Mixed media

I Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath Playhouse

PLATH_POSTER_email-e1298423203124The first of many impressive technical and performance stunts in the Los Angeles premiere of Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath by Edward Anthony comes at the very beginning. I don’t want to give it away, but it involves the protagonist, Esther Greenwood (Amy Davidson), awaking from her own death, as if she were dreaming and suddenly remembered she left the oven on (there’s a hint).

Esther is not Sylvia Plath, but they do share a lot in common. For one, Esther Greenwood is the name of the heroine in Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar. They’re both repressed writers in the 1950’s/early 60’s, frustrated with the very idea of womanhood, motherhood, and society in general. And they’re both married to asshole poets with tendencies toward infidelity.

Wish I Had A Sylvia Plath explores the life of Esther, in the moments of (or possibly in) her death through her own words and poetic machinations. The refrain she often returns to in these varied fantasies and half-memories is a kind of Martha Stewart-style home and garden television program, cleverly entitled ‘The Tome and Garden Show.’ In this show, she goes about explaining how to cook such exotic cuisines “52-liar lasagna, a black-tar brain soufflé and a perfect life.”

As an actress, Davidson doesn’t just do heavy-lifting, she does speed-heavy-lifting. She doesn’t allow herself the  moments of melodramatic self-congratulations  typical of most one-person shows. She doesn’t have time for all that. She’s dying, and we can feel it. Yet even in her death, Davidson cranks her with life. Her Esther is at her best when she is at her most physical. At one point of pure madness, she arms herself for battle with a pasta strainer helmet, a spatula sword, and a kitchen-table shield. The humor is there already in Matthew McCray’s direction, but the spirit is in the performance.

And though Davidson is the only actor on stage the entire 70 or so minutes of this darkly humorous rant, it is far from a one-woman show. Adam Flemming, a multi-award-winning video-designer provides many of Esther’s hallucinations with impeccably timed projections of her mother criticizing her baking methods, her father on his death-bed, and most wrenching, her husband confessing his sins. Lighting designer Dan Weingarten, sound designer Joseph Slawinski, and scenic designer David A. Mauer also all deserve their praise. Thanks to them, Esther’s kitchen feels like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse version of death, and one that you don’t mind breathing in for a while.

My only critique of this highly enjoyable production—and it is a production—is that its own production sometimes takes away from the possible depth of the situation. Esther and her playhouse are so animated, and the demands of time are so stringent that occasionally, a self-congratulatory moment might be welcomed. Plath once wrote to her mother that The Bell Jar was her take on “how isolated a person feels when he is suffering a breakdown,” and frankly, Esther doesn’t seem that isolated.

Nonetheless, it’s a show not be missed, whether you’re a theatre techie, an acting nut, or simply a person who wants to see a show that teaches an important lesson, which is that death is most certainly not the end of life.

- By Joshua Morrison

Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath, a Rogue Machine Production, runs at The Lounge Theatre, located at 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. until April 17th. For more information and to order tickets, please visit www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

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A Form of Currency: UCLA Graduate Open Studios

dscn1970-e1276139717586It’s all too easy—especially in a city permeated by the entertainment industry and material gain in general—to forget that there are still many artists out there committing their lives to their craft without the slightest hope of a monetary reward, and that there are a vast amount of studios in operation that have absolutely nothing to do with film or television. In fact, at the UCLA Graduate Open Studios in Culver City this past Saturday, I found that there were at least 30 dedicated artists at work who were not only putting their pieces up without price tags, they were most likely taking out student loans to do it.

This is not to say these young practitioners were exercising pure artistic selflessness; the hope, I gathered, as I traversed through the maze of sectioned-off galleries amidst packs of the hippest and most attractive art crowd I’ve seen in some time, was that people would notice the stand-out work, that they would pay attention (as opposed to money).

