Critics’ Picks

View of  “Tropical Vulture,” 2010.

View of “Tropical Vulture,” 2010.

Los Angeles

George Kuchar

The Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State L.A.
5151 State University Drive California State University
November 27, 2010–January 8, 2011

Pagan Rhapsody, a 1970 short by the American independent-cinema pioneer George Kuchar, unfolds via an unusual juxtaposition of interior spaces. While one drama, concerning repressed homoerotic desire, takes place in an entirely mundane urban apartment, another, featuring a histrionic aristocrat attempting to seduce a young actress, transpires within a grand estate that traffics in an unusual zone between Transylvanian house of horror and hippie love nest. Throughout the film, actions that occur in one space seem to inexplicably influence those in the other, and the work culminates in the simultaneous deaths of the aristocrat, overdosing on pills while at his candlelit piano, and the actress, now in the apartment, suffering head trauma after slipping on a pile of postcoital puke. Such audacious connective threads abound in “Tropical Vulture,” an exhibition of Kuchar’s films and graphic work from the past half century.

For Kuchar, who began making films with his twin brother, Mike, in New York’s nascent independent scene in the late 1950s, artistic creation is invariably an open field of real-time decision-making and modification. In the twenty films made between 1963 and 2004 that are displayed on three floating walls and two television monitors in “Tropical Vulture,” we see this belief played out across each editing cut. Original plans for a two-person exhibition that would have featured a collaboration between Kuchar and former student and Mexico City–based artist Miguel Calderón were interrupted, and, as promising as such a joint show would have been, the exhibition’s exclusive focus on Kuchar yields a rich presentation of dynamic work.

As detailed in a fine documentary film on the Kuchar brothers, made by Jennifer Kroot, that accompanies the exhibition in a side gallery, George’s films proceed through a process of intuitive feedback with the spaces and elaborately costumed actors at hand during production. None is so strictly a “mise-en-scène” or “character,” because the associations among the filmmaker’s signature rapacious women, unrooted young men, faux-Hollywood melodrama, and superordinary events are open to revision across every interstice in the diegesis. His is a marvelously fluid fantasy of being in the world.