Chain Store


Left: Artists Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber. Right: Artist Monica Bonvicini with West of Rome, inc. founder Emi Fontana. (All photos: Tamara Sussman)

Encountering a cracked sheet of bulletproof glass on which the gnomic half-question “Just an Image in the Room in Which This is Happening of Good Taste?” was spelled out in drippy enamel, I knew I had found what I was looking for. The piece, along with other drawings and text works hung in storefront windows, lured visitors into Monica Bonvicini’s “Not for You,” the second coming of Emi Fontana’s West of Rome, inc., a series of exhibitions the Milan dealer sponsors in various cities, scouting alternative real estate for contemporary art projects. Installed in the former Pasadena retail outfit Organized Living (signage still intact), the comprehensive selection of the Italian artist’s work drew curious looks from local shoppers. Those at the nearby Trader Joe’s grocery store, accustomed to Acconci Studio’s Mobius Bench at the bottom of the escalator, seemed surprised nonetheless to find leather-wrapped hammers so close to their frozen foods.

Inside the second-level space, a ring of six black lacquered harnesses hung from the fluorescent-lighted ceiling, programmed to tremble slightly every eight minutes. An empty back storeroom’s utilitarian double doors looked sexily nihilistic next to Bonvicini’s framed collages of ink-splattered cityscapes, hurricane aftermath, and stenciled declarations. Visitors trod lightly on the gallery’s drywall-paneled floor, which periodically gave way, leaving menacing apertures throughout the space. “I love it! I’ve already made three holes,” remarked a woman in platform shoes. “Hopefully we’ll do the most damage tonight.” MAK Center for Art and Architecture director Kimberli Meyer later noted, “This work is so much about architecture plus language. Memory, too. Your body must remember the jolt it feels as you fall through the floor.”

Left: Artists Alex Slade, Sharon Lockhart, and Andrea Bowers; Semiotext(e)'s Chris Kraus; and dealer Susanne Vielmetter. Right: Artists Kathryn Andrews and Stephen Prina.

Pulling my kitten heel out of the plaster (leaving a tidy puncture), I joined the party on the mall’s terrace, where MoCA curator Ann Goldstein shared her memories of architect Welton Becket’s adjoining department store (now a crestfallen Macy’s). Nearby was architect Ravi GuneWardena, whose firm designed the Pasadena residence that hosted Olafur Eliasson’s 2005 West of Rome, inc. project, and Art Institute of Chicago assistant curator Lisa Dorin, who is helping organize an exhibition of Bonvicini’s work for the museum. Chris Kraus identified institutional architecture around Pasadena (read: Art Center) while her Semiotext(e) intern admitted to fantasies induced by Destroy She Said, Bonvicini’s 1998 video installation.

At sunset, the sky turned pink and blue (matching Bonvicini’s new work, Pink Curtain) and the illuminated Organized Living sign flicked on. Guests drifted to the South Pasadena restaurant Briganti, the lucky among them greeted by a maître d’s Italian serenade; as Fontana and Bonvicini arrived, the two dining rooms erupted in applause. An infinitely long dinner table stretched across the patio to accommodate an exhaustive guest list, including artists Marnie Weber, Jim Shaw, Andrea Bowers, and Mike Kelley; curators Aimee Chang, Rita Gonzales, and Eungie Joo; dealers Marc Selwyn, Shaun Caley Regen, Susanne Vielmetter, and Metro Pictures’ Helene Winer; writers John Welchman and Jori Finkel; and a group of Italian students from Bocconi University’s Laboratory of Creative Productions. My amiable company kept the conversation lively, debating the design value of bidets and the dysfunctionality of the Olsen twins’ former residence. The group thinned out minutes before midnight, despite promised tiramisu and torta alla frutta; many had to work the next morning. I held out for dessert, truly a “Happening of Good Taste.”

Left: Emi Fontana with dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Stephen Prina's foot makes an impression.