Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Regarding Henry -- and Alicia

29-30 September 2009

Before I continue my little tour around the two new 'fine arts' floors of the Pacific Design Center, I want to take just a moment to remember two amazing individuals who had an enormous influence on me.

You may have already read that Henry Hopkins -- former (and first, as I recall) director of the Hammer Museum (as well as UCLA's Wight Art Gallery) and for many years, the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, artist, scholar, teacher, mentor to so many here in California -- died Sunday here in L.A. I last saw him not two months ago at an art/nightclub opening that featured the work of a gifted former student. Although he looked well and was in so many ways his affable self, it was clear that he was in delicate health. I only learned the next day that he was still recuperating from major surgery, which made his appearance all the more remarkable -- yet so completely Henry. Intrepid, ever willing to stray from the beaten path, always on the look-out for the new thing (though never unwilling to take a second look at the 'old'), alert to fresh sparks, willing to take on all comers -- that was Henry. However infirm he may have been that early evening, his eyes were ever alert and alive. His always amazing eye for painting was very much in evidence that evening as we walked through the show (of paintings by Angel Chen) -- applauding the artist's colorism, singleing out especially strong paintings, or simply passages of paintings -- at once the teacher's teacher and connoisseur's connoisseur, and always with such grace and good humor. More than once he took me aside to steer me towards an artist or artwork or simply some art world 'person of interest', to impart some bit of news he knew I would relish. That he was always so open, accessible, informative and encouraging to me, personally (and he was no less encouraging to so many), is something I will always cherish.

The second passing I must take note of is only slightly more distant chronologically and geographically. Alicia de Larrocha died in Barcelona Friday; but like most great artists, she was a citizen of the world, and my associations with her are ineluctably linked with New York and Los Angeles. I had the privilege of seeing her perform many times in Los Angeles -- at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion and the Hollywood Bowl -- both in recital and in concert with the L.A. Phil; and in New York at both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. So much of what I have learned about classical form, and especially Mozart and playing Mozart at the piano, was shaped by her own precise and elegant playing. Brendel later became huge in my 'Mozart (and Schubert) universe' -- but Alicia de Larrocha was the original model, the template forever engraved in my mind whenever I listen or (still more rarely) attempt to play Mozart. And of course, she was my introduction to a world of French and Spanish music: Ravel, Granados, Albeniz. To this day I don't think she has an equal in her interpretation of the Spanish classics.

And, as anyone who attended her recitals can attest, her intelligence, poise and sensitivity, were manifest in almost every piece of music of played. She knew how to 'turn a phrase' and make it new every time, to make us hear it almost as deja vu and epiphany at the same time, to hear it written fresh as if the composer had just set the notes down. She retired only a few years ago -- a celebrated recital she gave with the Tokyo String Quartet at Carnegie Hall -- but for her many fans, her music-making lives forever.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Between Abandon and Atonement

28 September 2009

Back to Thursday night (24 September) – and Saturday night (26 September) – a little late, I know (I could have used that Town Car I was, uh, ranting about, since my venerable Volvo decided to take a powder not long after I had left Kristin Calabrese’s and Josh Aster’s “Itty Bitty” show at Circus of Books; on top of which I lost my cell phone somewhere in that neighborhood. One more expensive detour I really didn’t need.) I left off talking about Mark Dutcher’s sculpture, but didn’t really address the painting; and I have to confess it was difficult to address this painting – in other words, settle my eye, my focus, upon it. Where would I find my way into the painting? How to ‘scan’, to ‘map’ it if you will, to really make sense of the palette (which was dominated by blues – lots of cobalt, Prussian, lapis, sapphire, midnight tones; many textured (including velvet, as Mark pointed out to me)? It was a very large panel. On top of which – or should I say, to the side of which – there was a separate rhomboidal panel or flange flatly painted in blue, hinging or folding out from the main rectangular panel. If I was having a hard time finding my way into the painting, this element was not helping me, nor for that matter helping me find a way out.