And attention can be a form of currency in itself. My colleague Helen, who I attended the event with discovered this fact in the most literal sense. We were vocally admiring the work of Max Rain (a stand-out artist, for sure)—in particular, a photograph of his that shows a piled arrangement of 20 or more dead and deformed rodents he collected as an employee of an animal shelter, the result of which amounts to a kind of macabre yet beautiful collage—when Max himself approached in the most amiable, non-egotistical manner possible in that situation. Helen told Max that if she had money, she would put the piece above her bed, to which he replied, “Really? If you promise to put it above your bed, I’ll give you a print for free.” He wasn’t lying. The mere idea of someone posting his work in their bedroom was, to him, compensation in itself.

I did, however, get a hint from another one of the artists, Sarah Dougherty—an incredibly talented painter who pieces together large LA-set landscapes with found objects, tapestry, and other pop-up book-esque features—as to who the real target audience might be. “We had our professor critiques this week,” she sighed in exasperation to me, going on to explain how most of the reviews were positive, but one in particular had her completely devastated.

Being in the “real world,” or at least the world outside of collegiate critique, it may seem difficult to relate to Sarah’s (or even Max’s) point of view. Who cares what a professor thinks? They’re not making any money either. But when you think about it, our art world—at least the part of it I’m interested in—is not so different from that Culver City rat maze I danced around on Saturday night, snatching up complimentary cheese and wine where I could find it. All artists, for the most part, are not looking to feed their wallets or even their ego. That’s not why they spend hours upon hours, day after day, inside tiny white rooms, experimenting with pigments or tweaking the electrical feeds on video installations. Why do they do it then? The truth is I don’t know. I’m tempted to say sex, but it probably has more to do with communication, putting something out there that’s you, says you—and how can something not be you when you spend that much time and energy on it?—then having someone else come up, take a look, and say, you know, I’d like to post you above my bed. Maybe it does have to do with sex.

- By Joshua Morrison

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The Insects Go to the Symphony

blurb200b_lgAnyone who’s ever heard the droning buzz of cicadas in the summer, has spent a night camping in the woods, or is familiar with the high-pitched tweet of the household cricket  knows that insects can indeed make music. In fact, there’s a species of Ecuadorian treehoppers—cousins of the cicada—who communicate to each other by vibrating the stems of plants on which they live (technically, that makes them percussionists). One can imagine a full symphony of tux-clad bugs toting mini-violins and tiny tubas, a grasshopper conductor at the helm.

But since Pixar is probably busy, artist and writer Sawako Nakayasu—in association with Les Figues Press’ Not Content series—has taken it upon herself to enact the first-ever, live improvised insect orchestra, tomorrow afternoon, 3:30 PM, at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in Hollywood. No, the bugs will not be actually playing music, but they will be playing muses; their live silhouettes will provide the inspiration for an improvised jam session between a collection of chosen musicians. Following the performance, Nakayasu will invite any listeners prepared with instruments of their own to become active participants. Said volunteers will then choose a bug to play to, and join the orchestra in full.

There’s something genuinely lovable about the concept, but also thought-provoking and inspired. What if the insects start jamming back? What if we humans are but bugs in our own right? What if music was, at last, the great inter-special mode of communication?

- By Joshua Morrison

Sawaku Nakayasu’s Improvised Insect Orchestra begins at 3:30 PM on Sunday, September 12th at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, and runs until approximately 5:30 PM. For more information, please visit www.welcometolace.org.

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deFineArtsLA Exclusive: POET

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMusic—if not the industry—has triumphed through electronic, digital, and online revolutions. Photographers can shoot a thousand frames in a matter of minutes. Painting has outgrown the traditional borders of the canvas, now readily available on street corners and highway signs. Cinema is viewed less in the cinema than on Youtube or Netflix streaming. Words are no longer inscribed in ink, and many popular novels are now written as 140-character-long serials.

But poetry is dead.

Or at least that’s what it seems like. Even as a devoted follower of some incredible living and working poets, I find it hard to list more than five off the top of my head. And maybe this is due to the general assumption that while every other art-form may gracefully surf the never-ending tides of technology, poetry is to remain dormant—to hole up in its cage of antiquated rhyme schemes and meter. Even “free-form poetry” collects dust these days.

