Smock and Awe

Los Angeles

Left: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Artist and activist Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)

On last Saturday’s sunny afternoon, while galleries around her prepared for the final openings of the autumn, artist Andrea Zittel was hocking smocks in the courtyard in front of Regen Projects. Although Smockshop will soon be freestanding (in both the physical and, separate as it is from Zittel’s practice, the conceptual senses), its future home, in Chinatown, has yet to be completed. Rather than wait, Zittel has decided to take the store on the road. At around $350 dollars apiece, the smocks are cheap if you think of them as art, less so if you think of them as clothes. In designing the patterns and having a group of artists and artisans cut the cloth, however, Zittel looks to this as a way for artists to make money when their work doesn’t. “I tell all my students to make radically noncommercial work,” Zittel explained. “How can I expect them to survive?”

I didn't realize that I was the only man fumbling through the smocks (potential Christmas presents?), until Matthew Barney walked up. “Matthew, where’s your smock?” one of the shop attendants razzed him as he paused at a particularly interesting piece designed by Peggy Pabustan. “I’ve already got one,” he declared. He did not say whether he was outfitting himself or his wife, Björk.

As dusk settled in, Smockshop closed so that exhibitions by Barney and (at Regen Projects II) Urs Fischer could open. Visitors began to file into the gallery, looking intently at photographic remnants of Barney’s Cremaster 3, video from his Manchester performance, and drawings on black paper made with both subtle pencil lines and globs of his signature petroleum jelly. The photographs, many of American cars, were adorned with black rubber sashes as if they were the losers of a Motor City beauty contest.

Left: Dealer Kim Light and producer and curator Stefan Simchowitz. Right: Artist Barbara T. Smith.

I skipped out before the crowd reached critical mass and headed over to Chinatown. David Kordansky hosted an elegant show of photographs and sculptures by Anthony Pearson, while China Art Objects featured the Mountain School of Art’s First Annual Kippenberger Award for Artistic Excellence, given to the student who bought the most drinks over the course of the semester at the school’s eponymous bar headquarters. The winner, Justin Hansch, collaborated with artist Jason Starr on a group of delightfully messy paintings and sculptures. I overheard dealer Daniel Hug, who effused over the show, balk at the prices to China Art’s director, Maeghan Reid, who quietly replied, “The artists priced the work themselves.” Such a bold move makes them truly deserving of the Kippenberger.

As I made my way down Chung King Road, I checked in on the closing event for Barbara T. Smith at The Box. Gallery director Mara McCarthy watched over the people in their socks navigating Field Piece, 1968/71, a set of rather phallic-looking nine-and-a-half-foot resin tubes made to look like blades of grass, which light up when you step near them. A number of documentary photos depicted the sculpture’s original installation, complete with a group of nude men and women lounging in and around its translucent green blades. When asked about the works’ swinging atmosphere, Smith shrugged and offered: “What can I say? It was the ’70s.”

Next was Culver City, where, at Kim Light Gallery, curator Stefan Simchowitz kindly walked me through “Bitten!,” an exhibition of exceedingly colorful work inspired by pixelation—including Cory Arcangel, Paper Rad’s Ben Jones, and Christina Malbek. Words like new! and young! were tossed around, while participating artist and Deitch Projects' director, Kathy Grayson, dubbed the whole affair simply “exuberant.” A beatifically grinning Robert Olsen presided over the crowd at Susanne Vielmetter, where his paintings—quiet works imbued with a sense of urban dread—share the gallery, and contrast nicely, with Adam Ross’s paintings of sci-fi candy-lands. One might say that Los Angeles exists in both artists’ work.

Left: Artist Robert Olsen. Right: Dealer Daniel Hug and artist Eric Wesley.

The sci-fi noir mood carried through to Canter’s, the legendary twenty-four-hour Jewish deli, where Vielmetter holds most of her gallery’s dinners. While this kind of deli—endless menu, 1960s-kitsch decor, and cavernous interior—may fast be disappearing from New York, it is still an integral part of the LA experience, though our server was less a beehived matron than a graying stunt double for David Lynch’s Eraserhead. While people polished off pastrami and knishes, I jokingly asked Vielmetter whether anyone came into the gallery for last-minute Christmas shopping. “Perhaps one couple,” she mused. “They bought a rather festive red and green painting.”

The following night, Overduin and Kite organized a performance of Guy de Cointet’s At Sunrise . . . a Cry Was Heard, which debuted at the Biltmore Hotel in 1976 and was here being performed by the original actress, Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman, to coincide with the upcoming show of de Cointet’s work at the gallery. The crowd included many of the late artist’s friends and collaborators (Larry Bell, Bob Wilhite, and Cirrus Gallery’s Jean Milant); critics Bruce Hainley of Artforum and Sonia Compagnola of Flash Art; and artists Nathan Hylden, Carter Mull, and Bobbi Woods. One audience member noted that if Kafka wrote soap operas, the result would approximate de Cointet’s work, and this performance—surreal, theatrical, and funny—seemed a case in point. In the performance, Glicksman waxes philosophic and attempts to tease out all of the subtleties of the “abstraction, antiquity, and unchallenged beauty” of a painting shown in the center of the stage. That the painting she declaims about is nothing like the one in front of her brought the kind of chuckles that Waiting for Godot can elicit from the right audience. After the approximately thirty-minute piece finished to a round of applause, the audience gathered around to toast the actress and the writer. I caught up with Glicksman on my way out, and in response to my congratulations, she gave a breathy thank-you and added, with a smile, “I’m not a very good actress, but I think it went well.”

Left: Artist Penti Monkkonen and collector John Morace. Right: Dealers Lisa Overduin and Kristina Kite.

Left: Artist Anna Sew Hoy. Right: Artist Anthony Pearson and dealer David Kordansky.

Left: Artists Christina Malbek and Kathy Grayson. Right: Architect Sharon Johnston and dealer David Quadrini.