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.)