Angelenos and Art. We are supposed to be oblivious to art – distanced from art – completely absent of art.
And yet – how many artists – working artists do I know in LA? Tons. How many do I know in NY, London, San Francisco and other supposedly art-strewn cities? A handful.
So it’s maybe no surprise that when my LA friends head to London their first stop is the museums.
Thanks to their excitement, I’ve been much more active in viewing lately.
When my friend Larra came to town, the Tates were on her mind. So we started at the Tate Britain and viewed the Turner Prize exhibit. I was intrigued by this whole concept of a sort of pre-fab “controversial” prize-conferring exhibit. It was pretty packed. People here seem to get really into the discussion of it. For me, the exhibit itself was rather thin (and pretty expensive! Museums here are “free” but most of the exhibits cost to get in.). A couple of conceptual works by each artist. The films were more interesting, though coming from the film side of things, we both felt they were tremendously weighted toward certain artists. In the end, as in now, or even the day after, I don’t really remember any of the work in any real way. I don’t feel they had any great impact. One artist was beautiful and ephemeral, one completely escaped me, one was funny and very Italian and one was sort of interesting from a theoretical point of view. All of their names have gone from my head. I could look them up. But more to the point is that I simply don’t remember.
After that, we decided to walk most of the way to the Tate Modern. It was a pretty cold day and it’s a pretty long walk and upon arrival, tea was definitely called for. We had a nice long tea and then realized we had come to see Baldessari. I was going to sit it out and see the “free” art, but in the end, we both went in. I’m so glad I did! I’d seen isolated pieces in LA – but seeing the whole exhibit, the evolution and the geography of it was fantastic. Coming from LA, but seeing it outside of LA, the art took on its own context – or rather its own world. In some ways completely informed by cinema, in other ways, he is completely oblivious to it. What Baldessari is interested in is the frame and how frames go together, the elements of moving images, the components of aesthetics, of opinion, of collective ways of seeing. You could see where he left the party, went off on his own and came back to throw his own party. You can see a life devoted to finding out, with no actual ability to find out because none of the questions have any static answers.
I think I wouldn’t have known about any of these if it weren’t for Edward Goldman’s newsletter. I’ve no idea how I got onto the list, but I love it!
After Larra’s visit, I was feeling pretty arty, but then Tiffany came and wanted to go see art! So I suggested the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a favorite place to go. It turned out the exhibit there was Beatles to Bowie and she way way excited to see it. Again, not “free” but I was treated to it! Thanks! It was amazing to see how finite our American knowledge of 60’s British pop culture icons really was. Tons of people with hits and long careers were completely unknown to us. Some we truly thought were American (Dave Clark Five anyone?). But there was something really wonderful about looking at The Who, or The Stones or The Kinks or The Beatles and realizing them as just a bunch of kids. Growing up, they always seemed old. But now you look at these amazing photos and realize they were just kids thrown into a vat of cotton candy, being spun around in sugar until the whole world would eat them. I admit it’s a strange analogy, but it does kinda work!
With hindsight, you can see the playfulness of the times, the machine that began to grow up around these bands, as well as the chaos in which they became huge stars. It’s astonishing to think that some of these have survived decades of what must seem like insanity to still be producing music and touring.
We also took in another prize-oriented exhibit for photographic portrait of the year. Many of the shots were owing equal debt to Irving Penn, Mary Ellen Mark, and Annie Liebovitz – as if everyone had taken gritty, neo-relistic glossy photos of regular everyday icons. The photos themselves feature the high resolution of the digital age, which gives even crags and sweat a kind of gloss, yet the subjects were often those battered by society. Many directly addressed the camera. There were standouts, but overall, it seemed as though the portraits were all challenging by design, which, in the end made them fairly unchallenging.
My favorite picture of the day was the full length portrait of Dame Judi Dench.
She is on a white background, dressed in white and light colors, but her piercing gaze meets you. On t
he back wall of one of the galleries, she grabs you as you are approaching and won’t let go. Fantastic.