Then I hear about someone like Mathew Timmons—and I’ve been hearing a lot about him recently (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions just wrapped up a month-long installation based on his 800-page book/collection/poem/collage entitled Credit.) Timmons is immediately difficult to pin down into a label. He’s a poet, a blogger, a curator, a critic, a performer, a collaborator, and a creator of chapbooks. But I suppose all could be condensed into a single description: Mathew Timmons is one of many young, Los Angeles-based artists insistent on keeping poetry alive

His latest project, as a part of his ongoing series of projects entitled “General Projects,” opens at 323 Projects on Monday, September 6th. Never heard of the gallery? That may be because it exists solely by phone, offering “visitors” a rotating sample of sound poems from Timmons’s upcoming album, The Archanoids, meant to explore the evolving relationship between noise, language, collaboration, and context.

Here’s the kicker, though. The “gallery” has a voicemail, available 24-hours a day, in which people are invited to call in and leave messages that will eventually be edited down by Timmons into a single, multi-layered sound poem by the end of the exhibition on October 11th. The show is open all day and all night, and the number to call is (323) 843-4652 or (323) TIE-IN-LA.

It all reminds me of a story, or an image rather, I was once told by a poet friend of mine in New York City. He said he knew of a fellow poet, more published than he, yet still relatively anonymous, who decided to hang a glowing, neon fixture—like the ones in old-school dive bars—facing outward on her window. It just had one word on it, in all caps: “POET.”

- By Joshua Morrison

For more information on Mathew Timmons and 323 Projects, please visit www.generalprojects.blogspot.com.

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Instant LA Summer

Bizarro-PicassoI met artist, curator, and all-around art enthusiast Esteban Schimpf when he came out to the FineArtsLA: Panel of the Muses event we hosted back in June. He was there to support his friend, panelist, and co-board member of the Chinatown gallery, Actual Size LA, Lee Rachel Foley. Schimpf made himself known as the first—and most voluable—volunteer of the after-panel Q&A session. His passion for supporting art and artists was intense, genuine, and immediately recognizable (he railed against the idea that the physical limitations of Los Angeles—traffic, isolation, etc.—should in any way prevent an artist from doing their job). Following the discussion, he was quick to introduce himself, revealing a chummier, more casual side of his personality, yet still brimming with that same passion.

On Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM, Esteban opens his (to my knowledge) first personal exhibition in Los Angeles at the Carmichael Gallery in Culver City, and not surprisingly, his own work is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Schimpf, with the help of Stefan Simchowitz, has chosen to spotlight the work of fifteen other young, up-and-coming artists in an ambitious group show he has titled “Instant LA Summer.” Upon names only, I was admittedly unfamiliar with the artists on view, but after some instant LA research, the show looks to be extremely diverse in mediums and theme, but cohesive in pure enthusiasm. Essentially, it’s Esteban without Esteban. Here’s a quick, flip-through preview of what’s in store, but don’t hold me to it:

Los Super Elegantes: this musical duo, one male and one female, present three of their own videos, which are as much a part of their overall presentation as are their costumes, their on-stage theatrics, their public demeanor, sexual chemistry, and of course, their music—a Latino-influenced type of pop that owes a lot to show-tunes. Their videos, too, remind me of low-rent movie musical numbers (in one, a romantic, garbage-man Romeo belts out his love to a passing, balcony-perched Juliet).

Eric Yhanker: his piece, “Bizarro Picasso,” is a charcoal and graphite depiction of an old, wide-eyed bald man who looks kind of like the titular painter, but, in its tactility, more like something Jan Svankmajer would mold from clay. Photographic in its Chuck Close detail and sense of perception, the close-up portrait briskly departs from realism with its over-sized, features, namely the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears—the portals to our senses.

Josh Mannis: works in a variety of mediums, but his series of HD videos are the most striking. Like Yhanker, they concentrate on the frozen exaggeration of facial features, but in the style of a Japanese advertisement. Bright pastel colors, fleshy and freaky masks, limited body movement, and intense repetition characterize such works as “If You Don’t Know Anything, You Don’t Know This.”

