Saturday, March 20, 2010

Totems in the Forest

It was an Ace Gallery kinda Saturday. First day of spring, perfect LA weather. About time! I went first to the Eastern campus. This is such a beautiful and large space in The Wilshire Tower, an old Art Deco building on Miracle Mile built in 1928.

The current exhibition was a series of mostly gigantic paintings by John Millei from his Maritime series. There must've been more than a dozen rooms of various sizes all full of huge paintings, some of the rooms with great views of Wilshire Blvd. I kept thinking what a shame it was that the space was barely utilized. It's just begging for various functions including Avant-Garde art performances, yoga classes, lectures, parties, book signings.

Then it was off to the Western campus in Beverly Hills. Amazingly, there were even more paintings by Millei from a different series of gigantic Picasso studies. Some of the Maritime series were pretty but, I'm not sure they warrant 10,000 square feet. The only excuse would be if the artist were actually a 50 foot tall giant and even then it's a little excessive.

But, what I was really there to see was Herb Alpert's Black Totems and luckily I came on the perfect day. Later in the evening a Chamber Music recital would be performed in the large room where the totems were set up. So the floor space was filled with chairs and a stage. There was also large sound baffling foam on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. It created an environment reminiscent of a rain forest. Ok, maybe that's a stretch but I loved how the primal black trunks were seeming to grow out of the underbrush of chairs and up into the floral-like baffling. I kept expecting to hear water droplets or some exotic bird calls as I explored. The sunlight through the skylight was reflecting off of the metal chairs and the white walls infusing the room with a soft, full light. It was dim in places but no dark shadows.

This is not how the sculptures were supposed to be viewed of course but I was fascinated by this temporary accidental installation. I would've loved to see these powerful sculptures anyway but the added environment made me feel like I was seeing something special. I love the large abstract work, it sometimes almost approaching representational forms, like people's bodies or animal shapes. They do seem to be alive and growing or shifting. Very mysterious. Show is still up through May 25. It's free, be sure to see the totems before they disappear in the mist.

5514 Wilshire Blvd. (Mid-Wilshire)
9430 Wilshire Blvd. (Beverly Hills)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

One Trick Dragon?

There were a couple performance events last Saturday I wanted to attend. I have been experimenting a bit with performance lately so I was interested in seeing what others had put together. Unfortunately there were two events at the exact same time on the same night. One was "Live Sprawl" by Lucky Dragons at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary, the other was "Gutted" at LACE featuring a couple dozen performance artists. Having recently seen a few of their videos I went with Lucky Dragons, little did I know I probably could've seen both.

I'm from the midwest and one of our habits is being on time or early for shows, parties, events, etc. I get burned by it every time in LA and Live Sprawl was no exception as I got there a little before 7. MOCA claimed Live Sprawl would "engage partygoers in a collaborative construction of their environment using sound, video, lighting, physical contact, conversation, and other surprise elements." Well at around 9:30 the only conversation I was hearing was "when the hell is the performance going to start?" The same 20 minute long video of various banal strobed imagery was playing all night long on a large screen in the main performance space. And the only "interactive element" was a few people aimlessly tooting on some recorders (those crappy flues they gave you in elementary school music class) that had been given out during the evening (for no clear reason). I had to entertain myself by going back to the scene of the crime in the main gallery and taking another look at their lackluster 30 years show.

Finally at 9:45 some languid boys and girls started to shuffle onto the stage. What ensued was a mostly improvisational, and somewhat rhythmic electronic sound collage. There was some acoustic drums, moaned vocals, electronics, all loaded with delay and effects and a few obligatory laptops. This sort of musical style has a long history. I was in the "cassette culture" back in the 80s & 90s and the label that I ran had a lot of similar sounding music. This was really a basement version of what was going on back in the 60s and 70s when experimental electronic music was first starting out. But, I have to say that what was going on back then was a little more exciting. Geek infused projects like the No Thing Ensemble, Randy Greif, New Carrollton, Thomas Dimuzio, Throbbing Gristle, Merzbow, Harrison & Chapelle, Smersh, all had charm and power. The Lucky Dragons set just seemed like an echo of an echo of an echo.

The one element that was fantastic and totally fascinating was when LD passed out some sort of electronic instrument to the crowd that was hooked into the sound system. This was the true interactive element I had been waiting for all night. There were half a dozen or so small devices that were on the ends of electric cords. When manipulated by the audience a bright, swirling, tonal, wash would rise and fall. It seemed like the intensity would shift and increase when people would touch each other or bring the cords closer together. This was truly compelling. But after a 3 hour wait and little else to keep my attention I left thinking are they a one trick dragon?