Saturday, October 31, 2009

Zombie of the Opera

31 October 2009

It’s Halloween – so I’m back to spook you. To scare you. Well, contemporary art and music (& movies, dance, theatre, etc.) should be a little scary. Maybe a LOT scary. (And NO – that doesn’t mean GROSSED OUT. It’s not about cheap EXPLOITATION. In fact it’s not about CHEAP – EVER! Nor for that matter EXPLOITATION – EVER! Have I made myself CLEAR? (Or am I simply confusing the Scientologists who may be reading this?)

So – no – I’m not going to go into an extensive re-tread. Everyone here knows my story (and it’s a sad one); so let’s skip it. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I’m as exhausted as ever. So here we go. Last night (30 October) I went to the opening of conceptual art legend Stephen Kaltenbach’s very aptly timed and titled show at Another Year In L.A., S’Fear. Certainly some aspect of ‘fear’ – or certainly a kind of intimidating mystery – and of course, simply fear and apprehension of the unknown, have played prominently in Kaltenbach’s work in the past: what is hidden from view, scarcely limned through its container or shell (or title – which of course is its own kind of container). And so it was here: more explicitly (and, in one instance, theatrically) than ever. The fear – and the sphere – and the implicit mystery of geometries of two, three and more dimensions. Theatricality to one side – which I find irresistible – it’s a thoughtful and elegant show. So go. Oh – and you might bear in mind that Another Year may be moving from its current landmark Deco building on San Fernando because of some MASSIVE pile of a high school(?) that is set to rise directly across the street. (We need another high school? Why not just make the ones we already have BETTER? As in through MORE, BETTER TEACHERS? A little (or a lot) MORE MONEY??) So – one more reason to hustle over there and see the show.

Thursday night (29 October), Opera Buddy and I went to a screening of a film of the Barcelona-based Fura des Baus production of Wagner’s Die Walkure staged in the (Calatrava designed) Palau de las Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, Spain, featuring Peter Seifert and Jennifer Wilson as Brunnhilde and Juha Uusitalo as Wotan with the the amazing Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana brilliantly conducted by the apparently indefatigable Zubin Mehta. (If you’ve forgotten how amazing he can be, I can recommend this filmed opera on that basis alone.) The production is heavily video and effects-laden – with the internecine dramatics of the first two acts a bit muddied by the staging – but redeemed by the climactic (always threatening-to-never-actually-reach-climax) third act and Brunnhilde’s agony – which reduced Opera Buddy (despite her reservations about the production overall) to tears, and me (after my exhausting workday) to simultaneous catharsis and paralysis. (I comforted OB – ‘hey Dads are like that. Ya try to make them proud of your battle prowess and they end up disowning you & you have to settle for them not letting anyone fuck you but a billionaire master-of-the-universe,’ Right?) Well. (I’m telling you, it was pretty fucking GREAT.)

Earlier that day, I had the great fortune of viewing a portion of Ann Janss’s extensive and eclectic collection of L.A. and other artists – which in addition to some phenomenal Michael McMillen pieces and an entire gallery devoted to an amazing H.C. Westermann series, See America First, provided me with an introduction to the work of Steve Galloway. (As usual, I have to ask myself – was my head stuck under a rock or something?). I’m not going to go into great detail at the moment; because I have to jet out to, uh, the Silver Lake Dog Park. (You think I’m joking, don’t you? Well think again.) If you see a zombie in the dog park, it’s just me. Back in a zombie minute. (That could be a few millennia, you realize.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Murmures des Richesses

9-10 October 2009

Oh who cares who was at the Burchfield opening at the Hammer? Annie Philbin, Cathy Opie, Marlene Picard, Mitch Handsone, Lydia Szamraj, television producers (Hey – I just wrote a treatment – have ya got a minute? I think I have a copy in the car.), models, investment bankers – all the usual suspects. (Never did fetch that treatment.) But let me tell you what I was doing (almost a week later!) before. First of all, there was a truckload of GREAT work at Bergamot Station, where I went to do a bit of reconnaissance. The Francesca Gabbiani show (the second part of a two-part show) at Patrick Painter was extraordinary. I’ve been a fan of hers practically from my first exposure to her work (which, speaking of the Hammer, I believe was through a Hammer Project space (or maybe it was in the main galleries, I don’t remember – but the Hammer gave her the exposure). But her work just keeps getting richer, denser – more elaborate, exquisite, too, of course – but always to a very controlled, specific end – the whole of the conceit, the composition, at the service of the unified effect. (Though it is impossible not to be drawn into the rich details of these ‘black mirror’ collage-tableaux.) In the work on view here, the artistic and decorative fashions of 18th century rococo pastoral are re-worked into a kind of swirling ecological cacophony ‘framing’ a black ‘mirror’ lagoon-negative space. But here the foliated and filigreed shells, flora and fauna of the benign 18th century pastoral-boiserie is given a more forbidding cast, veering into the depths of jungle or forest – barn owls looming over chameleons, reptiles and dense foliage.assembled into a slightly tempestuous froth. The effect is simultaneously haunting and enchanting. Trick-or-treat – Patrick: would you mind putting one of these in my candy sack? I could spend hours with any one of these singular pieces.

