Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration

Michael Ned Holte on “Both Ends Burning”

Los Angeles

Left: Matthew Monahan, Lara Schnitger, Thomas Houseago, David Kordansky, and Amy Bessone. Right: Ivan Golinko, Michele O'Marah, and Violet Hopkins. (Photos: Tamara Sussman)

My faithful photographer and I arrive ridiculously early at the opening reception for the group exhibition “Both Ends Burning.” The show, at David Kordansky Gallery, is a reunion of sorts for four Los Angeles-based artists—Amy Bessone, Thomas Houseago, Matthew Monahan, and Lara Schnitger—who all met, circa 1994, at De Ateliers in Amsterdam. This is the first local gallery exhibition for them (though Schnitger appeared in “Thing” at the Hammer earlier this year), and anticipation runs high. Walking into the densely installed gallery, I immediately sense the show’s confrontational tone, first in Schnitger’s tensile fabric sculpture Return of the Dodo, 2005, a yellow-plaid-and-fur monstrosity stationed at the gallery entrance, and then in Houseago’s massive acephalic plaster Giant, 2005. Kordansky is antsy, apprehensive—in other words, his usual self. The young gallery owner is a study in contradictions, by turns charming and acerbic, confident and paranoid, funny and dead serious. Perhaps the tone of this assertive exhibit reflects his frequently evangelical sense of purpose. As we arrive, his mission involves carrying in cases of Budweiser.

A beer or two later, and an hour into the opening, the gallery is nearly empty—even the artists have yet to show. (This is the only opening in Chinatown on this night, but there is a “bash” at the Hammer Museum, miles away in Westwood.) We goof around during the relative calm, posing Kordansky for a corny photograph in front of Giant, the gallerist mimicking the sculpture’s crossed arms. (Kordansky will later apologize to the artist for this “cheesy” photo op.) A young girl with a video camera earnestly documents the exhibition. Meanwhile I chat with Christopher Williams and MoCA curator Ann Goldstein, who shares some photos from her cell phone (Chris taking a photograph, Wim Delvoye with his dogs, and—no connection—dog poop outside the couple’s own front door), and we all acknowledge the complicated layers of mediation at this seeming nonevent.

Much to Kordansky’s relief, the artists—and a wave of other people—eventually show up. The “crazy” October heat—mid nineties on this particular day—is still baking the evening air. Monahan, looking carefully disheveled like his sculptures made of crumpled drawings, and Houseago, a big, gregarious English dude, seem very warm, both in terms of demeanor and body temperature (they’re wearing jackets). Painter Olivia Booth succinctly describes the steamy gallery as a “Swedish lodge.” The space is now thick with humanity, including gallerists from Chinatown (next-door neighbor Daniel Hug and China Art Objects’ Steve Hanson) and abroad (Christian Nagel and Modern Art Inc.’s Stuart Shave), Kordansky’s former gallery partner Ivan Golinko, writer/performer Malik Gaines, collector Blake Bryne, and MoCA curators Michael Darling and Ari Wiseman, who is organizing a 2006 “Focus” exhibition of Monahan’s work. Also on hand are local artists Mark Grotjahn (who shows with Monahan and Schnitger at Anton Kern in New York), Kim Fisher, Michele O’Marah, Jeff Ono, Mindy Shapero, and Anna Sew Hoy. Kordansky works the dense crowd, handing out the handsome exhibition catalogue (the gallery’s first) and hot pink wristbands for the after party at—big shocker—Mountain bar.

Outside the gallery, I talk to gallery artists Will Fowler, Patrick Hill, Violet Hopkins, Mark Flores, and the inevitable scene-stealer William Jones, who excitedly describes his recent for-hire photography work on the set of a Vena Virago film for, um, mature audiences, using ever-more-arcane slang terms to describe his female subjects’ “alien” anatomies. As the crowd reaches critical mass, the Budweiser runs out: It’s time to move on to Mountain. Everyone is screaming in conversation as guest DJ Hopkins cranks some rather noxious ’80s “classics” (“Poison Arrow” indeed), and a very relieved Kordansky celebrates a successful opening with the artists, letting his guard down, if only for one brief, sweaty moment.