Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gallery Roundup -- 20 June 2009

Let's begin with introductions...
Age: 32

BA, Communication
MFA, English Literature, Creative Writing

Hometown: New York City

Current Residence: Los Angeles

Level of Sentimentality: Medium

Feel free to skip down to the actual roundup and reviews, but in case you as a reader are curious just who in the world this blogger is, well keep reading.

Welcome to the first installment in what I hope with be a bi-monthly round-up of that thing some people would describe as art and others might describe as a gigantic waste of time. A lot of people have been telling me the art scene in LA is the best art scene in America right now and I must admit I have my doubts. But, in an effort to keep my mind limber, and not succumb to Lou Gehrig's disease before I turn forty, I've decided to write about the art I see and the books I choose to read. Occasionally I will cover a film or an album too, but hopefully only when they are truly groundbreaking. Why am I doing this? Why the hell not, right?

Now, I'll openly admit that I am an outsider in the art world, but it shouldn't all be about being an insider, right? What I mean to say is that an individual should be able to walk into any gallery and have an impression, there are no rights or wrongs, but there is good and bad taste. Right now I will not be rating according to any scale, I am certainly open to suggestions though.

In the words of the horse track: AND WE'RE OFF!


The roundup began with a few drinks at home while writing THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES Book Review, then scouring the web for a reliable resource fon the galleries I should hit up. As mentioned, this is a learning process and having surfed for a good forty minutes without much luck I wandered into ArtSlant: It gave me a brief description of each opening, a single slide that was meant to represent the show and the hours of operation. It was as informative as it needed to be except for the warning that most of I would see would be, well, not good.

After reading through the guide for the weekend I selected four shows to hit along with the hope that other galleries on the main La Cienega strip of Culver City would be open. All openings had open bars and my partner in crime (my roommate) were locked and loaded for a night of fine art appreciation, laughter and maybe, just maybe, some inspiration.

So, without further adieu, the quest will begin to insert myself into the L.A. art scene like a star quarterback into the head cheerleader. Be careful you say? Danger is my middle name when it comes to the written word. The mission is to honestly and articulately express appreciation or disappointment of and in the contemporary artists and art scene of the day.


Stop 1: Kinkead Contemporary, 6029 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232 Heather Cantrell - A Study in Portraiture: Act 1
June 20 - July 18, 2009

Located on Washington Boulevard Kinkead Contemporary is a small space to begin with. But, with the front space set up with two backdrops, camera on tri-pod in the middle of the room and a shelving installation filled with photography "props," it felt rather claustrophobic. Entering the space to hipsters with curly moustaches standing around joking around about this or that and art revelers talking amongst themselves and ignoring the art, it was obvious right away that this was a show that did not demand attention. After doing a quick walk-through, cutting through compelling conversations about baby's needs and smart filmmakers who are a "personal friend," we checked out the bio and purpose of the show.

A Study in Portraiture deals with the subversion and altering of identity through portraiture and how those issues manifest themselves through Heather Cantrell's exploration of tribes and subcultures, specifically those of the art world.

Obviously the art world is a tribe, just like the Hebrews. And, of course, nothing explores that like posing people up in front of backdrops they think are clever and allowing them to play dress up like some damned eight year old that doesn't invite the whole class to the birthday party. The show was, put simply, an insiders show meant to assert importance to a group of people who need that type of positive reinforcement.

It was essentially a boring photo exhibit. An elaborate photo booth at a hip Williamsburg or Culver City Bar. Doing one last pass to finish the Tecate and trying to figure out if there is deeper meaning here that one might miss, I went and checked the artists statement again: The resulting photographic image represents this in one captured moment with all its beautiful ambiguity and intrigue - it is a 'play-still.'

This show was neither "ambiguous" nor "intriguing." Instead it was a year book that no one wants to sign.

Stop 2: LeBasse Project, 6023 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Seasonal Change: Group Exhibition
artists including Tessar Lo, Nate Frizzell, Joe Black, Alexandros Vasmoulakis, Thomas Doyle, James Roper, Morgan Slade, Edwin Ushiro, Rebecca Urias, Meryl Donoghue and Michael Steele.

In direct contrast to Kinkeade Contemporary LeBasse Project seemed to be deadset on filling the eyes with such sweet art that it'll give you a bit of a stomach ache, but the kind of stomach ache you revel in. Walking the gallery and feasting on all the eye candy, not every painter was a hit, but the overall feeling was that the gallerists have a vision for the kind of work they want to show and there opinion of the collector is that they'll want to hang the work somewhere that will catch the eye of the observer. The group show features artists who will be participating in upcoming shows.

Beau Basse was there himself and was happy to talk about the current climate in the art world, the works that he felt truly passionate about and the state of art in Los Angeles. The work covered the precious, the grotesque and the ultra cool. Riffs on anime, photography and good old fashioned irony. This was by far the best show of the night and if there were a rating system in place, LeBasse would score high.

