James Franco, Shia LeBeouf, Jay-Z — who else, there’s so many today — Gaga and Kanye, and now Kim Gordon. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the University of Hollywood MFA Class of 2014 — America’s newest fine artists-in-residence. On view now inside iconic Los Angeles architecture, the Fitzpatrick-Leland House, and presented by the capitally iconic Gagosian Gallery, the iconic musician Kim Gordon presents another moment in her Design Office series of art, originally practiced, since the 80s, “outside the gallery system.” (Congratulations to Kim & Larry for escaping that awful capitalist dredge bogging down so many artists and gallerists.) Let’s get straight to the work, now, and discover this show as one does walking into this hilltop house, discovered as someone who owns no Sonic Youth albums and approaches the installation as legitimate art. Here, this you will see:
The Wreath Paintings are simplistic and repetitive. Monochrome monotones. Gordon apparently lays a sheet of plastic on which to work, evidenced by the heap of translucent, paint-stained detritus remaining in the lower room that acted as her studio, though the polished concrete floor has also received nicely organized paint splats and a golden, inverse Design Office logo. She arbitrarily lays a wreath on top of a canvas and then, with one color of sprayed acrylic paint, stencils a negative image onto her thinly gessoed linen ground. This action occurs only once in each work. Smearing, whisping, and drips are sometimes added, and the result is a textureless anti-shadow of a banal door wreath. The work is deafeningly repetitive. The same wreath — often at the same radial angle, as indicated by the blatantly identifiable folded notecard attached to one inner branch — harks back to a tedious family holiday spent staring through one’s eggnog, vacantly, into that hollyed wreath hanging across the room on the door you desperately hope to soon escape through. After the eighth or ninth painting, one begins to ask several questions: why are these paintings hanging in this empty house, atop the flush Los Angeles hills? what is the significance of mounting the show in this house? why did I drive to the top of Laurel Canyon to see these paintings? And these questions, the longer you stay and try to unpack the experience, too, only become repetitive.
The accompanying press release for the exhibition states an intention to present “vertiginous color abstractions,” [saving you a trip to dictionary.com, vertiginous is artspeak for dizzy] but unless I didn’t look close enough — not that there is any detail to see — or sufficiently afar, the only dizzying element to this project is that ripe, lingering aroma of emptied Krylon cans, vaguely reminiscent of a heavily tagged urban alleyway. Fabricating the totality of this work probably happened in a similar amount of time as the quick hand of a tagger coating a parked box truck under moonlight cover. The paintings respond not to the space, nor to the surrounding architecture, but to an object that was presumably once there, hanging somewhere on those walls where instead canvases now somewhat dangle. There are many paintings strewn about, filling walls to their edge, leaning, over a bed, in a bathroom, decorating the space — like wreaths. In total they are assembled in a rudimentary fashion: a metallic triptych here, complementing the bathroom tiles there, one on this window for no sober reason.
Giving up faithful interaction by the third circuit of the house, the questions of why remain. The draw to this exhibit is obviously its celebrity attaché under the Gagosian arm. Mega Dealer, Mega Artiste. Speaking about her work on the Gagosian website, Gordon states, “[t]he design activity was not meant to be well executed or look a certain way, have a certain look or style. If anything it was a lo-fi aesthetic using or recycling other aesthetics.” Well, that’s obviously easy to do, and 95% of America does it everyday after a trip to Target or Hobby Lobby, and that is called decorating. How is this instead supposedly art? Is this the concept of decorating?
It’s not art, rather celebranded decoration. In fact, the only thing missing from these paintings besides interesting content is the artist’s signature. The simplicity of claiming simplicity as your lo-fi-aesthetic aesthetic is the calling-card cheap trick of art students and hobbyist artists. If this work were made in exactly the same fashion by Johnny Noname or any unknown art student who just received her BFA from some BFE academy, it would later be in a dumpster of memories redacted from one’s oeuvre’s earliest days.
So what’s good about this work? It sits in a historical house in a flush neighborhood. It photographs perfectly and looks fabulously engrossing on the internet. The distance between lens and canvas does open up a vertiginous swirly world that fools you into believing this work sends you to some high. Maybe if you’ve smoked. Yet it’s a trap, into which you realize you’ve fallen once your eyes are soberly naked and in the canvases’ presence. Is that the conceptual talent here, this jest of high-def celebrity art stunning through JPG but anti-art in situ, this that’s-what-it’s-supposed-to-be, against the academic/gallery system!? Nope, not at all. This work is just more trendy celebutante artistic charlatanism repped by a powerful agent.
