Rock and Roll or Does Size Matter?
Is a foot long caviar submarine sandwich nessicarily better than an elegant and modest portion served on a Melba toast? Is bigger always better? In the space of 24 hours this musing became the leitmotif of my aesthetic experiences in Los Angeles to widely divergent conclusions. The impact of scale is undeniable. And it must be said that scale is also a measure of endeavor and ambition as well as physical dimensions. Quantity is another incarnation of scale. Three gallery visits and a museum stop at 4 in the morning proved scale is a constant element in the contemporary art landscape.
Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer, LACMA
Initiating a disco nap for viewing art was an uncommon pleasure. Saturday morning at 3:30 AM I set off to witness the arrival of a 340 ton boulder as it made its arduous way to LACMA. The Rock is the center piece of Michael Heizer’s earth art installation titled Levitated Mass. When completed, visitors will be able to descend a 15 foot deep trough and feel the metaphysical weight of this massive stone perched above them. But it was the sheer performative herculean effort of watching this stone being transported through the streets of Los Angeles which was the focus of attention on Saturday Morning. Easily two thousand people came out to gawk, cheer, photograph and commune at the site.
While denizens of the NY art world were rubbing their eyes while in the miasma midst of six simultaneous art fairs, Los Angelenos were smiling and cheering and meeting each other at 4:30 AM. All in the name of art. LACMA with an astute sense for social media had been tweeting the progress for the ten days that it took to make the circuitous journey from Riverside to its Mid-Wilshire home. Block Parties had been staged in Long Beach. Children were rustled from their slumber. Michael Govan, director of LACMA, created genuine community pride and wonder by championing an effort that will be singular in our lifetime.
Aside from having the pride of being able to say I was there when it arrived, I am constantly delighted by art that acts a catalyst of meeting strangers, initiating dialogue and building community. At 4 in the morning no less! I am convinced that the final piece will be equally effective in making art an experiential moment. For more back story I recommend this NYTimes article and an excellent post on the Unframed Blog From LACMA about the next steps towards the completion of this monumental piece.
Update May 24th, 2012: I also recommend an excellent article/profile/interview by Jori Finkel in the LA Times. It seems to capture the fact that “difficult” or “reclusive” are too often used as adjectives when the real description is “uncompromising” or “inspired.”
Narrative invention and obsessive painting meet when Delia Brown mounts a show. Here Delia Brown mounts two simultaneous exhibitions and quantity is as much the subject matter as content or execution. Download the press releases from each gallery and you’ll get a taste for the conceptual underpinnings. They are too arcane for me to get into here. Her gifts as a “realist” painter are numerous. But the paintings that sing are one’s of approximation rather than definition. The best example is a painting hung in the offices of Otero titled The Arrival By Sea of Raina Bouvier. Here the “story” is alluded to and not illustrated. Mystery is maintained. For me evocation will always trump illustration and she achieves it handsomely in this piece. The Otero exhibition is up through April 14th, 2012. The Angles exhibition is up through April 7th, 2012.
Quantity is also on display at Prism Gallery on Sunset. The Twin Brazilian Street artists Os Gemeos populate the bi-level gallery with sculptures, paintings, murals, suspended video environments and painted floors. The overall effect is that of a carnival fun house. The iconography is cartoonish laced with surrealism: some disturbing, some witty. While I have to admit to the overall paradigm not being my particular cup of tea, chops go to both the artists and the gallery for creating an impressive example of the ambition of scale (both endeavor and quantity.) The impact of the entire installation is undeniable. The question that lingers however is whether anyone one of the paintings would carry the same impact outside of the carny context. The exhibition is up through March 24th, 2012.
Technology certainly has allowed artists to manufacture objects on a larger and grander scale than ever before. The Swiss artist Urs Fischer has harnessed these technologies to impressive effects. Last spring I had the pleasure to witness his huge yellow Teddy Bear cum Desk Lamp displayed in front of the Seagram’s building in New York City. The strange dislocation of scale and image worked wonderfully in snap shots and was even more impressive in person.
At Gagosian, Mr. Fischer is up to his usual scale chicanery. Collage is easily considered an intimate medium of cut and paste. Here, portraits of Hollywood film stars are visually obscured by pipes and mushrooms and other objects. If any one of these would be 8 x 10 inches they might carry unbelievable quixotic aesthetic appeal. But they are 142 x 108 inches. That’s roughly 12 by 9 feet. The GeeWhiz factor is palpable. Certain images really work while others seem forced and created by the trope of serial demands. Ultimately there isn’t an urgency for this body of work to be that large. A nifty trompe d’oile vibrating table really should not be missed though in the back gallery. I begrudgingly might have to admit that as the court jester of the art world he may have few competitors. The exhibition is up through April 7th, 2012.
–Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, March 19th, 2012