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‘From work to event. We are the mould, it’s up to you to breathe substance into it’
I’ll admit it, I’ve been bored when it comes to art lately. Too many shows with too much text (either on the labels, in the press release, or as part of the artist’s statment)—and I’m too aware of the narrative, too aware of climax and dénouement for the opening lines of the first paragraph to do their job and draw me in.
While I’ve seen a few good shows, I’ve seen a greater number of indistinguishable ones. My current viewing routine has calcified to the point that I’m usually in and out of a medium-sized gallery in under five minutes, and sometimes even under one. I’m not bragging. I am full of reticence and pain from past shows that led me on, suspicious as to art’s motives.
Last night, however, the first big night back for Los Angeles after the holidays, the New Year, and the winter blahs, I found new hope. It started with Judith Bernstein, Carolee Schneemann, and Barbara Smith, all speakers on a panel about painting at the Box Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Each woman told the story of her entrance into the field, and for each woman, the lack of female colleagues and a excessively (if not repressively) masculine mise en scène featured heavily. I know things are far from perfect when it comes to gender equality in the arts circa 2013, but I believe that when female artists from today sit on tomorrow’s panels, issues of gender will not automatically be the first thing to emanate from each and every set of lips.
Mixed in with Bernstein, Schneemann, and Smith were a few of their male counterparts, including Paul McCarthy, who raised my spirits for a different reason. As he describe moving from burning early works to painting with his body, he made it clear that his choices weren’t “from an understanding of historical continuation,” but from the kind of thoughts that come when one is invested in a medium, like “well, what next…should I use my shit to paint?” McCarthy’s candid and humor-laden discussion of the role of instinct and materiality in an artist’s decision process caught me off guard and gave me great satisfaction.
McCarthy’s comments about burning his paintings to find true black also set up my drive west along the 10 freeway, where the bulk of the evening’s openings were. In the sky was the smallest crescent of a silver moon, but the rest of the moon was there, too, a perfect, light black circle against the deeper, velvet black of the rest of the night sky. The moon stayed with me until Culver City, where I lost my ability to stargaze due to the press of bodies demanding my attention on the ground.
The shows this month offer a little bit of everything, from painting and sculpture to photography. I stuck to my one- to five-minute routine, for the most part, stopping longer in some spaces, like Kim Fisher’s show at International Art Objects and Bernard Piffaretti at Cherry + Martin, and mentally marking others for return. But instead of feeling let down and disappointed, I was beginning to feel invested again.
The last stop was Venice 6114, a former auto repair shop turned into a gallery/project space, organized by artist Sergio Bromberg. The large door to the main part of the old shop was missing; anyone who walked by could see inside. The phrase “Feel the vibrations while you wait” was painted in huge blue letters against a bright yellow wall. An area was set aside for cars, and artist Tyler Calkin (who co-created the piece with Sarah Petersen and Adam Peña) explained to me that the project’s main point was to offer a very personalized form of tire inflation: Calkin et al had equipped a slew of orange construction hats with plastic tubing, with each hat able to connect to the others. When a car came in, the hats went on, and the person nearest the wall connected the entire chain to the facility’s compressor.
Called “Fast Service While You Wait,” the inflation wasn’t particularly fast, or even one hundred percent effective. Rather, it was a way of grouping strangers, connecting them with what Lygia Clark once called “relational objects,” asking them to investigate the areas where we all overlap and “meet in the world.” It was clunky, but well-intended, and in the end it helped me (in combination with the panel discussion earlier) to re-engage with buried thoughts on art and the arts community. Definitely imperfect, oft times disappointing, but when you know where to look, so earnestly invested in challenging and inspiring that I keep coming back to it.
In 2006, the Musée des Beaux-Arts held a Lygia Clark exhibit entitled “From work to event. We are the mould, it’s up to you to breathe substance into it.” Sometimes things are plotted and reasoned, other times accidental, but regardless, it’s the job of the arts writer, of the artist, of the viewer and participant, to breathe that substance into whatever we identify “it” to be. With passion, people.