Box Trot

Los Angeles

Left: Damon, Mara, and Karen McCarthy. Right: Artist Paul McCarthy. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)

Lately, new galleries have been opening with brisk regularity in Los Angeles, from aspiring blue chips founded by former directors of glitzy spaces, to enfants terribles launched by young Turks with the paint from art school still drying on their trousers. But last Thursday night’s grand closing party for the first show at The Box caused more than the usual stir. The gallery is the brainchild of young Mara McCarthy, daughter of Paul; it cultivates a decidedly nebulous business plan that acts like a nonprofit without the 501(c)3 designation—a non-nonprofit; and it opened with the work of an artist whose brilliant obsession may doom him to obscurity. With its art-royalty provenance, comparisons with New York’s Rivington Arms are unavoidable, but with Macarrone Inc. artist Mike Bouchet next on The Box’s schedule, and Mara and Michele Macarrone frequently seen hitting the town together, other affiliations might be inferred.

Five minutes after the advertised 8 PM kickoff, a bearish Mara McCarthy emerged in a black-and-white striped sundress to shove aside The Box’s gates. With the glass door propped open, her staff flicked on the show, producing a quartet of projections that consumed the gallery and illuminated the white facade of the sweatshop across the promenade.

With only a few exhibitions to his name in recent years, Spandau Parks, The Box’s inaugural artist, has hardly been pumping out product to shill; in fact, he has been diligently working on the same painting for over thirty years, a pace that makes Tomma Abts look like a speed demon. Hell, even Jay DeFeo quit The Rose after eight years. His testament to painterly obsession, a triptych that consumes a nine-by-twenty-foot wall, is many feet thick with sensual globs and smears of oil paint. Unfortunately, an up-close examination was out of the question, since the painting itself wasn’t actually on view. Instead, Parks exhibited videos of the painting, videos of videos of the painting, photos of the painting, photos of photos of the painting, photos of videos of the painting—you get the picture. It was no surprise, then, that throughout the reception, a cameraman shot footage of the videos of the videos of the painting. With as many levels of meta as there is paint to Parks's canvas, the show was a great big tease. Along with the official videographer, Parks circled the gallery and the smokers kicking the curb out front, looking every bit like a turtle in green T-shirt, ball cap, and large, wire-rimmed glasses. He’d poke his head out for a few passing words to the guests, then return to tromping around the gallery’s perimeter and snapping photos.

Left: Circus Gallery director John Knuth. Right: Artist Spandau Parks.

Paul McCarthy has long run a family business, with wife Karen, son Damon, and Mara all taking a hand in the studio at one time or another to help keep pace with his busy exhibition schedule. Though Mara’s gallery is a break from the family enterprise, the McCarthy clan displayed firm solidarity, and everyone gathered together for their daughter’s debutante ball. Like any proud father, Paul, with his coarse cottony beard and wry, knowing smile, took pictures of just about everything: the passing crowd, the play of light along the walls, and even the little old lady snapping the empty beer cans out of the crowd’s hands.

At the reception, gossip abounded about other new galleries preparing to descend upon the city, most notably one helmed by a rather unlikely trio: hip Gavin Brown along with L&M Arts’s Dominique Lévy and Robert Mnuchin. One collector mused that Brown was making an effort to cater to Laura Owens. A few short breaths later, the same collector complained about Barbra Streisand’s appointment to LACMA’s board, apparently without Babs shelling out a nickel.

When the gates clanked shut, we set off for dinner at a dimly lit, Colonial-style Mexican restaurant in Echo Park. I squeezed into a booth with Parks and Poppa Bear McCarthy, who snapped pictures of his roasted chicken from various angles. While a classy three-piece norteño band strummed “Guantanamera,” the conversation drifted from Paul’s obsessive reel-to-reel recording of his life over the last thirty years to Parks's show. I mentioned my frustration about the exhibition’s omission of its subject. Paul took a bite of his chicken and said, “Tell him about the sublime, Span.”

“Well,” Parks said, pausing to mull it over, as if, after thirty years, he had to get it just right. “The sublime is frustrating.”