Naked and Rude

Linda Yablonsky around Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Left: Chiho Aoshima and Takashi Murakami. Right: Michele Maccarone, Christian Haye, Pilar Tompkins, and Renaud Proch.

Friday night, West Hollywood. A Chateau Marmont manager has upgraded Lisa Yuskavage, still in town from her Wednesday dog-and-pony show with Lisa Cholodenko at the Hammer. Whisked from her rear-view room near a noisy elevator, she has now landed a gargantuan, six-room penthouse with a full-size kitchen in lieu of a minibar, ashtrays everywhere (in California!) and a nearly wraparound terrace. When I arrive to visit, the remote-controlled gas fire is roaring, the sun is setting over the hills, and life is rich and strange.

Saturday afternoon, while touring the galleries in Chinatown, along Wilshire Boulevard, and in Culver City, I keep recalling Cholodenko's observation—that the New York art world's sense of community does not exist in L.A.—and getting the opposite impression. Though L.A.'s art districts are as distant from one another as, say, Chelsea, Williamsburg, and Harlem, they appear to be attended by all the same people, many from Chelsea, Williamsburg and Harlem.

There wasn't actually a whole lot going on in Chinatown. Javier Peres was on the phone. Black Dragon Society was installing. China Art Objects was closed. But then I discovered the enclave of galleries across the road from LACMA. Frances Stark was hanging out with her baby at Marc Foxx (who is easy to hang with). There I see a couple of extra-diminutive Evan Holloway sculptures and several Brian Calvin paintings that look just like the ones I saw at Anton Kern a week before. There is a show of Thomas Nozkowski paintings nearby at Daniel Weinberg, some clean and cool Uta Barth photos at Acme, and flashy Leo Villareal light sculptures at Marc Selwyn. I tell you, it all feels just like home.

Back in the sunshine, I head to Culver City, astonished to find galleries holding concurrent openings. (Imagine this happening on a Memorial Day weekend in Chelsea.) Even the two natives who accompany me are surprised: A herd of Angelenos, out on the streets, walking! We start at Susanne Vielmutter's spalike space on Washington Boulevard, and are playing Sean Duffy's altered-turntables when Christian Haye walks in with Jenny Liu. They are taking a busman’s holiday from the opening of MC, Christian’s new operation with Michele Maccarone, just down the road.

Left: Flora Wiegman and Drew Heitzler. Right: Elizabeth Dee and David Quadrini.

On the way, we stop at Blum & Poe on La Cienega, where the young Japanese digital artist Chiho Aoshima, of Takashi Murakami's Kaikai Kiki and “Little Boy” fame, is opening a big solo show, with Murakami in attendance. Tim Blum reports he is selling Chiho's fasincating five-screen animation (a collaboration with Bruce Ferguson) for $65,000 (in an edition of five with one artist’s proof), while the walls and floor (wallpaper and printed vinyl) of a room-swallowing environment are priced separately, at $30,000 and $50,000 (sized to order). Standing beside Murakami, Aoshima is even less communicative than the fiberglass sculpture of a cross-legged, blue-haired, feather-skirted female in another room, but perhaps it is the work that should do the talking.

MC (formerly The Project) feels just as fresh, perhaps because the exhibition of videos by Kelly Nipper and Adrian Paci are from Galleria Francesca Kaufmann in Milan. (“We don't represent anyone here,” says Haye. “We just present,” comes the Maccarone rejoinder.) Across the street, Williamsburg transplants Drew Heitzler and Flora Wiegman continue counting down their twenty-one artist-curated group shows in their apartment-gallery, Champion Fine Arts. (They're on number six, curated by Craig Kalpakjian.)

There's a full-scale barbecue in progress around the corner, where Elizabeth Dee (of New York) and David Quadrini (of Angstrom Gallery in Dallas) opened the Chelsea-size Q.E.D. in a former film-storage warehouse. In the front: An Erick Swenson white deer-thing trapped in a “melting” glacier. Though we can see the Texas money walking around the other art by Kevin Landers, Wayne Gonzalez, Josephine Meckseper and more, I'm told some of the tanned collectors are from Honolulu.

Left: Dorna Khazeni and Michel Houellebecq. Middle: Michele Maccarone and Christian Haye. Right: Bobbi Pinz.

The next day, I return to the Hammer for a rare appearance by the provocative French novelist Michel Houellebecq. On the day that the French people vote against the European constitution, he is submitting to an interview by the author Sam Lipsyte that focuses on Houellebecq's obsession with H. P. Lovecraft. It seems doubtful anyone else there has read the horror writer since high school, but people begin to line up more than hour before start time—and guess who is first in line? Dennis Cooper and Bruce Hainley! Let no one say there is no community to the L.A. art world.

But when the lights go down, I wonder what planet I’ve landed on. Out comes a corpulent baggypants telling simply awful off-color jokes and introducing three separate strippers from a local burlesque show called “The Velvet Hammer.” (This act, it should be said, was a last-minute addition by Dorna Khazeni, Houellebecq's obsequious publicist and translator, not the museum.) I don't think anyone in the audience was prepared for this, especially when the third stripper emerges from the wings and turns out to be, well, a midget, dressed as a cowgirl. Her name is Bobbi Pinz. Never have I felt the voyeur within sit up straighter than when Bobbi, a terrific dancer, twirls her six-guns and strips down to her pasties and g-string, revealing her toned, if compact, body.

At last I feel like a tourist. I can't imagine this performance taking place in a New York museum. (Well, maybe the Guggenheim.) The whole event is disturbing. “We hope to entertain and edify,” Khazeni tells me later. Can such exploitation be a good thing? In an art context, one tends to accept everything. A week later, I'm still wondering.