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)

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