SLAVES TO THE VISUAL
TEN LOS ANGELES ARTISTS WITH THE GIFT
by Benjamin Weissman
- Tessa Chasteen
- Harry Dodge
and Stanya Kahn
- Francesca Gabbiani
- Charles Garabedian
- Matt Greene
- Tom Knechtel
- Nick Lowe
- Jennifer Pastor
- Mindy Shapero
- Thaddeus Strode
When I first went to galleries as a nineteen-year-old snotnose with my high-school surf pal Christopher Williams (he, a painter of Richard Diebenkorn look-alikes at the time; me, doing my best not to completely imitate Richard Tuttle) we used to tear DeKooning labels off the walls of a swank West Hollywood gallery and reapply them to car windows or just bring them home and put them in our notebooks. The prank seemed justified. If Rauschenberg erased DeKooning’s drawing as a gesture of love and aggression the least we could do was remove a sticky title card whose edges were already peeling off the wall. The room was begging for vandals. Moments earlier, the gallery director had told Chris not to touch the art on the wall, to which he responded, but that was how my father told me to look at art. His father was not a bricklayer or a magician but he did blow himself up on the front lawn of the family’s home while experimenting with film effects for Hollywood, so young fatherless Chris became my surrogate-big-brother art coach.
Most of the galleries we visited back then reeked of bourgeois conservatism. They seemed antithetical to the seething impulses that were coursing through our feet, hands, noggins. Artworks spoke to us, they said, revolt, smash, peel labels off walls, and then, prove your own worth, go home and contribute to culture, don’t be a loser. After graduating from CalArts Chris and I started showing at various galleries and I found my way into writing fiction, which lead directly to a friendship with the novelist Dennis Cooper. Upon his encouragement, I began writing for Artforum. Minutes later Chris and I were both teaching at Otis College of Art and Art Center. As kooky fate would have it, Chris began showing at the very same gallery we had earlier vandalized. Showing art, collaborating with other artists, reviewing exhibitions, and publishing fiction in art catalogues put me in a precarious, nearly adversarial relationship with galleries.
As I got older I realized that galleries performed a remarkable service. They did the hellishly impossible: they sold art. And the gallerists, those well-coiffed characters who always seemed more like undertakers or the nervous leaders of a new but not very popular church, kept the walls painted white and the lights turned on. They tried intelligently to hype ideas and objects they were never very familiar with (it’s hard work), they sent out typo-free/grammatically correct press releases that didn’t embarrass themselves or humiliate the artists, and they did it to even scarier people than themselves: collectors and curators. These might have been some of the Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts that Donald Barthelme referred to in his 1968 book of that title. Parallels abound in the book world—as George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them. They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettishness, without being either good businessmen or fine judges of literature. All that is necessary in the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without the intermediate parasite.” This isn’t to say that every single art-biz creature contributes nothing and deserves to spend his remaining days in a noxious circle of hell. There are a few shiny and notable exceptions.
And something I never stopped believing: good art finds its way into the world.
Please find on the pages that follow documentation of work by ten Los Angeles artists I greatly admire, who range in age from twenty-three to eighty-one. Some of them have been working since World War II and others are having their first solo shows right about now. Others are midcareer and doing quite nicely and might be known here in L.A., and a bit elsewhere, but just barely. Still others have appeared in multiple Whitney Biennials and yet you’ve probably never heard of them. Some might be too cartoony, not gay enough, or so very very gay girlfriend but lacking in theoretical heft if you know what I mean (I mean, what the world needs now is to get our Carnophallo-hermeneutical faces out of our arse-icals or else it’ll be time to reify that steaming pile of Hegelianism)—not distant enough, too coy or illusory, romantic, too many outmoded references, quoting the wrong sources, or some other idiotic detail that caused them to slip between the floorboards for the moment. So pardon the full focus on L.A. artists, but these really were the first ten artists that came to mind when asked to introduce ten artists you might not know about. Part of the reason for my home-team affection is that L.A. museums, and the collectors who sit as board trustees and influence exhibitions, have had an odd relationship to L.A. artists: a shaky-spotty history of not supporting local talent, as if that would brand them provincial. So the kids must make a pilgrim’s progress elsewhere in the world and return home a hero. Being a booster for these characters who embrace that spirit of intellectual play and anarchistic freakiness that I was seeking long ago as a title-card stealer is an honor. Please welcome ten truly inspired artists who have the gift in spades.
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