L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A column by Catherine Wagley
I was slapped by a child named Sam who must have been 4 years old the last time I visited Friederich Kunath’s show Lacan’s Haircut at Blum & Poe. Sam was playing with his sister on the bright yellow carpet in the first gallery — each subsequent gallery has bright carpet too, orange then red. He had been fondling one of the oversize oranges with squinty eyes and pointy nose when we locked eyes. Then, after a pause, he sort of sashayed over and slapped me on the hand. It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t gentle either.
A woman who wasn’t his mother called him over in that too sweet I-have-something-serious-to-say-but-don’t-know-how-to-talk-to-children voice. So I thought she had seen what just went down, but, probably, she hadn’t because what she said was, “I just want to congratulate you, Sam. I saw you looking at that painting over there and most children wouldn’t be able to do that for that long without touching it. I was impressed by how cultured you are.” I thought, better to touch a painting than randomly hit people, and since when does repressing tactile urges make you “cultured”?
The Kunath show, oversaturated in the best way, has sculptures of big enamel and resin loafers as well as the oversized fruit, and old-fashioned rendering of bearded men sleeping under trees or explorers on horseback sharing canvas space with cartoon characters and psychedelically colored polygons. In the back video gallery, You Go Your Way, and I’ll Go Crazy plays. It’s a video in which a tall guy who looks like a slightly glamorized version of South African writer J.M. Coetzee works in his studio, fondling the oranges just like Sam did, talking on a rotary phone that’s not plugged in to anything, wading into a pool fully clothed, standing nude over the San Gabriel Mountains, hitting tennis balls against some of the paintings that are in the exhibition. It’s insane, but in a smooth and subdued way, which is why being slapped by a preschooler while perusing this show felt kind of like par for the course.
I left at the exact same moment Sam, strapped into a car-seat, was pulling away, riding in a station wagon. We locked eyes again — I swear– and he waved.
A few days later, at the opening of MOCA’s Destroy the Picture, I was backing away to get a better view of a painting by Lucio Fontana, when I backed right into a regal older woman with soft hands. I know about her hands, because when I apologized, she grabbed my hand and squeezed, and said, “No, I’m sorry.” I like this, actually, the random physical contact while art-looking trend. It intensifies the whole experience, and an occasional slap might be worth it.