My regret is not instead buying my first Sonic Youth album, bought with the money from saved gas. That venerable din surely would have left a better vibration than this ringing that remains after that foul no-fi concert of painting.
Nostalgia is a sly devil.
As the morning’s coffee rolled around my palate and started to sink beyond my gullet, I was hit with a sudden rush of nostalgia for fog. Of all the things Los Angeles has done to me in his short introduction — and there have been many, many things — his wont dessication of my upper passages is no queerer than in those moments when the heat and mist of an acidic, bitter brown slew crashes against my olfactory shores. Sensation and association strengthen the pang of nostalgia when it hits; it was coffee, that wonder drug, which I took back up living amongst streets of fog.
Wresting with nostalgia is hard.
Of all the memories in my codex, one chapter is just yellowed and dank from near-psychotic reciting, nights full of scorching sunlight and days of tears work against a conservation of the better sentences in its stories. Its poems of heartache echo in the strangest places: bus stops, waiting rooms, the checkout lines of grocery stores with linoleum floors reminiscent of your youth. The rhymes and reasons generally lead to cadenzas of silence, their author checked-out and beckoned away. The problem with sudden memories is that they throw themselves at you with no bell, you’re suddenly on the mat, the surrounding sounds crowd your perception like a violent audience, and it isn’t ’til moments later, having collected your thoughts and reorganized them into their usual modicum of cogency that you escape from the full-nelson and walk away, with your reusable fabric grocery bag, full of freshly roasted coffee beans and memories of the days of plastic bags and foggy aisles of freedom.
Still, my sinuses burn.
I rolled out of bed, popped the morning’s medicine into my gullet, and bussed myself into the kitchen to grind beans, boil water, and wake up, carefully, to save the last stretch of all my muscles for the moment the brown brew broke the silence of my taste buds. The water boiled and I hocked a loogie into the kitchen sink: bloodied. It was rare in San Francisco to wake up with an arid, yet bloodied spit. Windows ever so cracked, the effusive moisture of the city always snuck her way in each night like an old Barbary Coast whore to find the lonely corners where her service was needed. I inhaled her almost every night and she comforted me.
This morning I’m drinking my coffee and longing for the days of comfort. I’m longing for the days of fog. I’m longing for the days of baked bread down the street and brothers across the way. I’m longing for a time of hot creme readied near my cup, suitors anxious to pour themselves into my drink. I’m longing for the days of pleasant, youthful confusion. I’m longing for the dog-ears of pages whose lines used to make sense, whose words used to rhyme, with mine, and whose authors still sit, here, next to me, drinking the shitty coffee of youth and laughing the awful taste away, together, in the comforts of our fog.
Again, my mug, emptied.
Busy, frenzied, that is what that past month has been. So here-and-there, in fact, that though I had planned on writing some sort of nostalgic elegy to San Francisco before I left, I find myself now an Angeleno, having missed the window of opportunity to put such words to presence while wrapped in fog.
Nonetheless, my thoughts and sensations about The City remain palpable. I resided in the same apartment on Divisadero for just under seven years. I had a picture of Sutro Tower welcome me each morning through my living room window, occasionally toweled with wet atmosphere, often glaringly exposed stark naked. It was a good picture to live under.
Divisadero changed much and quick as my tenure persisted. Gentrification is a citywide trend, but the Alamo Square area perhaps embraced it at a cocaine pace. There were upsides and downsides to the change, but for me they were too much; the noise level of my corner screamed a particular uninhabitability of which my nerves were too aware.
On the contrary, Josey Baker Bread came to the stretch and will likely remain, in my mind, as the finest baked good I have ever placed past my lips.
San Francisco was a rather remarkable experience, of a magnitude which words can do no real explication. Reflecting on my time there only confirms this — it is the emotional growth I experienced as a result of being there that has created an indelible steep hill beside my presence that will last as a touchstone and echopoint to test all future travels against.
Alas, I am now an Angeleno. Happily. And though the magnitude of LA I wear at this point hangs thin, the adhesion I can taste of the surfaces I see is as powerful as the salinity of the sky that accented my days and quieted my nights in sweet, queer San Francisco.
