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.)