Fresh and Refresh

Christina Catherine Martinez around the 5th Perform Chinatown

Left: Dealer François Ghebaly and Human Resources cofounder Eric Kim at Human Resources. Right: Kate Gilbert performs Two Less Things to Worry About (Lucy Returns) at Perform Chinatown. (All photos: Christina Catherine Martinez)

SHOWING UP TO A PARTY at all is in itself a gesture of deference in Los Angeles, where La Cienega Boulevard may as well be the International Date Line. The weekend before last saw a host of events, literally traversing one end of the city to the other, so many plot points on an itinerary of party-hopping endurance that gave us just enough to mull over for a few sleepy weeks in August before the art scene springs to life again amid back-to-school jitters.

Saturday 5:20 PM: Chinatown. Chung King Road

“It seems we have a question here in the front row. What is performance art?” Jamie McMurry, one of the main administrators of the fifth iteration of Perform Chinatown and ad hoc emcee on the main stage, repeats the question: “What. Is. Performance. Art.” He sidles up close to the microphone and clears his throat grandly, then clears it again, and a few times more. This goes on for about thirty seconds. He smiles at the uncomprehending woman. “There’s your answer.”

Among the early lingerers at this event, where nearly thirty artists stage various durational and ephemeral performances, is a sizable population of confused tourists for whom the title ostensibly evoked some sort of public-radio-sponsored, family-friendly event. But the artists seem less intent on bringing the uninitiated masses into the fold, and more intent on blowing minds. Some performances are taking place in open air, others on a stage, still others in black or white wooden boxes acting as frames, and all are happening at once. Smells from three different performances—involving onions, whiskey, and mayonnaise, respectively—mix in the fragrant summer air. People whisper into cell phones, hold their noses, and cover their children’s eyes as they pick their way through this gauntlet of avant-garde expression. We all step gingerly over a naked Kate Gilbert, whose Two Less Things to Worry About (Lucy Returns) obstructs one of the walkways. Still, many stand politely with chin in hands, dutifully evincing stony apprehension.

7:05 PM

A stray paper airplane, printed with the image of a twenty-dollar bill, and very much on fire, flies further than expected from Vasan Sitthiket’s politically charged performance (visual elements in play include: a camouflage-print suit and tie, a globe, a helpmate in an Anonymous mask painted with the American flag, aforementioned fake currency) on the main stage, and nearly lands in my hair. “Sorry!” he calls out from the platform.

Left: Dealer Maggie Kayne with artist Daniel Knorr. Right: Artists David Lamelas and Paul Sietsema at Kayne Griffin Corcoran.

8:15 PM: West Hollywood. Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery

We ride the slipstream behind rush hour traffic to arrive just in time for David Lamelas and Daniel Knorr’s openings at Kayne Griffin Corcoran’s impressive new space on South La Brea Avenue. Even the grass is soigné, cut at sleek, measured angles. Semiotext(e) editor Hedi El Kholti is parked by a galvanized steel ice bucket, handing out beers. In contrast with the anarchic scene we’d left behind, the modulated volume of conversation, coupled with a few well-behaved children traipsing around Lamelas’s Signaling of Three Objects installation in the courtyard, signals something approximating an eighteenth-century French manor.

In the south gallery, Lamelas chats convivially with Paul Sietsema. They pose politely for a snap. “Isn’t it wonderful?” Lamelas asks. “The intimacy the camera creates? I don’t really know this man, you know, but we’re getting on pretty well, and this picture, it... I mean, this could be the most important meeting of our lives!” In the main gallery, Daniel Knorr is flanked by Liz Goldwyn and actress Jena Malone. His acid-hued resin casts of Los Angeles potholes literally pop out of the wall. I like the way they fuse the twin notions of city streets and art itself as agents of social movement that often circumscribe one another: distance, level of acquaintanceship with the artist, time, and parking prospects are all factors in deciding if an Angeleno is going to leave the house on any given day in order to go look at art. For their part, the potholes seem to be enjoying the change of view immensely.