There were several highlights of the show. Two in particular really stuck with me. Both could be considered really good guy art. The first one was a reminder of all that is great about the reckless. James Roper's Exit Vehicle series. The pieces are intricately drawn cars at the moment of impact into some immovable force. The result is an explosion of water color. Only 12" x 17" the work packs a mighty wallop. While probably satisfying only the masculine eye, there is something incredibly vulnerable about the detail in the art. What is omitted is almost as interesting as what is on the page. There is no trace of humanity. Only machine in black and white; impact in a rainbow of colors announcing the beauty and texture of the accident. While Roper may not be for everyone his simplistic and clearly stated vision is one that grasps you and forces that smile you get when art is both expertly crafted and cleverly conceived.

The second highlight of the show is Morgan Slade's Tiger Balm. Photography that is printed enormously and then manipulated. This art makes Roper's look like the sensitive little brother afraid of getting to second base. Largely rendered women that we assume are beautiful, their figures are at least, with masks of large and dangerous animals covering most of their head. In the series we never see the woman's face, nor do we see her nude body. But, we see enough. Provocatively painted and adorned afterward, the work simply jumps from the frame and makes you wish you lived in a world where women had as much attitude and swagger as they do in Morgan Slade's work. Again, this is guy art. But, make no mistake.

LeBasse Projects has their shit together. They're showing art. Not some conception of how art should be poignant and "out there," or simple and without talent, but with an MFA pedigree. There were a few clunkers in there. Jack Long's Sustaining felt like a dated 1960's album cover and in a small room to the side there were works that felt minor and more suited for the bottom of a skateboard then on the wall of a gallery. But overall, LeBasse was the hit of the night.

Stop 3: George Billis Gallery, 2716 La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90034
Terry Thompson, Johnny Robertson, Michael Owen

The only thing more upsetting than this show was that no other galleries were open. This was the second time I entered into George Billis Gallery and it was the second time I was unimpressed. It might be the last time I go, but I am sucker for the hope that someone will finally get it right after getting it wrong for such a prolonged amount of time. Billis' show is the perfect example of the slides they use to advertise online being a complete lie when representing what the show acrually has to offer. On Artslant the images looked cool, quirky and worth a look. In person they were worthless, boring and made me want to drown all the acrylic and oil at the bottom of the Pacific so no one could ever paint again. I'd like to think that this is the gallerists and their neighbors fault for allowing them to show that art in this neighborhood. It was neither contemporary, interesting or well rendered.

On my live feed from twitter I made four tweets about this show. Let's make them the last thing I say about the show:

George Billis, culver city from TinyTwitter

Just fell asleep on my feet. This show is a mush of pop culture boredown and bad renderings of palm trees. Rum calls from TinyTwitter

Seriously, the George Billis show was bad. Drinking at mandrake before heading to silverlake for one last opening. from TinyTwitter

In the words of Forrest Gump: And that's all I have to say about that.

Stop 4: Azteca Gallery, 2148 Sunset Boulevard - in Echo Park, Los Angeles, California 90026
Arte de Eros

This show was interesting for the scene. The work was earthy and Latin American. The space was more pleasing than the work. An old store front, possibly a shoe repair shop. The gallerist used a cubby system along one wall to store his hats. The art was all for sale as prints and was reasonably priced and would look good in any southwestern type store or santa fe styled house. The most distracting thing about it was that every piece was accompanied by a note card with the title and a description of what was being represented through the loosely figurative work. This was not only distracting, but the writing was overly sentimental and made the work more boring than it actually was. This was the point of overload for the evening and my viewing partner and I escaped to CitySip for wine and reflection.

In conclusion it was a mediocre first outing. There was no work that haunted or chased us into the next gallery and once the wine was poured we did not feel compelled to reflect on what we'd seen. The art seemed to be without "question." Good art is fun to look at, great art makes you question existence.

My final thought was that the artists we'd seen had mastered their technical skills, but were still lacking that extra push. Whether they lack belief or conviction is hard to tell, but something was missing by God and that missing piece made the night less memorable.

As I mentioned, this blog is a work in progress, but the night was a success. Art was viewed, opinions were made as were friends. Los Angeles I look forward to seeing the best you have to offer.

~ Craig A. Platt

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Friday, June 19, 2009



Art has gone crazy, boys, I said, and they said: it’s always been crazy

Life is unpredictable. Everyone dies. No one will remember you. This is, of course, an oversimplification of sorts, but is the main theme that is intricately woven through the confessional style of this monumental work of trickery and literary mastery. The Savage Detectives is a sprawling Latin American novel by Roberto Bolaño that seeks to both ostracize the author and his form of literature/poetry while at the same time striving to re-re-redefine Latin American literature and the definition of being an artist as a whole.

