Working on the Chain Gang
About three weeks ago I received an email from an artist friend of mine here in Santa Monica inviting me to be part of a group show at Shoshana Wayne Gallery. The invitation came in the form of a Chain Letter and the “curatorial” premise was that if I wanted to participate I would forward the email to ten more artists whose work I admired. Initially I thought the idea just quirky enough to want to join. It also didn’t hurt that it was Shoshana Wayne, whose gallery program I admire. (Invite)
So dutifully I sent out my ten invites and rsvp’d as per the instructions. Installation Day was to be at the end of July with the show running through August. Fine. Later I got three more invites as the invites ricocheted around the social networks. I got bemused reactions from some. After a few moment’s thought I did realize that this could turn out to be a cluster fuck of extraordinary proportions.
Well Installation Day was yesterday and the landscape could not have been more surreal. My friend Richmond and I showed up at Bergamot Station around quarter after ten to find traffic backed up completely. The ample parking lot of Bergamot was jammed like sardines. We parked about a dozen blocks away and hoofed it in. We found out quickly that the line to install your piece snaked around the compound with easily 300 waiting in line.
Each artist was given a number and there were already at 287 which meant that 287 pieces were already installed. I switched from artist to journalist and found out that they had received 1700 rsvp’s. I stashed my piece at a nearby gallery and went into the space to document the ensuing tornado of artistic neediness.
The immediate metaphor was that of an open casting call where all the wannabes and hopeful aspirants had a chance to trot out their stuff. But this wasn’t an audition. You showed up, you could place your piece. No curatorial oversight, completely democratic.
Chaos! The range of work swung from the possibly sublime to the grotesquely ridiculous. I qualify sublime with “possibly” because I suspect that any quality that was there couldn’t possible be seen through the miasma of diletant outpouring. Now here is where it all gets really tricky. I vowed at the onset of writing this that I would try my hardest not be negative, surly or aloof. Excuse me while I put my inner cynic back in his cage.
So with this narrative groundwork set out for you, let me address a couple of issues at play.
1.) The Number of people out there who think of themselves as artists is staggering. It’s humbling to be sure but the number of serious, dedicated professionally practicing artists are far fewer.
2.) The gallery and curatorial vetting system is a blessing. The art world is no place for democracy.
3.) Logistically, the curators failed on two primary basis. First they didn’t stagger the installation process over three or four days. Second they imposed no size limitations for the work. This latter element lead the needy egos to trot out their largest and most unwieldy pieces.
4.) Evidence of democracy only works when all participate. One person, one voice. The potential of a lively chorus is there, but it was quickly obvious that those artists who had galleries didn’t feel the need to participate. In fact the persons who invited me weren’t there nor were the artists I invited.
5.) The venue was way to small for the undertaking. The performative aspect of this spectacle would have played out much better in an abandoned 30,000 square foot industrial space, many of which stand empty in desolate areas all around the country. At the writing three additional spaces were being readied to accommodate the overflow.
6.) Throughout this experience I remained delighted by the human parade of creative hope that seems to spring from bottomless wells. The creative act is indeed for all to practice. It manifests itself in scrapbooking and needlepoint. knitting and landscape plantings. Where it becomes wistfully sad and uncomfortably tragic is when aspiration exceeds knowledge, practice and discipline.
7.) Of one thing I am certain: An event-stunt-experiment of this caliber-insanity-ambition would never happen in NYC. I am truly thankful I live in Los Angeles.
8.) A similar gridlock of traffic and artistic souls is expected to converge on the gallery and Bergamot in general tomorrow when the show opens. With 1700 artists participating and you know they’d invite at least a couple of friends…well you do the math. As of Friday evening there were 1800+ attending on the Facebook Invite page and a full 5000+ who had been invited but had not responded. Erh Hello fire Department…
9.) I’m still sort of a fan of the initial concept. A Chain Letter was an early version of the social network after all. Graphing out the connectivity of the art community would have been an interesting exercise.
After leaving the melee, Richmond and I reached the car only to find that I had locked the keys in the car. We got some lunch at a food truck which was parked adjacent, propped up my painting and set up a picnic while waiting for AAA to arrive. Along came Massoud a wonderful Iranian who admitted to wanting to buy a food truck of his own and serve Iranian cuisine. He looked over at the painting and asked me if I had done that. I proudly claimed my artistic effort and he provided a 3 min interpretation which included seeing soldiers and police. It was a stunning off the cuff crit and I thanked him for his insight and interpretation. He said I was as good as Picasso. Little did he know that I prefer Matisse. My day was made, I wasn’t in an exhibit and it was only noon.
–Mario M. Muller. Los Angeles, July 22nd, 2011