I’m jumping ahead a bit here, though (yeah, on a certain level, that makes no sense) – because on the prior Wednesday evening (that’s 30 September), I had the privilege of attending Ana Cervantes’ extraordinary piano recital – really a recital/recitation – a unique music, literary, and arguably even visual experience, almost entirely curated, commissioned and performed – I want to say breathed or launched upon the airwaves – by this marvelous pianist-performer. In the past, I’ve tended (a bit irrationally to be honest about it) to militate a bit against ‘program’ music – as a kind of coloration, literary or narrative, that the music doesn’t really need or support; that may indeed veer sharply from what the purely musical character delivers on its own abstractly. At the same time, I’m completely mad about film soundtrack music – as sensitive to score and sonic tapestry woven behind, through and surrounding film image, action and dialogue – the astonishing capacity a great score has to underscore, heighten or emphasize mood, prefigurations, undercurrents, suspense, climax – as I am to any other aspect of the film: script, dialogue, performance, direction, editing. I’m full of contradictions, I fully realize. Then of course we routinely, almost unconsciously, deal with the ‘literary’ bridges of popular and folk song, commercial music that bombard us daily, to say nothing of the heavy lyric and literary content of musical theatre (or could we stretch that to simply say theatre, period?) and, uh (GASP!) OPERA!

In other words, I guess I’m getting over such irrational biases. A good thing, too – because Ana Cervantes’s magnetic performance, which she titled Rumor de Páramo: Murmurs From the Wasteland effectively put to rest whatever reservations I might have had left about this nexus. (Which are really merely the reflection of my own interior tug-of-war between my literary and purely musical sensibilities.) To be introduced to great bodies of musical and literary work on the same evening for me is practically a formula ready-made for an ecstatic experience. By far the great literary inspiration of Rumor de Páramo is the work of Mexican writer, Juan Rulfo, one of whose principal works is the novel, Pedro Páramo. And as if he needed any endorsement beyond the genius (I think I can take the word of Cervantes, et al. here) of his work, Octavio Paz (a titanic literary hero for me, whose work alas I have only read in English and French), perhaps Mexico’s greatest man of letters, wrote that Juan Rulfo was “the only Mexican novelist to have provided us an image – rather than a mere description – of our physical surroundings.” (meaning Mexico itself). The only composer on the program with whom I was familiar was Arturo Márquez – who might simplistically be described as a Mexican impressionist, TKTKTK

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dandelion Whine

2-3 October 2009

Before I pick up where I left off – and yes, I’m lagging behind again – here’s a discovery. The Blue Whale is apparently a beached whale on Saturdays. This has always been the case to some extent, as I’m aware – the building has long been mostly devoted to design, architecture, textile and furniture showrooms catering mostly to the trade who keep regular Monday through Friday business week hours. But until recently, it seemed there was always something open (besides the restaurant) – or at least some special event that kept the doors open for some segment of non-trade customers or would-be clients trawling the interior design studios. Not so – or certainly not so anymore. When I returned early Saturday afternoon for a bit of reconnaissance (mostly Carl Berg), I was dismayed to be told by a guard that the entire building was closed. That, I said confidently to him, was impossible. There were art galleries on the second and third floors that should be open for business. Should be – but apparently are not. As we both made calls on our respective phones, it became clear that there was no one at the Carl Berg Gallery. I left a message; but there was no reason to expect an immediate reply. The building is apparently closed on Saturdays to ALL. You would think this might change, given the re-purposing of so many of these spaces for art galleries – but nooooo. The galleries will simply have to find a way around this. Here’s a shout-out to Carl: I think some kind of party or salon at some bar – say half-way between that area and Culver City (not the Mandrake – which is something apart and unto itself) – should take the place of the gallery’s Saturday hours – which, let’s face it, are as important to clients and collectors as they are to the rest of us art world shmos cruising for a free view, intel, and something to talk about at the next dinner, drinks or, uh, BAR.