After spending a few years working strictly in collage and strictly in achromatic or monochromatic texts, venturing into the world of color and paint is a natural shift. Frankly, most of the time I spent in the studio making collage work, if I wasn’t thinking about psychology, I was thinking about color. I have a bit of a color obsession: I constantly bring it up in conversation, it is the first thing I notice whenever I walk into any gallery, it is a crucial element to the way I process the world.
Recent descriptions of my new work seem to include the words “limited palette.” This is certainly true. Only in the past few weeks did I even introduce a different shade of the primary hue my studio is currently centered around. And while most of the work is screaming yellow, it is obvious my deference to achroma hasn’t gone anywhere, as I still hold a firm belief in the structural importance of grey, black, and white.
I have always been drawn to non-objective work because it always contained a language with which I was familiar. The challenge of creating complexity from simple sets of elements represented the subjective experience of my self; I’ve never been a person to make things easier, rather to derive more from less. Perhaps this was the result of my hardscrabble upbringing, the result of eating weeks of packaged ramen and sale-priced deli meats.
If I were to summarize my studio efforts in a succinct manner, I would say that I am interested in bringing tension into non-objective work. While I think the value of balance and harmony has always supported themes throughout hard edge and color field work, with many of those types of works standing out in the visual canon, it’s due time cacophony and aggression are prioritized in compositions. After all, work should reflect the epoch from which it originates, yes?
Next month at the Emery Community Arts Center, University of Maine, Farmington, Matthew Best and I will have a three-month long exhibition of recent paintings. I’m quite excited to be paired with Matthew as I am a big fan of his work. Tying his process directly to his senses, he says in his current artist statement, “I’ve always experienced the world as a tidal wave of sensory information: the five senses competing constantly for my attention.” This admission confirms the excitement one experiences within his compositions, a shifting of space through planes of color faceted by broad strokes. To me, his work has always felt like a bit of a rollercoaster, zips of motion looping me around the picture plane only to invert my perception again and again. His sense for color, too, is evident, especially in his courage to push limits with temperamental hues prone to bullying or antagonizing their viewers. And his ability to take geometry off a grid without falling into the flattened rainbow geodesia so common of painters nowadays is perhaps what impresses me most.
Along with our paintings, Joshua Haycraft will also be showing his work — what that is, I’m not entirely sure, as his website, while flashy, is more confusing and glitchy than satisfying and informative.
Matthew Best & Chris Rusak: New Paintings
Emery Community Arts Center
University of Maine, Farmington
July 25 to September 14, 2013
The idea of pleasure has been meandering through my mind quite a bit this year, both in terms of how we create meaningful enjoyment in our otherwise blank-state lives, as well as the experience of pleasure in art appreciation. I return to this question often whenever I come across the work of Brice Marden.
Before I knew anything about Marden, his work, or his processes, I simply enjoyed the experience of viewing his compositions, a simple sensing in space. As it usually does, color was the first thing to enrapture me, causing an atmospheric change as ambient light seemingly absorbed into his thick layers of beeswax, drawing me closer to explore texture. His flat, ironed encaustics were sensuous – auras, I imagined, wrapped around a naked body – clear, and with a sexual easiness that required only his pure color and my pure concentration to conceive of so many reactions. I enjoyed looking at all that footage of nothingness and it gave me pleasure. In his subsequent serpentine lines, webs of dizzied brush strokes thick and twiggy, I would get lost, I would escape from the politics and the passions of the outside world and just wrap myself into his canvases. I never really paid any attention to notions of whether it was critically good or academic or masterful; a judgment didn’t matter.
“One man wants to enjoy his own nature by means of art, another wants with its aid to get above and away from his nature for a time. In accordance with both needs there exists a twofold species of art and artist.” – “What we desire of art.”, Human, All Too Human, Friedrich Nietzsche
Now on San Francisco Arts Quarterly, my take on Greg Gossel’s work over the past few years, and why I dislike the fixations disrupting his potential.
“In an economy of shocking disparity, even, particularly, the cocaine-like art market of record-setting, multi-million auctions, megadealers’ parasitic encroachments, and art fair hoopla, the visual discourse incited by artists, especially when such incitement is aimed at the visual discourse, needs sharpened wit instead of adulation for luxury logos and hegemonically perfect female figures — do we really need more thin, white waifs gathered about? While Gossel once created canvases which begged to be touched, now we just see synthetic harlots realistically far out of our reach.”
The show, Head Over Heels at White Walls, is up until June 29, but you really don’t need to rush over and see it; digital images are no more or less thrilling than the real thing.