That Mark will eventually find his way back into the kind of painting he wants to make (and out of the labyrinth of texture, incident and other painterly problems he seems to have created for himself), I have no doubt. Of the curators, Dan and Ryan Callis, I have my doubts. But then maybe it’s just me: I confess I grew impatient trying to ‘read’ Monique Prieto’s usually very readable text paintings in that trademark Stonehenge megalith font of hers. But at least with Prieto, there’s something to challenge the eye simply in terms of the painting as a whole. Ryan Callis’s painting certainly scanned easily enough – but then most pattern-and-decoration type painting does. Certainly this is the ground for this kind of painting, though more geometricized here, with a nod to the incidental, even figurative elements. But so what? What is it getting at?

[I’m a little cantankerous, right now, aren’t I? You can see why it’s easy to let a blog go. Unless there’s something really exciting to talk about, why bother? It’ll get reviewed eventually, somewhere – hopefully by someone less jaded than I – so why not just let it go without comment? But, you know how the song goes – ‘the best is yet to come’; and so it was this particular evening. It may not keep us blogging here in L.A., but it sure keeps us going out to the art openings, concerts, movies, etc., looking for that new new thing that inspires us in a way nothing ever has before.]

Ryan’s brother/husband, Dan’s work was even more derivative – couched somewhere between a kind of semaphoric colorism and and the aforementioned pattern and decoration. The color was refreshing. It would look good as a summer print, I thought – but then we’re dressing for autumn aren’t we? In other words, could you show me something in a, uh, … INTERESTING?!! I’m not here textile shopping for Marc Jacobs. Ya know what I’m saying?

[No, I’m not going to stop now – you’ll why see in a second.] The most interesting painting – and some of the pieces were not, strictly speaking, painting – was done by an artist named Matty Byloos, whose work I’d never seen before. Speaking of texture, I wanted to get closer to the paintings (there were only two) to get a better sense of its relative thinness or flatness, saturation, and so forth – from a distance the color appeared laid down fairly thinly, perhaps scraped down – but people (the crowd was pretty heavy) kept wandering into my sightlines and so I moved on to the black-and-white drawings – completely different in character from the paintings, and perhaps even more compelling, somehow deeper on some level than the paintings, which had a certain matter-of-fact finality to them. With a foreclosure being filed roughly every seven seconds here in the U.S., what could be more timely, I thought, than paintings of houses that appeared boarded up and abandoned? But really this only scratches the (thin) surface. Abandonment and isolation are certainly keynotes here; but there is something further quietly sublimated off these surfaces, something haunted, forlorn, trapped energies, unfinished business. (Or was I just tired? Ready to get in my car and fall asleep at the wheel?)

The black-and-white drawings – which looked as if taken from some collection of stock images or photos, or handbook illustrations (or perhaps Situationist graphic images – are mostly domestic interiors, situations and genre scenes, suddenly interrupted or intruded upon by black-out balloons or clouds, black mists descending upon the centers and obscuring some critical bit of the depicted transaction. They were, like the houses, haunting and mysterious; schematic ‘bad dream’ images, in which the central action (usually involving one’s own consciousness) is somehow self-censored. I later learned that Byloos is also a writer, which does not surprise me at all – not that there is anything particularly narrative about these pieces – but all of them, paintings and ‘drawings’ (or is it the other way around?) exude an acute psychological intelligence.

There’s more to report: mostly on the group show at Carl Berg and the special showcase space he’s created upstairs on the 5th floor of the Pacific Design Center (I somehow doubt that he’s permanently annexed this space – but its current inhabitant just might make him do it.) In the meantime, remember this name: Erin Dunn.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

RANT-ing and Raving -- but Still Here, Still Looking, Still Listening

25-26 September 2009

I’m big on preambles, as anyone who has ever dipped into this blog knows – but I’m not even sure at this point who, or if ANYONE will be reading this – so I’ll keep this one brief. Every once in a while – and lately, oh let’s face it, MONTHS – awol goes, uh, AWOL. Well, maybe that’s not quite the way to put it. It’s more like – awol goes OVER THE EDGE. The last few months – really the last year – have been like that; and – well, do I really need to explain it? I don’t think so -- but I’ll try to sum up. It’s called LIFE; and it’s a bloody messy business. There’s the economy that’s foreground and background to all of this. There’s the tapestry of emotional turbulence interwoven throughout, but perhaps more dramatically over the past year or so. There’s politics – of the public forum, naturally -- always troubling; of the private, professional and workplace spheres (and the art world, too – but where to comment, intervene? I’m not about to jump into that unless I have my facts in order); and then, quite simply, the demands of working and making a living in this kind of environment. And there’s the stream of practical obstacles, private tribulations and everyday disasters that clutter everyone’s life.

