Tour of Duty

Los Angeles

Left: Artist Glenn Ligon with James Franco. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan) Right: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen with artist Jack Pierson. (Photo: Andrew Berardini)

DOES ANYONE REMEMBER when “jet-set” meant something? With the (art) world continuing to shift about from fair to fair, I thought it might be nice to stay grounded in Los Angeles, my own sun-stroked heartland. Sauntering into Regen Projects last Friday night for the opening of Jack Pierson’s seventh exhibition at the gallery, I supposed we had another New York carpetbagger on our hands. Looking at his work, I should have known better, and indeed Pierson informed me that he lives part-time with his boyfriend out in Twentynine Palms, a desert town a few hours from Los Angeles known more for its military base than its vacationing artist community.

Pierson is a traveling man, and his current exhibition is a blue-chip version of a trunk show. All the images are printed on foldable posters. “The whole thing can be brought down to a portable size,” Pierson told me as we toured “Some Other Spring,” which consists largely of photos from (real or fictional) sojourns: the bowsprit of a cresting yacht in the south of France; some palms being burned at the aforementioned desert pied-à-terre; and a handsome young man, stark naked though chastely turned from the camera, posing on rocks in the sea spray.

Left: Artist and MAK resident Maruša Sagadin. Right: Artist Robert Melee with dealer David Kordansky. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

I skipped out early to catch another, more performative, “tour” of the residency program set up for Austrian artists at the MAK Center in West Hollywood. The Mackey Apartments, built by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé and Austrian émigré Rudolph Schindler, sit in a quiet residential West Hollywood neighborhood. Outside I heard the typical music and chatter of crowds coming from the studios. I wiggled through the diminutive chambers, built more for single artists than proper shindigs, squeezing past MAK director Kimberli Meyer, artists Analia Saban and Joshua Callaghan, and architectural experimenters Oliver Hess and Jenna Didier of Materials & Applications.

As I made my way back to a tour-guide booth in front of the property, no one could clearly answer my questions on what it was for, though signs announcing AUDITION WAIT HERE and the sight of actors nervously memorizing lines in the hallway suggested that something unusual was afoot. It all began normally enough, but before long the guides had us peering, from an outside stairway, into a room in which a bearded man obsessively cleaned. The guides’ patter began to break down, until finally they began to accuse the residents of being zombies, who, noirishly, were “doomed by their own decisions.”

They led us up to the penthouse for a public “audition” presided over by artist Stephan Lugbauer, who was wearing a bright blue suit and brown cowboy boots. One actor, then another, read lines earnestly: “They only serve caviar and Richard Prince and stuff like that on the walls . . . there you meet Mike Kelley in the bathroom . . . something like that . . .” (Apparently these were real “stories” Lugbauer collected from various passing residents.)

Left: The performance at the MAK Center.

After the final actor walked out (with a hopeful “Thank you!”), Lugbauer broke his directorial veneer and went back to the party, now in full swing. I stumbled past Austrians taking shots of tequila and longed to join them. Instead I headed to my car. Los Angeles can be a sad place to want a drink.

The following night I was back on the road. First stop: Culver City for openings at Susanne Vielmetter and David Kordansky. I showed up early at Vielmetter’s new digs in the neighborhood (another local expansion), where she was debuting shows by Stanya Kahn and Karl Haendel. I ran into Kahn as soon as I arrived. This is her first solo outing since she parted with her longtime performance partner Harry Dodge; she hasn’t lost any of the caustic wit of her earlier performances. She’s especially good at describing her own misfortunes, the most recent being a hard-drive crash that occurred less than a week before the exhibition opened. She reacted with a lighthearted shrug redolent of her battered and bandaged video persona. “It’s cool. I’m good.”

Left: Dealer Susanne Vielmetter with artist Stanya Kahn. Right: My Barbarian's Jade Gordon. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

I did a quick drive-by of New Yorker Robert Melee’s opening at Kordansky (captive mannequins covered in marbleized paint), but the party hadn’t yet picked up, so I set off for my next gig: the annual REDCAT gala. I drove into the cement superstructure of the Disney Concert Hall and followed a circuitous path to the theater’s parking lot door. A lonely scrim embossed with the logos of REDCAT and CalArts (the latter institution being the ostensible owner/operator of the theater) hung under the spectral parking lot half-light, nary a photographer to be seen. Inside, everyone seemed a lot cheerier without the popping lights of paparazzi, though there we did have a few authentic celebrities on hand (as opposed to art-world celebrities—I can’t imagine Catherine Opie being hounded by InStyle, but wouldn’t it perhaps be a more interesting world if she were?). Actor (and CalArts trustee) Don Cheadle emceed; fellow actor (and Columbia student) James Franco presented the REDCAT award to Glenn Ligon, who’d flown in from New York for the event. (Ligon’s at work on a big solo exhibition at the Whitney, curated by recent hire Scott Rothkopf, set to open next year.) Speech followed speech and I began to wonder how an institution (however deserving) could charge so much for an infomercial. The congratulations eased mid-dinner to make way for a performance by Laurie Anderson, who had flown in for the event as well. If you wait long enough in Los Angeles, everyone comes to you.

The houselights dimmed, and the mood followed suit. Anderson performed an excerpt from her recent Delusion, commissioned for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The song unfurled according to the warped sounds emitted from her violin, while her voice modulated downward into her deep and creepy trademark electronic whisper. When Anderson hissed the word America, you could feel the chill in the room. “Another day, another dollar, another day in America,” intoned Anderson. Another day in Los Angeles.

Left: Artist Catherine Opie and Steven D. Lavine. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan) Right: Laurie Anderson. (Photo: Steven Gunther)