Los Angeles

Sharon Lockhart, Laura Owens, Frances Stark

4 x 4. The format (in feet) for each of the works displayed and the principle under which the show operated: three “hot,” young Los Angeles artists who have been and remain close friends showed one work each, and during the show’s run, the fourth “artist”—the three friends working together—produced a multiple. The simplicity of the concept is airily honest about how things get done, stuff gets made, and the art world works. Sadly, some critics could not accept the idea of friendship as a premise for a show, even calling it a “non-premise,” which is, of course, precisely the point—who really wants premises messing up, as they too often do, the enjoyment?

The three works demonstrated the three friends’ differences. Lockhart’s quirky photograph of them draped in a rough mock-up of the California state flag—grizzly bear centering it—in part an homage to Arthur J. Telfer’s photograph, Flag Girls, Cooperstown, NY, 1918, remained an example of how she discerns the ominous atmosphere of the most banal circumstances, people not quite at home with who and where they are. Stark’s text piece, which spelled out in repeated vertical columns, read top to bottom, “A foreshortening of the mind’s perspective,” all in black typeface except for, in red, the word “perspective” and the apostrophe. The piece was unframed, and its matter-of-factness belied its delicacy. The painting exhibited by Owens provided an immediate contrast to Lockhart’s and Stark’s restraint, a bromeliad riot of color, orange and hot pinks, against a bright white background, the bouquet of big bloom and twigs in thick, swirling, groovy marks of paint. Despite the difficult-to-hear conversation going on between these works, or perhaps, importantly, not going on, together they did comment on the similarities between the trio. They are interested in exploring the facture of their respective media—photography, drawing, painting; unafraid of the “homemade” (a quality that warms even Lockhart’s work, which is, decidedly, the most austere and cool); and slanted and enchanted by what is near-at-hand, the world and words around them.

The collaborative multiple—glossy white boxes, each swaddled in an exuberant band of cloth, containing smatterings of information, influences (bits of texts, photos, a shiny gold CD of favorite tunes by Marlene Dietrich and various crooners), an Owens watercolor drawing of flowers as well as a pocket-sized Stark piece—presented examples of what moves the three friends but in no way defined friendship or simplified the intricacies of influence. It simply reiterated—and multiplied—the similarities the individual works already displayed. The multiple emphasized things assembled in the accompanying video, TRT: 48:20, July 11, 1997. Rated “G,” it showed surprising instances of what the friends like and what may end up somehow influencing their work: exuberance; women of strength, conviction, and smarts; daffiness; and a concern for how to make enough money to get by and do what you really want to do—i.e., an ecstatic spelling-bee champion; Gena Rowlands; cartoon animation; and documentary footage of the auction of one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings.

Thinking about the show, I considered how friends become friends and remain so, and how the art world mimics and makes economic such relations, whether or not it admits it as boldly as this brave little show did. Friends recommend to other friends things (music, artists, distractions) that they are excited by. Curators may apply theory-heavy constructs to such give-and-take, but even they generally find room for things made space for by allegiance alone. Art gets made because of these kinds of intractable goings-on. Most artists of any interest whatsoever only have conversations with (make work for) a few people, two or three, not many more. That large groups of people can at times partake of the conversation long after the fact amazes.

Two final notes. The video has a bit of an interview with John Cassavetes; he says something about a philosophy of life—which is what this show was an example of. Then he pauses and declares: “I have a one-track mind: all I’m interested in is love.” The title of the video, “TRT,” could be trust; the three artists/friends provide and are the missing “us.”

Bruce Hainley