Simone Says

Andrew Berardini on Simone Forti and LAXART’s 10-year anniversary benefit

Left: Simone Forti in performance. Right: The Box director Mara McCarthy and LAXART deputy director Catherine Taft. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

FRIDAY NIGHT I spent at Cafe Figaro—a Parisian-inspired street cafe in Los Feliz—commiserating with somber French citizens speaking in hushed voices over the clink of glasses. Their grief was still on my mind as I headed the following night to the Box for a rare performance by veteran choreographer and artist Simone Forti. The eighty-year-old legend performed a dance of simple movements, shivering a flashlight in her hand as she swirled and crawled across the concrete floors of the gallery. Behind her played the quiet susurrus of the river in a projected video. Forti’s finger caressed the ground, then she stood and cast flickering hand shadows with her flashlight.

“There’s been a shooting and terrorists and that kind of brings it home,” she said with a slow shift of her body. “I noticed a hole in a window and through the pane you see half-drunk glasses of wine. It could easily be me.” Shining the flashlight across the audience, “It could have easily been us.”

“When it’s home, when it’s home, when is home. It’s close to home and it could be LA tomorrow.”

Left: Dealer François Ghebaly and artist Mitchell Sirop. Right: Fahrenheit director Martha Kirszenbaum. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

The performance ended to a standing ovation. Inevitably, the rest of the weekend was tinted, at least for me, by the cosmic pessimism that Forti had eloquently expressed. I left and made my way to Fahrenheit, the nonprofit space begun by curator Martha Kirszenbaum, and the gallery of François Ghebaly, both French citizens. Both had events planned, the launch of CARLA at Fahrenheit and an opening with Mitchell Syrop at Ghebaly, but earlier that day, CARLA and Fahrenheit sent out an e-mail to their mailing lists: “Fahrenheit​ will stay open until 10 PM tonight as a place of commemoration, tolerance, and resistance. Please join us for the launch of Carla magazine and to prove that we are alive and will fight madness and obscurantism.”

“After the attacks,” said Elizabeth Forney, executive director of the French Los Angeles Exchange (FLAX), “none of us wanted to be alone.” Trying not to step on Syrop’s small metal sculptures across the floor and under the love stories of Lady Jaye & Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Dorothy Iannone & Dieter Roth at Fahrenheit, the crowd drank cocktails but the scatter of conversation led to sad and hard conversations about politics: terrorism and murder, white supremacy, religion, and race. The community real and welcome, the talk bracing and necessary.

The following night, I set out to Hollywood for LAXART’s annual auction. The curiously shaped gallery, converted from a former music studio, found space on every conceivable wall and crevasse to display the work donated by artists from Liz Glynn and Glenn Ligon to Amanda Ross-Ho and Thomas Lawson. Mary Weatherford’s Hawthorne, 2015, seemed to be causing the most hunger among collectors. This is the first big event with LAXART’s new deputy director Catherine Taft, back in Los Angeles after a crucial stint helping to reopen the Whitney Museum. We met in the closed-off street between the gallery and a building just across that was set up as a lounge for the live auction of twenty-one works. She seemed especially cheered by LAXART’s community support (with over $100,000 in ticket sales alone). “We’re lucky to be eating cupcakes on the street,” she said. And we were.

Left: Artists Mario Yabarra Jr. and Karla Diaz with LAXART director Lauri Firstenberg. Right: Artist John Outterbridge. (Photos: LAXART)

I left as the live auction began, heading deeper into Hollywood to catch Nikolas Gambaroff’s opening at Overduin & Co. Amid the marbled paintings and furniture, two rough bronze masks of crude faces lay on the ground, making a loud clanging noise each time someone in the large crowd accidentally kicked one across the concrete floor. At the front of the gallery, the two masks, digitally animated, shift against a black screen. With quivering eyes and expressive lips (both creepy and cartoonishly funny), the masks sang the Association’s 1966 “Cherish.” I watched the video through twice and left with these velveteen voices and their California pop following me into the cold night:

Perish is the word that more than applies
To the hope in my heart each time I realize
That I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams
That I am not gonna be the one to share your schemes
That I am not gonna be the one to share what
Seems to be the life that you could
Cherish as much as I do yours.

Left: Artist Aaron Curry and gallerist David Kordansky. Right: Dealer Lisa Overduin and artist Nikolas Gambaroff. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

Left: Artist Jen DeNike. Right: Artist Ry Rocklen. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)

Left: Mark Bradford and Karon Davis. Right: Artist Mary Weatherford.

Left: Artists Leon Benn and Owen Kydd. Right: Artist Kate Hall. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)