collected fine art (and – to judge from current market prices – apparently sold some of my best for a song), and still have several hanging alongside the paintings and drawings at home. (Hey – DNA is a powerful thing, even when it’s all messed up.) Big-Penn and I both noted a certain amount of fashion (and Hollywood-style glamour) photography about (including at Cella) – but there was something distinctly – I’m inclined to say, almost deliberately – unengaging about a lot of it – as opposed to what was exhibited, say, at photoLA. (Has there been a mood shift about mid-century American style photography?) By contrast, one of the most charming and thoroughly engaging of the booths was that of Vintage European Posters (Oakland), whose staff made a brilliant stand-up show of their truly magnificent vintage travel/tourism, arts and advertising posters. It was Champagne for the eyes and (in lieu of Cortina, Zermatt, Davos, Basel???), I really needed it.

So much of what catches one’s eyes at fairs like these are what might be called jewellery for the walls, ceilings, tables, etc. – and in between the jewellery was some actual jewellery that doubled as art: specifically pieces by, among others, Calder, Gabo, Rickey and Louise Bourgeois on display at Didier Antiques (London); also beautiful pieces (especially earrings – I tried on a fabulous gold and enamel pair that were beyond reasonable) at, among others, Kimberly Klostermann (Cincinnati), Summerfield Stanton, and Linda Goldberg (Beverly Hills). The real household jewellery was abundantly on display at Greg Nanamura (New York), who showed a magnificent Curtis Jere chandelier that looked like cascades of corroding metallic stalagmites in patinaed bronze and a beautiful scattering of patinaed brass disks, knobs and roundels (“Raindrops”) intended to decorate a wall. And there was that credenza and lamps I needed – bases that looked like Chinese characters with trapezoid shades flanking a slender chrome mirror on the perfect black credenza. (And more earrings to covet: a salesperson modeled a fantastic pair of Lucite drops by Monies (Copenhagen).)

Habite (San Francisco) showed a beautiful, almost Irwin-esque mirror – a chrome edged, beveled glass circle set slightly off-center onto a larger disk of pale blue glass – a pale blue eye poised not only to reflect, but to spring back into one’s eye – by Fontana Arte. (They are opening a store on La Brea here in L.A.) I wanted to linger on – but I kept losing Big-Penn who goes through these things like a shark.

We ended up at Bridges Over Time (Newburgh, New York), where I was admiring a beautiful, streamlined sculpted chaise and Big-Penn (between the shmooze) had his eye on a striking Wesselman-esque pattern study. Ed and Betty Koren made the space feel like a cozy living room in a house on the Hudson (or maybe New Canaan) and I didn’t think Big-Penn was going to be able to drag himself away without the Wesselman wanna-be (or myself, for that matter, without a beautiful, slender Italian brass tripod torchiere), but to my amazement, he did; and we proceeded to a very Dolce Vita (another movie poster I once owned) scene in John Baldessari’s neighborhood.

Aside from what I personally coveted, what lingers on (in addition to that Irwin-esque “pale blue eye”) is the art. In addition to the abundance of fine art lithography and prints, there were a couple of truly outstanding paintings (at prices commensurate with their value), including a truly magnificent Albert Gleizes Cubist figurative abstraction at Trigg-Ison (who put on that amazing Masson show last fall), and a marvelous painting by Bay Area figurative abstractionist Bruce McGaw, “Chemical Plant by Freeway, Emeryville” at Dennis Clark Fine Arts (Carmel). Either one would be a significant expenditure (the McGaw, for example was $125,000); but given the overheated auction market, might be considered an extremely reasonable investment for the pleasure alone.