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.)

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