Charles Irvin: a multi-instrumentalist as they say in the music world. He draws, paints, performs, makes videos, and simply exists. His works tends to be cartoonish, extremely colorful, and detailed, but in a soft way. It’s dream-like, psychedelic, and in-your-face. No subtleties here, save the man behind the man.

Kenneth Tam: another video-maker, but of the Dadaist ilk. His mundane, often single shot slices of life tend to take place in one setting, have a documentary feel to them, and are so direct and normal that they border the line on the absurd.

Maya Lujan: to look at pictures of her large-form, graphic patterns—architectural in nature—one would be quite surprised to hear that her installation in a 2008 UCLA exhibition was taken down due to the fact it included a simplified mandala that bore striking similarity to a swastika. In actuality, the piece was more akin to a kind of apocalyptic spacecraft, and it’s this exact questioning of shapes and patterns that shows up in most of her work.

Sarah Sieradzki: speaking of the architectural, her work presents mashups of varying shapes, materials, and textures—wooden frames, cement blocks, photographs—that look like models for massive monuments of future post-modernism (whatever that is). She seems to take joy in chaotic geometry, as well as the re-contextualizion of basic structures.

Pascual Sisto: also a multi-platform artist, he appears to specialize in playing with and subverting the viewer’s expectation. Much of his work starts off as a seemingly one-note image/idea—cursive neon lettering, a single-shot video of a motionless fruit tree—but will then either climax unexpectedly in a sudden spasm of movement (as with the fruit tree video) or double-back on its initial meaning (as with the phrase in neon: “Let us be Cruel”).

Daniel Desure: in his prints and photographs, there’s a cold, stillness that tends to break down time into single moments, whether its a car crash refracted into centrifugal prisms, or a can of paint in the midst of spilling. Desure seems to distill catastrophic moments into the way we often remember catastrophic moments: as single images.

Emily Mast: time is of the essence to this choreographic artist as well. She sets up complex, theatrical installations utilizing actors, props, lights, and costumes, which collide into a kind of Beckett-ian sense of nihilism. But within these dramatic interpretations is a clear sense of narrative, which is inherently married to time, and thereby, meaning.

Emily Steinfeld: a sort of found object artist who seems to enjoy the accidental/purposeful layering of solid things—how one thing can mold into another as if a chemical compound. Her series of structures entitled “Covert Cells” utilizes sheeting to cover objects like wine bottles and telephones so that they may be confused for a single entity.

Simon Haas: mainly primitive, muted browns and melancholy. As the title of his piece “A Brief Moment After a Bath” suggests, he finds subtle beauty in the skipped-over moments of life. The lead surface and the wide, gestural brush strokes of this oil painting have a wavy, watery feel to them. Like waking up from a dream and dealing with its immediate aftermath.

Mark Hagen: intricate, graphic designs made for specific technological uses. He designed a 360 wrap, for instance, to be hypothetically used on the antiquated bowling shoe so as to maximize arch support for the bowler. As a child, he helped his father part out and restore Post-War Studebakers, and he seems to have been elaborating on this work ever since.

Sean Kennedy: also works in design, but in a much more tactile sense. He builds layers of both abstract designs and found objects to create geometric patterns that are simple at first glance, yet wildly complex upon inspection.

Orlando Tirado: exotic, striking photographs and/or collages of imagery. The title of his piece, “ShamanColash or Land, Sea, and Air (Self Portrait)” speaks to the bizarre juxtapositions framed in the would-be tired genre of self-portraitry. To borrow a reaction once used to describe the first artist on this list (Los Super Elegantes), Tirado “[makes] the audience nervous. Nobody does that anymore.”

-By Joshua Morrison

Stefan Simchowitz presents “Instant LA Summer,” an exhibition by Esteban Schimpf, runs until September 10, 2010 at the Carmichael Gallery. The opening is  on Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM. For more information, please visit www.carmichaelgallery.com, or call 323.939.0600.

