Michael Duncan

  • diary November 11, 2005

    Beaus of Holly

    Los Angeles

    What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? The Holly Solomon Estate auction on Sunday afternoon at Bonhams in Los Angeles was not your usual sale. In conventional terms it was something of a bust, attracting only a tiny crowd of bargain hunters and a few family friends such as Christine Nichols and Paul Masursky. A lack of current market darlings meant that many lots sold below estimate and a fair sprinkling were bought in.

    Yet, with its startling variety of incredibly low-selling items, the Solomon sale functioned as an alternative art fair, a marketplace of the out-of-fashion,

  • Charles Henri Ford

    IN THIS SUGAR-FREE ERA, what artist has a life more interesting than his art? The death of Charles Henri Ford (1908–2002) puts the capper on a time when precociousness and chutzpah were art forms in themselves. In 1927, on the eve of his nineteenth birthday, Ford wrote in his diary: “In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. This is my oath.”

    Not missing a beat, the poetry-besotted high school dropout started a little magazine out of his small-town

  • Peter Saul

    TEEMING WITH POOP, spew, blood, guts, and jism, Peter Saul's visceral, virtual-toon paintings pop off the wall and go straight for the eyeballs. The proper response is to duck and cover, but the comic-book insults and all-round humiliations—evidenced in images of public executions, orgies, and massacres—have already grabbed you and are busily inverting tropes, violating taboos, and facilitating every kind of social and cultural heresy. Finding an art-world niche for this guy hasn't been easy.

    A prep school heavy on discipline made Saul into a bad-boy for life. He proudly recalls that

  • “Beau Monde: Toward a Redeemed Cosmopolitanism”

    For those desperate to jump from Venice Biennale curator Harald Szeemann’s “Plateau of Humankind,” SITE Santa Fe provides the perfect place to land. Devoid of slo-mo videos and feel-good/feel-bad Cibachromes, “Beau Monde: Toward a Redeemed Cosmopolitanism,” curated by Las Vegas–based critic Dave Hickey, turns the tired notion of an international biennial on its ear and spins it, discovering in its trajectory all sorts of patterns and ideas. Sophisticated and subtly elegant, the show represents the antithesis of the yahoo perversity that Hickey’s detractors mistakenly attribute to him.


  • a new appointment at the Hammer

    The secret strength of the LA art world is its instability, which spells blessed unpredictability. Each season witnesses a wholesale reinvention, with new galleries, styles, and power bases quaking the status quo. The exception is a relatively stolid institutional scene, into which the UCLA Hammer Museum, long a venue for sprawling, mostly so-so group shows, has unexpectedly thrown a monkey wrench. Change came two years back in the person of Ann Philbin, the institution’s intrepid new director, formerly of New York’s Drawing Center. Not only has Philbin initiated meaty and off-kilter programming

  • Steven Watson

    STEVEN WATSON’S ROUSING CHRONICLE of the making of the 1934 Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, is a 42nd Street for the American avant-garde. This is a backstage saga that seems itself the stuff of opera, replete with a petulant diva (the cantankerous Gertrude); an eager-beaver impresario from Kansas-City-by-way-of-Paris who wants to put on a show, goshdarnit (the composer Virgil Thomson); a bunch of unknown players (an all-black cast culled from Harlem church choirs and nightclubs); a fantastically out-there set decorator and costume designer (the then-sixty-three-year-old