Monday, June 15, 2009

Fractured but fabulous

14 June – 15 June 2009

Before I come at you with a truckload of accumulated notes (no – I don’t mean going back the last three months – just the last couple of weeks), let me just tell you what grabbed my attention this week-end. (I hope this doesn’t sound like a Facebook page, which has been a slight, though sometimes entertaining, distraction since the MOCA “Mobilization” dragged me into its web.) First of all, as more than one person has pointed out in a general way, I haven’t been ‘around’ as much as I was prior to my return from the New York fairs. As some of you know, I was dealing with a number of professional, financial, and personal ‘challenges’ that vacuumed away an awful lot of my energy and focus. And crisis or ‘challenge’ aside, I felt an acute need to psychologically regroup and refresh my focus. It’s an on-going struggle and I don’t see myself emerging from it overnight. The more pleasurable side of this is that I find myself spending a bit more time reading (that is to say, reading and actually finishing books and long essays or feature articles). Lately I’ve been researching India and the subcontinent and spent part of this week-end finishing Octavio Paz’s In Light of India – a brilliant, magical sequence of essays about India and his experiences there (he was an envoy, and not long thereafter Mexico’s ambassador to India); needless to say every page is touched with Paz’s special genius. Next up is Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India. For pure pleasure I’m reading, Edna O’Brien short stories (she has a new bio of Byron that I’m sure is a hoot) and Colette’s La Retraite sentimentale – a sort of birthday book. (Am I revealing too much about myself? Yes – I guess that’s who I am these days.)

So you can see that ‘tales of the flesh’ might have an irresistible allure for me lately (‘spirit’ too, I suppose – but so much harder to sink one’s teeth – or eyes, ears and hands – into, no?). Besides I hadn’t been to Western Project in a while, I knew Carole Caroompas and Liz Young would be in the show; and – well, I had to go. One of Caroompas’s huge Before and After Frankenstein canvases greeted me as I walked in; and it was interesting studying its iconography for a moment and breathing in that almost hieratic, almost religious (albeit heterodox) quality it radiates. It could almost be an altarpiece, I was thinking for a second – only to turn into the main space of the gallery and be confronted with something that really was a kind of, well, shrine, a sort of devotional tableau – a shrine or an altar with a quasi-Chippendale pediment that – even from a distance – evoked cataclysm, catharsis (or at least a kind of baptism),transfiguration. I had to sort of hold back a bit. It was just a bit too much – with the ‘Chippendale’ topped frame giving way to extensions into the gallery space itself. I had to distract myself with Liz Young’s drawings and another Caroompas before I could really deal with it. (Caroompas – and Liz Young come to think of it – made me think a bit about Kaari Upson’s incendiary work again. What can I say? – the cutting, the re-configuration of flesh – gee, isn’t everyone obsessed with that on some level? At least in New York and L.A. Maybe all of America.)

And then it just happened – it was like I was just caught in some cheesy movie, helpless to resist its magnetic draw. (Upson again: how do you resist something as cheesy as the Grotto? You don’t. You just go with it. Enter that locus of utterly absurd insanity and just make it your own.) I felt the almond eyes of that slightly cartoon-ish, Fractured Fairy Tale Portrait of Dorian Gray figure upon me – to say nothing of that magical, mystical, ever so tactile frame, with its Munch/Jugenstil/Nouveau skulls and bones mouldings. And then of course, it’s there – like the wound of Amfortas in Syberberg’s film of Parsifal – those beautifully glistening labia…. “Don’t worry, Eve. You can always put that where your heart ought to be.”

Do you see what’s happening? Right as we’re writing/reading this? I’m coming apart just re-visualizing it, salivating a bit, even though it’s not strictly speaking that carnal. I’m not giving the artist enough credit. It’s much more articulate, developed – abstractly, symbolically, iconographically, narratively. Oh – the artist: his name is Aaron Sheppard. Like his Debutante in eclipse, or the fearful Symmetry of that transfigured scuba diver, he seems to have blown across the waters like Botticelli’s Venus on the half- (I was about to say clam – can you blame me?) shell. (Come to think of it, he does have a very Botticelli aura in person. Maybe it’s his long flowing hair.) In fact, he blew across the desert sands of Las Vegas (well, they don’t call it Vegas for nothing), which is where Cliff discovered him. And I’m so glad he did. Do you mind if I take a break? I need to eat something. I also need to say something more about Aaron Sheppard. Also about George Bolster, whose work I saw later the same evening at Chung King Project. (His “Madonna of the Tears” made me think of Barbara Hutton. “The bride wore black and carried a scotch and soda.”) In lieu of the Wooster Group’s Il Didone (long story – hopefully I can catch it this week).

Oh by the way, did anybody else notice (as if anyone couldn’t) the scaled-down New York Times Magazine this Sunday? Note to the Editors: BIGGER IS MORE.

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