 

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In Print: Jacob Samuel’s “Outside the Box”

25The Edition Jacob Samuel exhibition, titled “Outside the Box,” celebrates LACMA and the Hammer Museum’s joint acquisition of the collection of 43 print portfolios produced by Jacob Samuel in collaboration with a host of international artists from 1988-2009. Samuel generally works with intaglio techniques, such as aquatint and engraving, but his deployment of these techniques is as varied as the group of artists he has worked with over the twenty-two years of his studio’s existence. Above all, he responds to each individual artist’s concepts and visions, helping them translate their practices into a reproducible medium. Samuel offers expertise and guidance, but in his own words, he “just show[s]up.” The finished prints themselves run the gamut of styles, from abstraction to representation, from seeming spontaneity to carefully planned and arranged wholes, from the organic to the mechanical. This range of practices and subject matter makes for a compelling exhibition.

Among the most intriguing portfolios were those that emphasized process or performance. Marina Abramovic’s Spirit Cooking, as its title implies, was envisioned as a metaphysical cookbook of sorts. The images themselves are sometimes gestural and indexical—images were scratched into the ground with the artist’s fingernail, or spit bites performed with actual spit, or handprints done in acid-resistant ground. The images interact with the printed text, complementing it with gestural impressions that somehow relate to the words, and by creating a rhythmic separation that distinguishes one ‘recipe’ from the next. Ed Moses’ Abstraktion and Apparition is a series of etched abstractions that seem at once spontaneous and carefully crafted. Spontaneous, because the organic forms recall abstract expressionist paintings, and crafted, because these images are executed in a highly process-driven medium.

Also on display is Samuel’s expertise and skill as a technician. James Welling’s Quadrilaterals and Jene Highstein’s Five Works both rely on dense patches of black without irregularity, while the images from Josiah McElheny’s White Modernismare barely there, ghostly white on white forms. Joe Goode’s Storm Trees series features fluid and amorphous illustrations, while Barry McGee’s Drypoint on Acid prints rely on a process that allows the artist to draw directly onto the plate, mimicking the original pencil drawings.

Jacob Samuel is an interesting figure—a master printer whose collaborations have intersected the careers of some of the most celebrated artists of the day—and “Outside the Box” tries very hard not to let you forget it. Certain placards perhaps go into too much detail about superficial aspects of Samuel’s relationships with the artists (i.e. Did you know he shares a common interest in jazz music/rock music/surfing with artist X?). Certainly Samuel’s resume is impressive, and the brief documentary and interview in the exhibition brochure explain how these relationships are important, but at a certain point the information begins to seem gratuitous or redundant.  This criticism is minor compared to the depth and breadth of work on display.

- By Joe Capezzuto

“Outside the Box” will be on display at the Hammer Museum through August 29th, 2010.  The work on display can be seen atwww.editionjs.com.

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deFineArtsLA Exclusive: Now is the NOW!

Picture-1Late July and we’re knee-deep in festival season. You’ve likely hit a few events from the Slamdance, the LA Film Fest, the Fringe Fest, Outfest, Comic-Con, the Middle Eastern Comedy Fest, Lilith Fair…the list goes on and on. The urge to see it all keeps us coming back, but I know, festival fatigue is strong. Hang in there, though—we’re at the home stretch. The REDCAT’s NOW Festival, which kicked off this weekend, should bring festival season to a spectacular end.

The New Original Works Festival features new dance, theater, music, and multimedia performance works by artists who are known for their often radical and unconventional approaches. While Week One (with work from Maureen Huskey and Killsonic) may have past us by, there’s still time to catch Weeks Two and Three, beginning this Thursday, July 29th.

