Thursday, November 26, 2009

Michael Govan's Baby and other Thanksgiving Follies

24- 26 November 2009

Okay – I really didn’t think it was going to be quite this long – but I’ve been having problems both trivial (relatively) and serious – and all of them disabling – with both my desktop AND my laptop; and things have been just crazy enough in my office to sideline whatever impulse I might have had to post from there. (It’s not always like that – but sometimes more so than others – like, uh, recently.)

Anyway, much as I would like to, I’m not even going to begin to retrace my steps (which are many) and just jump in with what’s in my scope at the moment, what’s on the table right in front of me, and generally what’s on my mind.

What’s in front of me right now is an item from Bloomberg by way of the Los Angeles TimesCulture Monster blog regarding the status of that Jeff Koons boondoggle folly, “Train” – the full-scale 70-foot, mechanically functional 1943-vintage Baldwin 2900-series steam locomotive intended to be hoisted by an enormous crane and suspended above Wilshire Boulevard (or at least over the sidewalk, threatening only pedestrians foolish enough to attempt entering the museum through its main entryway). The status is, in a word, stalled; and maybe, to judge from the slightly resigned, pessimistic tone of the posting, a bit stale. Well, no kidding. Its sheer grandiosity made it stale before LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Director, Michael Govan, managed to put into words just how stale it was – that is to say, stillborn – though Govan apparently doesn’t know this yet. Sometimes I get the impression that Govan is playing a museum director version of the Ira Levin/Roman Polanski character, Rosemary – as in Rosemary’s Baby – running here, flitting there, picking at this or that, all over town, unaware that the vision he’s gestating is something of an art world Antichrist – a monument to post-industrial and post-financial melt-down that may in fact be its singular (and single) artistic merit. Oh sure – go ahead and bankrupt the museum, squander millions that might actually be committed to real art with serious street-cred in and out of the critical dialogue, on and off the auction block – all for a $35 million folly (you read that right – yeah, I know the published estimates are in the $25 million neighborhood; but if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you; oh and did anyone say anything yet about MAINTENANCE?)

As everyone knows, the same Wallis Annenberg who subsidizes Govan’s paycheck funded the feasibility studies on this project, but over the last year or so has reportedly lost much of her interest in it (a tribute to Govan’s persuasive skills that she mustered any interest in it in the first place) and wisely shifted her focus towards acquisitions of actual art and other LACMA programs. (By the way, if this posting should ever find its way to Ms. Annenberg’s transom, I am completely open to re-naming it Wallis Annenberg awol [On the other hand, I’ll have to check with my editor to see if she’d be willing to re-name my position Wallis Annenberg Staff Writer of Artillery Magazine.] I can assure her Foundation straight off that it would be a MUCH smaller investment than Govan’s subsidy. Frankly, the sooner the better – for starters, I could use some help getting to Miami Beach next week – no kidding.)

Setting aside the hazards – really an engineering nightmare, especially in a seismically active zone – of erecting such a thing in proximity to one of the most heavily trafficked blocks in Los Angeles – the thing at best reads as a monument to decline – and, in a way, a slap at the museum itself (which might not be entirely a bad thing); and I’m not even sure how apt such a notion really is – right now or 30 years from now or 130 years from now. (If Warren Buffett is suddenly bull-ish on trains and rail transportation – and we better be bull-ish on some alternative to the hopeless carbon monster our mass transportation is for the most part in this country – perhaps the train is not as much of an Industrial Age relic as the Koons project seems to imply.) Speaking specifically of follies – I mean in the classic sense – Govan is actually not stupid, and you have to wonder why he can’t seem to shake himself out of his monument-building lock-step and take the radical step of thinking small – or at least within the museum’s means, which so far, he’s pushed WAY beyond. I mean – why not an actual folly – something small enough to disappear in the rush of Wilshire Boulevard traffic – yet exquisite enough to conjure a rapture within the right perspective. He should make a research tour of some English stately homes and German shlosses to see how it’s done.

Of course, folly or whatever, then he has to find the right artist for the project; and I have to say I can't think of such an artist off the top of my head. But I'm pretty sure it's not Jeff Koons or Chris Burden. There’s more to say about all this – and a few other things – but enough for now.

Happy Thanksgiving, possums -- as Dame Edna would say.

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