Los Angeles

“Young Turks,” a film by Stephen Seemayer

Downtown Gallery

There are rumors of boom in the Los Angeles art world. The development of the Museum of Contemporary Art, with its implications of international sanction, have detonated an already simmering real estate market in the downtown area. Dealers, real estate developers, and artists are gearing up for the gold rush; many artists and galleries have migrated downtown, nestling close to the soon-to-be-hatched new museum. As on Wall Street, Rodeo Drive, West Broadway, and the backlot at 20th Century–Fox, people are hungry here. Who gets served first should come as a surprise to no one.

It is not a new development that artists are romantically hallucinated as marauding, brutish, yet charming rogues. A local manifestation of this cartoon is the “Young Turks,” 13 artists who work in downtown Los Angeles. They were recently showing together as a group and are the subjects of a film of the same name. Upon entering the Downtown Gallery, one was met with the words “Young Turks,” ceremoniously painted in a mock-graffiti scrawl. The power of graffiti lies in its quirky, transgressive character, its refusal to abide by the sanctity of property, and its broadcast of the sometimes unspoken; this caption, however, was so self-consciously crafted one would think it had been written 30 times before the correct motif was established. It had all the gestural frankness of a novice graphic designer’s first confrontation with a T-square.

Surrounding the caption is a group of photographic portraits of the artists, who have been hyped as chance-takers, interveners in the slack, bourgeois Venice scene. With few exceptions, however, the work in the show is a pathetic rehash of the past 20 years of studio vocabulary. This is a humorless example of “serious, hardworking artists” trying to produce their way into the Artists Hall of Fame. The filmic portrayal of the group both records this phenomenon and serves as a further example of it. The film was shot by Stephen Seemayer, who acts as both the auteur and the interviewer of his subjects. His questions would make Ted Baxter look like Michel Foucault. When he asks Coleen Sterritt how it feels to be an attractive woman in the art world, one hopefully anticipates her answering, “Bad enough to allow you to interview me”; unfortunately, this is not her response. Edited in a fast-clipped fashion and big on “important” metaphoric imagery, the film sports a high school fraternity feel, a failed pranksterism which lacks even the feeble fashion allure of “new wave” transgressionettes. The juxtaposition of these downtown artists in their studios talking about their “pieces” with images of the men who inhabit the streets, huddled over bonfires and defecating in gutters, is a smug and self-righteous analogy: “Hey guys, we’re neighbors.” This grotesque condescension ignores questions of class and property and contributes to the exploitative feel of the entire project. In one scene Seemayer is caught in the bathtub, modestly covering his crotch and screaming, “Get out of here. Don’t film me. I don’t want everyone to see my big ten-inch.” Hey guys, maybe that’s what this is all about! That Seemayer has managed to manipulate these artists into this ridiculous, hyped-up vehicle for his own quaint and tired delusions is distressing, and attests to the desperation of most of the event. He serves as a kind of impresario, a sort of Sol Hurok of dead souls, delivering another object lesson on the objectification of the artist: half gal and guy, half wild and crazy, young animal turk. It’s all very sad.

Barbara Kruger