As a location, the Control Room is an electrifying and humming space. As a moniker for the artists’ run, commercial gallery located on the edge of the Arts District in Downtown L.A., it’s quite brilliant. Having never visited, I imagined a modest sized floor plan with room to seriously examine art. For my first experience, I went to the closing night of Fridge, September 2nd, 2012. I was rewarded with a proliferation of surprising connections between works that were completely transportive. Remember, I am an escapist at heart. Reality bites, for reals.
I made two visits that night since Josh Mannis’s rooftop Zeal for the Law video projection made its appearance after dusk and I first arrived on the scene while the sun was blazing. Sure, the triumvirate, wigged out, heft of a man dancing to heavy, tribal, drum beats cracked me up because his face was largely obscured by blonde ringlets dangling to just above his stunning farmer’s tan. Farmer tans turn me on no matter who is wearing them. The trifecta multiplicity of the dancer’s actions set up a repetition dilemma at first but after a while it was clear where the start and finish occurred in the loop. The threesome of one was a bit hackneyed but I am glad there were no other characters because I felt lifted into the dancers’ arena to interact and to challenge his screen, triplet clones to a duel. I was entranced by the movement of the dancer’s gold n’ girly chains flying and bouncing off his girth. His ridiculous appearance leaned more toward butchy, queeny camp than passing for a chieftain. Then, there was the background. The cloud filled sky passing for a sunset that literally could have just happened 30 minutes prior beyond the screen itself seemed to trail and move to the beat as well. For an outdoor video projection, the simplicity of the angle of the screen towering above me was perfectly site and time specific. Seen in an art venue, the video could be a wordless diatribe against commodification of indigenous anything. I prefer knowing it for it’s frivolity and head-bouncing exhuberance.
So…Fridge. I overheard the curator Erin Foley explaining to another gallery goer that originally the schematic for the show came from a Chicago connection to Los Angeles with Art Institute graduates ending up here—something like that. Therefore, she humorously chose “The Fridge” as the unifyer. ”The Fridge,” as in the infamous Chicago Bears football player: I would never have made the connection but it is funny. I prefer to think of “Fridge” in this context as the electrical behemoth to keep things cool and from spoiling. There was so much inventive energy contained in the space that there should have been a power outage.
First off I was hit by the strength of color and magnetism in Ryan Fenchel’s Tokin & Signs, Unknown Degree. At first I was turned off by the Playskool pastel, totemic forms. Then, I started looking at the composition and spied strategically placed pastel sticks at the bottom AND the top of the wood frame as if a magical force was pulling the top color stick toward the CEILING. Something was awry with this artist’s original representation but I didn’t feel like I needed to figure out the totality of the battlefield. I wondered though, “Was I looking at a chalkboard rendering of some tribe/gang turf war?” None of the conflicting forms quite resembled bodies yet the arrangement was tense and full of drama—like chess pieces waiting for their players’ next moves. The colors were a buoyant disguise to the tipping point of trouble on the scene.
The other works (paintings, photo, two videos) as I moved clockwise down the wall and into the alcove held a relative, color hue vibrancy that was unifying yet bifurcating–refreshing for a group show. The neutral color palette of Rob Doran’s San O (beach boogie) slowed me down as I took in the deliberate placement of cut out’s and applied shadow drawing. Positioned between Melanie Schiff’s proud Glass House photo and Aline Cautis’s two “50’s glass paint” on film videos, Doran’s work on paper served as a palette cleanser like ginger on a sushi platter. Schiff’s nostalgic photo had a vintage atmosphere with the glass collection perfectly displayed. But for whom; a suburbanite passer-by on the sidewalk? Seeing the pristine bay window made me want to protect it from getting smashed either by thieves or the wrecking ball. The image also had a naïve attitude about it because the carefree owner probably did not imagine anyone would have such an impulse to break the windows to snatch any one of the gorgeous, art glass vessels. Maybe brave is a better trait for the glass collector. I experience theft first hand on such an everyday level that it is expected. I want the Glass House glassware to exist ad infinitum. But, perhaps the memory of its existence is better served as this potentially more permanent photograph documents. Backtracking to Becca Mann’s duo of jewel-like, masterpiece oil’s, my cone receptors were assaulted by the prismatic colors and precise but blurry handling of “realism.” I was not going to mention the paintings because I have been going through a mistrust of any kind of reality. No offense to the artist. The paintings are remarkable and worth every penny. It’s not that I want to drop out into non-reality but the representation of reality in art reminds me that I still question what reality is. I am starting to accept the Freudian version that reality is what prevents our future goals from occuring—the trials, hiccups and mishaps. Perhaps Mann would tell me, “These paintings are rendered from slides from the Art Institute of Chicago—that’s it, nothing else.” The paintings’ reality exists in a perpetual cycle of exposure to the public in a multitude of experiences.(i.e. them seeing the originals in Chicago and us seeing the artists’ replicants in Los Angeles).
