What a summer. I’m still reeling from, among other things, Contemporary Motherfucking Art Month. You know, I sort of half-expected it to be pretty lame, seeing as how it’s gonna happen again in March. I figured the artists and curators would be girding their loins for the big show six months from now, and that the July shows would seem maybe sparse, or half-assed
WRONG AGAIN, FISCH. I saw a tremendous amount of challenging, fun, and fulfilling work. I didn’t see everything, and not everything I saw was great `i.e., read “It’s not you, it’s me,” July 22.` But a lot was. In particular, the Hills Snyder-curated Lonely Are the Brave knocked my chanclas off, and you still have a few days left to see it.
Back when I wrote about the Phantom Sightings show at the Alameda `see “LACMA revolución takes the Alameda,” March 18`, I bitched and moaned a bit about San Anto’s inferiority complex, particularly as it relates to an apparent reluctance to experiment with scale (though, to be sure, large-scale works tend to cost more to produce and collect, and we’ve got a bruja’s brew goin’ on down here: On the one hand, we’re brilliant masters of rasquache; on the other hand, we, uh, have trouble affording anything non-rasquache, and this makes us, sometimes, sad). But Lonely Are the Brave totally took on scale, with grand (and in the case of Justin Boyd’s audio performance, grand-mal) gestures. Each artist worked BIG: big scale, big ideas, big impact. Yet Lonely Are the Brave emerged, near-miraculously, as more than the sum of its parts, pushed by Snyder’s curation, which seemed at once powerful, passionate, erudite, and playful.
Snyder, who is a full-time artist and the director of Sala Diaz, is a hometown absurdist, a down-home surrealist, yet as cerebral as the man can be, this show struck me as winningly open-hearted, vulnerable, and emotionally risky. It was un-armored in jargon, un-distanced, meant to be leapt into and then meditated on. The installations he contributed to the show helped to frame the other artists’ work: The little nook of a constructed living room he built, where you could sit in a comfy armchair and watch the eponymous film that inspired the show on a TV surrounded by some funny-peculiar objects, mesmerized me for about 10 solid minutes. It was homey, perplexing, and constantly changing — a familiar terrain rendered anew, like the whole damn show.
Justin Boyd’s Sisyphean video loop of a scene from that film, in which Kirk Douglas’s cowboy tries to elude his pursuers on horseback over a steep ridge, made me reflect on Manifest Destiny and the perils of masculinity, on our post-lapsarian and uncertain time, our nation’s massive debts and regrets, political, financial and historical. And while I’m not sure I fully understand the implications of his sound performance — playing the fence wires, the frequencies and what have you — there’s a poetic meaning there that I appreciate. Truly. I felt the same way about physics, as a college student. Like: “If I knew enough math, I bet this shit would be really beautiful.” I like the risks Boyd takes with ideas, the rigor with which he tests himself and his audience. He makes me want to know more, and that’s a profound effect.
If Boyd’s work made me reflect on the meta-Culture, the Nation, and Physics, Kelly O’Connor and Chris Sauter’s installations coaxed my gaze back to the personal, to the mythic realm of childhood. Now that some of the signal figures of my generation’s childhood have up and died all of a sudden, I find myself wanting to go back into Chris Sauter’s stunning life-size recreation of his boyhood bedroom, a world at once enclosed and universal, and not come back out. When I first walked in there, that “Under the Milky Way Tonight” song was playing, mysterious and dreamy and full of longing. I’d forgotten about that song, and so much of this installation had to do with instant, visceral recall of so many relatable details long forgotten, adolescent songs and objects and feelings and hopes and fears ... the Time/Life “Mysteries of the Unknown” book series, the signs and map and the well-worn comforts of a lonely twin bed, obsessively collected and enshrined trophies we hope will gird our baby loins for what might be (must be) a bigger world, a bigger life outside. And the gloss of astronomy is beautiful, the cut circles of drywall creating holes that allow lyrical, cosmologically suggestive circular beams of light into the space, then those circles of drywall painstakingly assembled into a telescope, an emblem of curiosity and yearning. “Life-size,” indeed. Look Homeward, Angel, and see what you’ve lost.
Through Aug 15
Contemporary Art Center
I had a similar emotional reaction to watching John Hughes movie clips online August 6, the day of his death ... all those tiny details that were both seminal, and discarded. Hughes’s movies form a kind of shorthand in my brain; watching the montages brought back memories of my own tortured teenagerhood. Hughes made mainstream entertainment, and a lot of missteps (Long Duk Dong, anyone?), but watching the bits again after a long while reminded me of these archetypes that were built by him in my cranium at a young age. I was younger than the characters in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club; I was at that voracious, pained ’tween age wherein the oncoming freight train of adolescence was already whistling ominously, and watching those movies armed me for the onslaught in crucial ways. The flouting of convention and authority by The Breakfast Club detainees likely helped fuel my own (continual, often ridiculous, but cumulatively worthwhile) questioning of rigid social structure and my desire to subvert anyone in power — and maybe yours, too? The frustration with the flawed family unit and the deep desire for love (and yes, sex! and respect, too!) evinced in Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles helped me navigate my forays into the tricky world of teen love and lust. The insistence on authentic selfhood in opposition to the perpetual tasks of parent- and teacher-pleasing in Ferris Bueller ... eh, you get the idea: the narrative landscape of American kidhood. It’s said that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton.” They didn’t have movies back then, they had Horace and Milton and shit like that . ..but maybe our li’l personal, generational wars will have been won in the Santikos Northwest 10 cineplex in 1986 by Molly Ringwald.
Which brings me to Kelly O’Connor’s LAtB installation. It’s luminous, seductive, and complex. It demonstrates in a graphic way how the icons and imagery of entertainment, beamed into our brains as American kids, go on to form a messy, troubling, loaded landscape that we never, ever stop traversing. We all have Disney characters in our heads, like it or not. O’Connor seems to like it, without forgetting the ramifications (Uncle Remus from Song of the South makes a disquieting appearance), and her selective use of color — threads emanating from the black-on-white painted wall mural to the floor in circular, cinema-evoking rays — represent, to me, the magic and the insidious, inescapable, narcotic pull of the Disney landscape. We fight off the Uncle Tom-ishness of Uncle Remus, the cartoon gender norms of the princesses and heroes, but we can never quite escape them. We can fuck with them, though, and that’s good, if not exactly a relief. O’Connor’s work is a potent reflection on all received mythology, and how hard it is to dislodge. Somebody anonymous commented on sacurrent.com a while back that O’Connor makes “facile chick art,” or something like that. That person is a dipshit.
Jesse Amado’s wall installation, likewise a landscape, employs gold paint and massive vistas of fringe. It made me think about the sexual aspect of Westward expansion and colonialism, the fancy dresses of bordello ladies, the dressing up of what is cruel. It also serves a neat purpose of swaying your eyes laterally back and forth, back and forth in sweeping gazes, like a tennis match, so that when you walk into the show, it beckons your eyes toward itself, and toward everything else. Very cool.