It would prove to be an impossible undertaking to summarize this novel, a work that is divided into three parts, the first and third being the daily journals of aspiring Visceral Realist Poet Juan Garcia Madero and the second section (the meat and the potatoes of the novel) a five-hundred page series of interviews with people who have at some point in life come into contact and been affected by either the leaders of the poetic movement Visceral Realism Arturo Bolano or Ulises Lima.

We begin with a simple sentence from Madero, an invitation to join the Visceral Realists, an invitation we would be foolish not to accept. Madero is a young and brilliant boy with sexual and poetic prowess. A boy who is both confident and insecure, lost in the sea of Mexican identity. He finds himself torn between the bourgeoisie wishes of his family, notably not his parents, and the visceral realists, a band of young Mexicans living the bohemian lifestyle and searching for a greater truth than any Latin American magical realism can offer. The great enemy is of course Octavio Paz, possibly the only well known poet from Mexico and statesman of Latin American Literature.

Madero is the reader’s introduction to our two literary heroes and dominant figures throughout the story, Arturo Bolano and Ulises Lima. These two young men are the mysterious figures with limitless power, though few have read a word they have written, a power they wield over a group of young artists in search of a larger purpose. The fact that Bolano and Lima seem to be petty criminals constantly failing to launch any poetry magazine off the ground seems to only enhance their legend as men ahead of their time. One could try to describe every character and intricacy of this novel, but that person would only be feeding into the goal of this work.

Bolano and Lima eventually leave Mexico City, Visceral Realism and any permanent life behind, choosing to be itinerant for the rest of their lives. Visceral Realism was never really alive, not according to those who had involved themselves in the movement, though eventually it will be studied, if not by waves of people, at least by one academician who finds meaning in what he is able to learn regarding an undocumented literary movement that can only cobble together a handful of published poems. In fact, to academia Bolano and Lima do not exist and if they do, it is only to those who are interviewed about the subject, the fact that they have published little to nothing renders them meaningless to history. This poses the first major question of the work, how do we define success and if success is the personal barometer to personal artistic satisfaction. Or better stated, does any of it matter if that’s the kind of thing you’re interested in, success? And is success better appreciated alone or within a greater context of your peers.

Visceral Realism is dead, said Requena, we should forget about it and make something new. A Mexican section of surrealism, I murmured. I need something to drink, I said.

This question of whether it is even possible to be an original at this juncture of literary and artistic history, this is another topic Bolaño as author is dealing with through an oral history. The second section of the book, the challenging and important section, is a series of interviews with figures that are important to the lives of both Bolano the character and Lima. From old guard poets to thuggish Austrians, Bolano and Lima have traveled the world from the late 70’s to the mid-90’s and confronted, contemplate and inserted themselves in. Israel, Africa, France, Spain, England, Mexico, Chile, Panama, Nicaragua, these men have worked and lived everywhere. They have mooched and made friends. They have lurched, lived and loved, to a point that they can say that their living has been their art. The world a canvas and the interactions they have had their brushes. They scantily have a dime to spend or a bed to lay in, but they always seem to have a hope, all be it one that lies far away, that at some point greatness will arrive.

While Bolano and Lima are quick to criticize art, people, cities, governments, jobs and cliché bourgeoisie life, what Bolaño is really doing here is reminding us that everyone is a unique being and it's the journey they take that influences their place in history (of course that history is essentially the history of one).

Loneliness, love, death, sex, lies, art, family, literature, intellect, paintings, poems, pranks, privilege, penis, pussy, hunger strikes, hallucination, birth, murder, equality, discrimination, damnation, visceral realism. A series of catalogs chronicling lives tied in one tight bale of hay for a few short years and then thrown in the back of a truck and driven through the world to be strewn apart. The book is enormously entertaining, gigantically cerebral and sentimental.

…the search for a place to live and a place to work was the common fate of all mankind.

After finally finishing the book you flip back through the pages fondly remembering little sections that you’ve forgotten.

At the time I thought it was a sad story, not because of the story itself, but because of the way he told it.

In a generation of writers groomed by creative writing programs Bolaño reminds us that what literature and art really needs are people on the ground, living and grinding through this world, seeing the ugly side, remembering the unfortunate events and ruminating over them for decades. Most importantly, and the reason this novel is brimming with greatness, is that literature, art in general, is about being the great trickster mirror man, reflecting the worlds most grotesque, farcical, comedic, sweet, melancholy and bitter moments into some series of words, brushstrokes, horn blows or sculpted stone that remind us of the simplicity of that complexity. That through the complex undertaking that is art, specifically literature, we can see the pure simplicity and joy that life as a human really has to offer. Bolaño is reminding us that literature can be a colossal force of nature blowing through us and sparking our imaginations through a rough and tumble realism.

You have to live your life, that's all there is to it. A drunk I met the other day on my way out of the bar La Mala Senda told me so. Literature is crap.

~Craig A. Platt