Saturday, September 20, 2014

VALLEY VISTA

I drove out yesterday with the artist Gary Lloyd to California State University Northridge to see their current exhibition, "Valley Vista: Art in the San Fernando Valley ca. 1970-1990."  I wrote a "preview" about Chomsky's Vessel, the Gary Lloyd piece selected for the show, and wanted to see the rest of it. I knew that I'd find many old friends there.

This proved to be true, and there was certainly a nostalgic element to my delight in "Valley Vista."  The Valley was its own hotbed of creative activity back in the day when Los Angeles was still on the cusp of recognition as an important center for contemporary art.  In fact, it was Lloyd's 1971 solo show at Orlando Gallery in the Valley that first inspired me to start writing about art.  "Valley Vista" is a great documentation of that activity, reminding us that the art world can be unkindly selective in those it chooses to celebrate instantaneously and soon forget; and those who manage to maintain, some even enhance their reputation.

There are fine paintings in the show: Bruce Everett's huge, magnificent photo-realist "Sand Canyon," Fidel Daneli's portrait of fellow artist Peter Lodato, Karla Klarin's impressive 3-D construction painting, "Valley View"...

Karla Klarin, Valley View, 1984
acrylic on 3-D construction, 30" x 60"
(All images reprinted with permission of CSUN Art Galleries)
... Judy Baca's sketches for her monumental murals.  (Danieli, as those who were around at the time will remember, was also an influential teacher and a widely published art critic, whose death at an early age was a significant loss to the art community.  He was one of the chief movers and shakers in the San Fernando Valley, along with his wife, Edie Ellis-Brown, whose "Fluorescent Egg Sculpture" is also included in this show.)  On the more traditional side, there are also two paintings by Hans Burkhardt, an inspired charcoal drawing by Steve Galloway with its multiple historical echoes, and an impressive cast resin sculpture by Bob Bassler--a work that surely rivals those of his better-known contemporaries.  Celebrity is a fickle friend.

Despite the inclusion of these--and indeed many other accomplished, more conventional works--the majority of the artworks in "Valley Vista" are cheerfully subversive, reminding us of the pervasive influence of conceptualism at the time.  The assemblages of Esteban Bojorquez, the photographs of Robert E. Von Sternberg, John Divola...

John Divola, San Fernando Valley (I hate you), 1971
Gelatin silver photograph, 14" x 18"
... Mike Mandel and Ed Sievers, among others, and the display cases of posters, flyers and magazines all take us back to the day when ideas, and often words, became an important part of the artist's language, as well as of the continuing dialogue between them.    In one of the "LAICA Journals" put out by the Los Angeles Institute of contemporary art, I spotted an example of my own early art writing, the review of a performance by the Kipper Kids, reminding me that conceptually-based performance, video, and other post-studio media were also beginning to flourish in the early 1970s.

Subversion--whether political, social or aesthetic--is the keynote of "Valley Vista."  While serious in intent, we can be grateful that much of it is light-hearted and light-handed.  I walked around with a big grin on my face, a frequent chuckle, and an occasional burst of laughter.  Consider, for example, Mike Mandel's prescient "selfies"--four decades before the iPhone came along--posing his skinny, long-haired hippie self in front of a long line of cops in riot gear at an anti-Vietnam war protest...

Mike Mandel, Myself: Timed Exposure (CSUN War Protest, 1971)
Gelatin silver print, 8" x 10"
... or between a young African American woman and two elderly white suburbanites on a park bench; in "Impersonations"--deadpan "homages" to his own art heroes--Scott Grieger's photographs replace the iconic Robert Irwin disc with his head, a John McCracken plank with his body...

Scott Grieger, Impersonations: John McCracken, 1971/2000
Photo on canvas, 23.75" x 35.5"
A large number of works in "Valley Vista" share this kind of fake, ingenuous simplicity and modesty of means, qualities I happen to value greatly in a work of art.  Benjamin Weissman's "Others' Tombstones" juxtaposes whimsical, anthropomorphic gravestone figures with typewritten qualifiers: "BACKS TURNED," "COULD BE ME."   Jeffrey Vallance pokes fun at suburban values (and eating habits!) in the photographs and assemblages put together as a tribute to Oscar Mayer Wiener...

Jeffery Vallance, b & w photo included as an element in the mixed media work,
Oscar Mayer Wiener Mascot Meetings with Drawing, 1974
A delight in the absurd is the characteristic many of the assemblage works.   Michael C. McMillen's "Mystery Mummy," enshrined in its museum display case, is a part of his Mystery Museum spoof on our cultural institutions.  Stuart Rapeport's "The Right Tool for the Job" is a fine example of the artist's sharp, if offhand humor.  Encased in a smart aluminum attaché case, his modified paint brushes (the forked brush, for example, is the right tool for the indecisive moment) offer a gentle mockery of the pretensions of the art world.