So – Erin Dunn (half the reason I was there) will have to wait a bit. But let me just preview more extended comments by saying it is one of the most astonishing debuts I have seen in some time. Carl Berg obviously agreed. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have essentially handed over an entire gallery – an enormous space divided axially into several smaller rooms or galleries – to this young artist, who only recently settled in Los Angeles after graduating from RISD, with only a few appearances in group shows to date. Obviously any artist this young (I’m not sure if she’s even 25) is still evolving and will probably veer some distance from what is on view here. But the assuredness of her vision (and its range) and technique – in addition to the exuberant, fantasist freedom with which it’s deployed – are truly astonishing.

The work is largely drawn from nature – but abstracted, heightened in color, composition and orientation, and scale to something that is a world apart – a garden of earthly delights transformed into a private fairyland of exquisite, almost monstrous creations. The closest comparison (in terms of both color and style) I can make is to the work of Odilon Redon. Some of Dunn’s flower paintings (I’m not sure what else to call them) struck this note most distinctly – but with slightly more immediacy, a more vivid charge. (And for the most part, they are larger than Redon’s typical scale.)

But it is not just the paintings. Berg did not just throw a gallery to Dunn. Her work – which ranges into collage/assemblage, objects, textiles – encompasses a world. It is something that requires this kind of space. I don’t mean to overstate or exaggerate, but it is visionary on an almost Blake-an scale. No, she is not a William Blake, a Bosch or Breughel, or – well perhaps it’s jumping ahead a bit to even put her in the same company with Redon. But it is a vision complete, compelling and coherent. Okay – let’s move on. I’ll come back to the Beached Whale. At some point.

This past evening (which now slips into the 4th) I’ve been to the opening of the Robert Gober-curated Charles Burchfield show at the Hammer – Heat Waves In A Swamp – which is something of a revelation viewed within the context of the past 15 or 20 years of Los Angeles art. I should say, with some embarrassment, a revelation to me – not obviously to Gober, nor to Ann Philbin. I had only the vaguest clue who he was – knew his work dated from some time in the early 20th century, knew he’d worked in Buffalo, New York, vaguely associated him with Ashcan School painters of upstate New York. As far as I knew (which was NOTHING), he might have just been another journeyman artist cum illustrator cum graphic artist (partially true – his work does have a graphic quality; and he earned his living for a time designing (with splendid success) wallpaper. Nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, he was the first artist given a solo mid-career retrospective at MoMA – which triggered an extensive correspondence with the redoubtable Alfred Barr. Edward Hopper singled him out for praise early in his career. (It was not long after that encomium that he was able to devote himself full-time to his art.) More recently (well, okay 25 years ago) there was a Metropolitan Museum show; still more recently (1993), a show at The Drawing Center. Well, we know where Ann Philbin was; but where the hell was I? Apparently sleeping under a rock somewhere – what? – my subscription to the Times had lapsed?

Of course, Opera Buddy (who I assumed had skipped in favor of the Resnais movies at LACMA) knew all about Burchfield. “Oh, of course – Charles Burchfield. He was a genius. I love his work.” (Am I awake yet?)

The work is not exactly a ‘wake-up call’, however much a revelation to me. Hopper praised Burchfield for his dedication to painting “life” or nature. But as a ‘naturalist’, Burchfield’s hand (and eye) are heavily stylizing – occasionally abstracting nature into a tapestry of interweaving ornament. It is at once schematic and elaborate – a simplified line extended and elaborated into a motif repeated or integrated within a composition of similar landscape elements – or ‘natural’ motives. And as much of a ‘naturalist’ as he was, he did not shy away from depicting the industrial landscape of the northeast and midwest U.S. It was easy to see how he could lend his talents quite successfully to wallpaper design – and of course, his designs were rich, fantastic. But it was a good thing he was able to get away from that business. His best work – mostly watercolors, or watercolors with goache, ink and graphite – has an almost ethereal quality – qualities he was able to sustain almost to the end of his career. One of the most amazing pieces – slightly monochromatic, almost grisaille – comes close to the end of his life (1961-65), Dandelion Fields and the Moon – silvery and shimmering.

In short (yeah, it deserves more than a ‘short’ – but bear with me for a bit), it’s a terrific show. Who was there? Oh let me get back to you about that.