I fall ASLEEP. Okay? It's bloody EXHAUSTING. (And here’s a shout-out: anyone want the part-time job of helping me get up in the morning? I need an assistant for this, no kidding.) So sue me – or better yet, come work for me.

Okay – Thursday night (the 24th): very hot-town-summer-in-the-city. Except, of course, it was fall. Dressed autumnally (fawn wool crepe, Ferragamo, matching suede court shoes), running late from the Black Glass Ellipse of the Flynt Publications Building, I made my way to the International Klein Blue Whale of Pacific Design Center (parking a nightmare), headed towards melt-down of course – but what a way to go. My first PLANNED stop was RANT, a group show curated by Dan Callis and Ryan Callis (brothers? Husband and wife (Ryan I think can be a girl’s name)?) – I know nothing about either of them as artists, and if their own work is any indication, I don’t have much interest for the moment in learning anything more. (I WOULD have liked to know SOMEthing about them, artistically, curatorially; but there was no printed information available at the show – or for that matter a checklist of the work, artist bios (some of whom are well enough known – e.g., Phoebe Unwin, Monique Prieto, Mark Dutcher, Alex Couwenberg), or curatorial statement – not that I really need one. I’m assuming that the title will more or less telegraph what the emphasis is supposed to be.) Touching on that last parenthetical point, I’m not sure if the show quite reached that fevered pitch, but for at least a few of the artists, you could see it moving in that direction, some more idiosyncratically than others. (Monique Prieto’s work, needless to say, fit RIGHT IN – hey, I mean that in a good way, sort of.) And for the rest – well, it added up to enough visual (maybe aural, too) cacophony to get you revved up to that point, more or less.

And I needed to be revved up – I had no idea to what extent. A good part of the third floor (and parts of other floors above and below) is now given over to art gallery space leased cheaply to any number of galleries and independent kunsthalle-type ventures (e.g., Lucas Reiner and John Millais’s space just kitty-corner from the “RANT” space) -- a by-product of the imploded economy and collapsing real estate market both. Most, if not all of them were either opening shows or just open for the spill-over crowds/business. There was a LOT to see.

I confess that my first draw to RANT was my friend, Mark Dutcher’s new work – which continues to evolve in a number of new directions – most interestingly, at least recently, sculptural – painted, of course – Mark’s commitment to painting is firmly manifest, as any of his friends would tell you. But I think sculpture has become much more than simply a digression for Mark. What will be interesting in the future will be the way he ‘brings it all back home’ to the ‘two-dimensional’ painted work. He is working out problems in both structure and ‘narrative’, if you will (or perhaps more simply ‘incidental’ – I’ll elaborate at some point on). The sculptures – painted mostly in primaries – reds, blues, yellows – were vertical, allusive to the figure mostly in terms of their human scale, segmented in separate rectangular and oblong wooden blocks – a cross between a kind of Giacometti-esque David Smith and a Jenga set (does anybody besides ME remember (and MISS!) Jenga – those little odd, notched pieces of balsa-wood that you stacked and stacked and stacked until some klutz (ME!) would knock them over? A great game to play while drinking cocktails or just before sex). Many of them were topped off with what functioned almost as miniature platforms for further incident – smaller elements arrayed across the tops (capitals? – or other architectural influence).

I have to break off – YES, I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING. Just forget about it. Please. I’ll be back. I promise. It’ll be a few hours. HELLO! – it’s L.A. – it takes a while to get around this bloody town. (Oh, by the way, Paige – would you mind sending a car? My Volvo is having, uh, circulation issues. And it better be a Lincoln Town Car. Oh yeah, did I tell you the driver needs to be cute? S/He does. Preferably someone with a first name of either Jimmy or Cindy. Preferably Latino/Mexican -- black hair, chiseled features, beautiful, smoked-mirror-smouldering eyes -- someone presentable and .... Well ... my Volvo isn't the only thing that needs servicing.) (I do go on, don't I?) My first stop is the Circus of Books where Kristin Calabrese and Joshua Aster have curated a show of “itty bitty paintings” that, knowing what those two are capable of, is likely to be GENIUS. (ps – more about Josh Aster, later, too.)