Stuart Rapeport, The Right Tool for the Job, 1968-72
Found aluminum attaché case with seven expressive brushes
(courtesy of the artist)
Does all this subversion still hold up, some thirty or forty years later?  I ask myself how much of my enjoyment of this wonderfully diverse and multi-faceted show derives from my having known and enjoyed the company of many of the artists back then; and from my simply having been there, immersed, myself, in the cultural climate of the time.  Do you have to have "been there," in that time and place, if you want to "get it"?  But then, of course, that's a part of the point: the whole idea of "timeless art" was being challenged by these artists, intent on demonstrating the art can well be of the moment, a simple aperçu, grasped, sketched out, or photographed without grand notions of its own importance.

A fine catalogue accompanies "Valley Vista," with a text by the exhibition's curator, Loyola Marymount art history professor Damon Willick and contributions by some of the artists included in the show--all of which give useful context to the time and place mentioned above.  One quibble: why no page references in the checklist of artworks at the back?  An annoyance to anyone, like myself, who needs to constantly leaf through to find the images he's looking for.  Ah, well.  As they say, you can't have everything...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

HEAT

It's perhaps a failure of my memory--a not unusual even these days--but I can't remember ever having experienced a heat wave of such persistence and intensity in Southern California.  It has lasted several days already, and it seems we can expect not relief today.  We are fortunate to have inherited an air conditioning system in the house.  I hate to use it--I don't like the quality of the air nor the consumption of energy.  But these past few days it has truly been a necessity.

And it's not just the energy consumption that worries me.  I'm "green" enough to be concerned, but not so "green" as to feel guilty about making life tolerable in a heat wave.  No, to be honest, it's more about the money.  I notice how easily my life-long anxieties are triggered by the air conditioner.  It's the sound.  I'm constantly aware of it, and keep wondering whether, now, at last, I can switch the damn thing off and save at least a few pennies.

The strange thing is, I worry less about the big expenses than the small, nagging ones like this one.  I'll spring for the large expenses involved in maintaining the house without turning a hair.  I don't beat myself up over the occasional decision to purchase a new car, nor for the trip to New York or to Europe.  I take these things in stride.  It's the little things, like the sound of the air conditioner or the running tap that eat at me.

Perhaps it's a matter of control: I feel I can do something about these little, daily things; the big ones are just too big for the mind to easily encompass.  Interesting to note that it's the same with anger.  I'm very easily provoked to disproportionate rage by the small, meaningless things--the nail that refuses to sink in just right, the wrong turn taken in the car or the ten-second delay caused by another person's bad driving.  Yet I can manage the big things with relative equanimity.  I reserve my "wisdom" for things that exist beyond the small circle of what my mind seems to believe--perhaps delusionally!--I can control.

Like the heat outside, perhaps, compared to the heat in the house!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BLURB

I've been working on the wording of a cover blurb for my new book.  Does this sound like a good teaser?
“I am no Rake,” protests the anonymous English gentleman whose two hundred year-old journal falls into the hands of the prominent Los Angeles-based figure painter and avid blogger, David Soames…
 … who is skeptical of the author’s protestation.  No Rake?  Blog and journal soon begin to mirror each other in an exchange across the centuries, as a potboiler that romps exuberantly through 18th century Georgian boudoirs provokes the intimate memories and reflections of a 21st century man.
The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.   At least when it comes to men and sex.  The Pilgrim’s Staff becomes an explicit, unabashed reflection on the nature of masculine sexuality…

What do you think?  Does it catch the serious intention beneath the explicit erotic action?  Comments welcomed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

INCONSEQUENTIALITIES


This morning muffins
arrive unbidden in
the mind from wherever
they were lurking. 
Steaming with oven
heat, they tumble, fully
baked from the baking
dish, a whole half dozen
of them, crusty, brown
and aromatic. At which,
Coyote’s nose begins
to twitch, his taste buds
salivate. But one moment
passes, and they are
gone, the muffins, their
place unceremoniously
usurped by the next
uninvited mind-guest
that arrives full blown
from wherever it was
lurking.  Thus it is
always, Coyote learns,
not for the first time:
such lovely visions
come to mind, and go
inconsequentially;
and not one of us is
privileged to eat them.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

IN LOVING MEMORY--DIOR

Oh, come on!  Open the New York Times today--it's September 11--and in addition to Dior's you find these ads and pages 2 and 3: In Remembrance--Chanel; A Day of Remembrance, Gucci,;In Our Hearts and Thoughts Forever--Bloomingdales; A Day to Remember and Reflect--Tiffany & Co.

Am I alone in being offended by this?  The terrible memory of that day fourteen years ago remains unfaded, and it's certainly appropriate to "remember and reflect."  But the association of high end luxury items such as these with the fate of those nearly three thousand hideously murdered victims seems somehow obscene.

And I have mentioned those "moments of silence" before.  Can't we spare even a minute of silence, these days--not only for the dead, but for the families whose wounds will likely never heal?  I think we could give them a minute of our time at least.