Three artists make up Week Two of NOW: Christine Marie & Ensemble, in the expressionist theater piece “Ground to Cloud,” uses projections, electric light and shadowplay to unfold a multidimensional mythology of nature and human intervention. Systems of Us, from choreographer Rae Shao-Lan Blum & composer Tashi Wada, explores the disruption and transformation of relationships in a dance collaboration that may call to mind those early experiments of Cage and Cunningham. Finally, master of Breaking and hip-hop dance innovater Raphael Xavier’s “Black Canvas” explores the body of the Breaker in relation to the stage and life.

Week Three, beginning August 5th, features theater, dance, and animation. Alexandro Segade’s “Replicant vs. Separatist” depicts Segade himself calling the shots on a live sci-fi film shoot in which two male couples navigate the murky waters of state-mandated marriage. Hana van der Kolk’s “Once More, Again, One (Solo)” uses familiar pop music as the background for her solo dance adaptation of a work originally conceived for four dancers. To close, animator Miwa Matreyek (of Cloud Eye Control) uses animation with live projection to explore fantastical worlds in “Myth and Infrastructure.”

- By Helen Kearns

Each “week” of NOW is really only a Thurs/Fri/Sat, so budget your time accordingly. If you only attend one more festival this summer, consider the power of NOW. For more information, please visit www.redcat.org, or call 213-237-2800.

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Panoramic Views: A Moving Story

union_theatre_facade1I’m about to move neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I realize this information is of interest to very few people, and even then, of very little interest. But for the past two years, I’ve lived in the USC area, about two blocks away from the historic Union Theatre—also known at the Velaslavasay Panorama—and I’ve never once stepped inside. I’ve tried. When I first moved in and took my inaugral expedition around the hood, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the building. It’s vastly out-of-place, an artifact from another era dropped in-between a bodega and some low-rent housing (and in fact, it is from another era: it was built sometime in the 1910’s and operated for many years as a venue of multiple uses, including a playhouse, a silent-film theatre, and a meeting hall for the Tile Layers Union Local #18). When I tried to enter beneath the grand, old-fashioned marquee, however, it was closed. Ever since, it’s just been that mysterious buidling (sometimes aglow) that I drive by nearly every day, and have yet to go in—either because it’s closed or I have no reason. And now I’m about to move.

Fortunately, I have one last chance. This weekend, starting on Friday, but running on Saturdays as well, for five weeks only, the Velaslavasay Panorama opens its doors at 8:00 PM to present the unique and aptly located live performance of The Grand Moving Mirror of California. What is it? Good question. It’s a series of moving painted scenes, which encircle the theatre like a long scroll being rolled out around the audience, and depict the journeys of early American settlers attempting to reach California during the Gold Rush of 1849. Using live narration taken from an actual 19th century script, along with musical accompaniment and radio-play sound-effects, the show celebrates and revives a 130-year-old mode of entertainment that simply shouldn’t be missed.

Not bad for my last weekend in the neighborhood.

- By Joshua Morrison

For more information about the Union Theatre, the Panorama, or panoramas in general, please visit www.panoramaonview.org, or call 213-746-2166.

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Extra! Extra! Tickets to Planet Earth With LA Phil at Hollywood Bowl

Bactrian camels, Arctic wolves, Pakistani snow leopards, oceanic whitetip sharks, and one coat-tailed conductor; that’s a lot to pack in anywhere, even the Hollywood Bowl. But this Friday and Saturday at the legendary amphitheatre, the LA Philharmonic will perform live musical accompaniment to selected footage from the spectacular BBC television series Planet Earth. Conducted by none other than the shows’ composer himself, George Fenton, the orchestra promises to match the stunning high-defition footage, as projected onto the Bowl’s big screen.Planet Earth, which first premiered on the BBC in 2006, and was re-broadcast in the U.S. in 2007, compiles extraordinary, cinematic scenes of nature from all over the world, in eleven different habitats. It’s probably the best reality show you’ll ever see, if only because it’s completely devoid of humans. Yet, the series is without a doubt a distinctly human feat, and would be half as exciting were it not for the power of a fully human, orchestral score.And yes, Fine Arts LA has two tickets to give away to hear this score performed live by the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl this Friday, July 23rd at 8:30 PM, alongside footage from BBC’s Planet Earth. George Fenton conducts, you and your date cuddle up, while the entire audience is transported to the places far beyond even Hollywood’s imagination. Just write in your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you can be eligible to receive these Planet Earth passes, as well as the next three ticket giveaways we do. Safe travels.