9:02 PM

In KGC’s permanent James Turrell skyspace, Warren Niesluchowski and Belgian philosopher Thierry de Duve are sipping Heinekens, leaning forward in the chairs Turrell designed specifically for leaning back. Niesluchowski, in the spirit of one who has spent many years perfecting the art of being a guest, is sanguine, and he shifts the conversation to suit every sly change in the room’s color. Of Turrell’s work in general he notes, “I haven’t taken acid in forty years, but that’s where it takes me back to.”

Left: Thierry de Duve in James Turrell's skyspace at Kayne Griffin Corcoran. Right: Niki Korth performing The Tarot of Chance at Human Resources.

9:45 PM: West Hollywood. Chateau Marmont

After some hushed conferences comparing routes, most of the Corcoran crowd has migrated to a private room at the back of the Bar Marmont. Cocktail waitresses dart furtively in and out of the dim, amber-lit space, ushering in mixed-up drink orders, while guests assemble little plates of cured meats and cheeses from a platter of charcuterie in the corner. The varieties are impossible to differentiate in the dark. Lamelas is holding court on the patio, making sure everyone’s glass is full.

11:00 PM: Chinatown. Human Resources

Back in Chinatown, strong in spirit but weak in body, the Perform Chinatown Afterparty/Human Resources Benefit is going full blast. Lights are flashing, people are dancing, and the bar line is nearly out the door. A friend emerges from the crowd, double-fisting two red Solo cups, and hands me the one that happens to be full of pure gin.

Sunday 1:00 AM

In Human Resources’ upstairs room, the Big Conversation Space perform The Tarot of Chance, a series of unconventional card readings appropriate to the unconventional setting. The group’s principal members, Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier, have been at it all evening without losing a trace of composure. Conversation is their medium, and they are wielding the hell out of it; it’s like a more intimate version of Tino Sehgal’s This Progress, but with a punk flourish and zero hired actors. Over the din of artist Dawn Kasper’s DJ set below, there are audible snippets from the reading of the woman in front of me. The phrase “soul mate” is repeated several times. When she finally gets up, pushes her chair back and walks away, there are tears in her eyes.

Once situated, Niki explains to me that this is not a traditional tarot, and my first task is to formulate a question to send out into The Great Beyond. She picks up the receiver on the Model 500 rotary phone on the table, tracing the number to the Great Beyond (area code 818?) with her finger. “Yes hello... we want to know what is success? Ah... yes... thank you.” The resulting cards form a curious sequence—the megaphone, the artist, the philosopher, the hacker—but there is a Narcissister/A. L. Steiner video piece being projected nearby, and it’s hard to focus with those bronzed curves freakishly bouncing around the screen…

Narcissister + A. L. Steiner, Winter/Spring Collection, 2013.

Sunday 5:45 PM: Venice Beach. Home of Thaddeus Stauber and Tracy O’Brien

“I hate being called a Pop artist, it’s such a fucking burden!” British Pop artist Derek Boshier exclaims. “And I’ve just handed out all my cards. I hope no one from the Guggenheim walks in.” After a few hours’ rest and only one minor squabble about GPS settings, we arrive at the chic private residence acting as the site of Night Gallery’s pop-up show “Sunburn.” Christine Wang’s giant 2013 Dandelions painting banners the facade, making every other perfectly charming house on the block look like a hamlet of driftwood shanties. Friends and collectors mill around, taking care not to bump into any of the work in the decidedly lived-in space.

Again, children.

Upstairs, Boshier’s 2004 Hanky Panky converses with the fleshy rosas of Christine Wang’s lewd-crude Flashe paintings on found pet X-rays, which in turn echo the pink, painted-wood bunk beds in the adjacent room. I think of the children. “We didn’t want to neuter anything,” Night Gallery director Mieke Marple explains. “The idea is to bring a little bit of S&M to Venice Beach.” Before heading out into the sunset, Boshier offers a final word. “You know, Eduardo Paolozzi once told me, ‘This is how you get on in the art world: You pick an icon, and paint only that for the rest of your life. That’s how you do it,’ he said. ‘...But you better not fucking do it!’ ”

Repeating the same action for hours on end? Sounds like a performance.

Left: Artist Piero Golia at Kayne Griffin Corcoran. Right: Night Gallery director Mieke Marple and artist Derek Boshier at Night Gallery's exhibition “Sunburn.”