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Low Double Standards

IMG_0346-e1279000387395In the underrated classic Los Angeles film L.A. Story, Steve Martin fails to get a reservation at L’Idiot, a fictional hot L.A. restaurant with a line out the door, ticker tape reading the income level and importance of each dinner guest, and paparazzi at entry and exit. As Martin and his dinner guest leave, paparazzi back away, screaming, “Never mind! They’re nobodies!”

At the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the opening of “Dennis Hopper: Double Standard” felt more like a cinematic tribute to Los Angeles stereotypes than a serious exhibition. Before passing away at the age of 74 due to complications from prostate cancer, Dennis Hopper had an uneven career in art, mostly dedicated to imitating his slightly older artist friends. But at the opening, it didn’t seem to matter.

The opening was much more exciting than the show itself. Curated by Julian Schnabel, the exhibition drew an eclectic crowd from all corners of the city, everyone obsessed with the scene moreso than with Hopper’s art. Wearing gowns of peacock feathers and skintight high-waisted bandage shorts, guests took pictures of people outside, pictures of themselves, and pictures inside the gallery. Waiting by the bar, a woman wearing six-inch red high heels whispered to me, “Just to let you know, Diane Keaton and Liv Tyler and the lady who used to be married to Charlie Sheen are inside. Diane Keaton! I almost peed my pants!”

Inside, Diane Keaton was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she was obscured by the giant fiberglass sculpture of a Mexican waiter looming in the entrance, which might have been a cultural symbol of fear, or stereotypes, or something. Either way, it rang hollow. Hopper began his artistic career with painting in the 1950’s. Some early abstract pieces on small canvases show promise, or at least, the promise of promise, which fades later on. Equally unsuccessful works use found objects and graffiti, including an early drawing of a woman with a mustache scribbled above her upper lip. As commentary on femininity and pop culture, it falls flat and graceless.

Hopper was most renowned as a photographer though, and the black-and-white photographs from the 1960’s are the best part of the exhibition. In one of the loveliest pictures, a young, golden Jane Fonda wears a bikini and aims a bow and arrow into the distance, full of promise. Other subjects include Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ike and Tina Turner cheerfully posing with a giant inflatable Coke bottle.

After the year 2000, however, Hopper reproduced some of these earlier photographs to billboard size, with garish results. “I kind of hate this,” said one woman, standing next to a giant black and white reproduction of Andy Warhol, who is holding a droopy iris flower and oozing self-importance. The piece seems preoccupied with itself, more like a painting in a Hollywood comedy about the L.A. art scene rather than actual art.

And after looking at the umpteenth photo of Warhol, the title of the show begins to make sense. One wonders, did Hopper’s creativity lead to his fame, or was his fame a result of his access to renowned artists and celebrities? Are the two qualities really inseparable from one another? Was Dennis Hopper’s artistic fame a double standard? After all, Hopper starred in everything from Easy Rider and Blue Velvet to “classics” like Speed and Super Mario Bros., and dabbled in all types of art, equally embraced for his creative eccentricity as he was exiled for his drug use. But Hopper’s cinematic career was more interesting than his artistic one, and as a big survey exhibition, the show sells Los Angeles short. The art scene in the city is much more complicated and intriguing than this exhibition gives it credit for, and MOCA must have access to many more talented artists.

But as the night wore on, no one at the opening seemed to care. The guests stood at tables outside, drinking from clear plastic cups, and everyone watched one woman yelling and dancing to DJ tunes by herself. A plump MOCA photographer leaned against the wall, waiting to capture the L.A. moment.

- By Cassandra McGrath

“Dennis Hopper: Double Standard” is on view at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA until September 26. For more information, please visit www.moca.org, or call 213-626-6222.

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