I was intent on following the walls and sculptures on the floor clockwise, in order. When I came across one of Kristen VanDeventer’s screenprints, I started looking for repeats in the pattern of happy faced sharks. Before I realized I was examining a screen print I wondered if she had painted the shapes by hand since it would have been a stylistic counterpoint to the gestural, oil stick marks that became a second layer to the surface of the fabric. I was relieved that the proportional canvas size was the same dimension of the full repeat. It was a tight composition and easy for me to enter. I could have stood there for a longer time waiting for the pattern to come alive and to see the sharks fall into a contiguous, slithering mass. I thought about prey. What were the sharks AFTER? It could not have been the juvenile, oil stick marks could it? They seemed to be content to be frozen with happy, cartoon grins on their faces. Can sharks be content? They have big, complex brains. Perhaps they too have evolved like us and have a consciousness. I was disappointed when I skipped past Sayre Gomez’s mysterious Untitled to come face to face with two more shark prints with varying canvas colors: grey and white. I wanted the crème colored one to have all the power and attention. The repetitions spoiled my shark consciousness fantasy and I thought, “Oh, Warhol.” I told myself to leave Pop out of the equation. Warhol was, however, one of my first art loves. I made my trucker father (R.I.P. Irvin) take me to see the retrospective at MOMA in 1989. So, now, how can we escape Warhol’s grasp on repetition and the copy? No answers here. But, I still wish VanDeventer’s crème Test 1 was here on it’s own. I did appreciate the placement of the grey and white versions on the opposite wall–like reproductive mirrors. As I worked today, my mind returned to VanDeventer’s gleeful sharks. I decided that the sharks’s prey IS the gestural mark and that the artist is making a complex statement about consuming those marks. Now, I ask: is the artist one of the sharks or is she visually describing how sharky Pop artists reacted against 50’s Expressionists to their desired point of annihilation and otherness? Only the artist knows.
Backing up to Sayre Gomez’s painting (yes I was totally going out of order at this point after being attacked by sharks!), I was given another visual respite. Yet, submerged at the lower half of the gloomy canvas was a glimmer of a protagonist and recognition. The lustrous seductivitiy of the canvas’s surface and depth harkened an unmistakable, visual reference to Poe’s cat Pluto. On top of the mysterious blackened surface edges was inscribed a hard-edge painted frame. As a device the thin line brought me back to where I was standing in the gallery pulled from literary horror. Sandwiched in between the school of sharks, you could almost hear the cat hissing to the sly, underwater tricksters, “Stay in the depths of darkness like me o’ stealthy youths, you’ll be safer there, away from the toxic lifestyles of the humans.”
Next, Doran’s floor installation Three Hats beheld me as soon as I peered down at it. Now I was physically above one of the works of the show. Nodding across the gallery to Schiff’s photographic collection, here was a series of scaled down, ten gallon hats; the kind that Bugs Bunny occasionally wears. Only one hat in the middle sat perched on it’s marbleized, DIY safe keeper. Its dull, grey, sandy color approached a tactile suedeness but remained comic. Was there a threes connection to the trio of Mannis’s clone dancers on the roof? I would rather not draw the propish connection and stick to the humorous autonomy of Doran’s floor piece as a blurry connection between retail/utilitarian and objects d’art.
The most striking connective was timed for the 10 and 11 hour marks on the clockwise tour of Fridge. Craig Doty’s upside down, Bushwick Hotel photo diptych appeared to document a strange, bendy exercise routine or a rehearsal for a Brooklynite, wedding bouquet toss. The model had a beatific smile and glow about her. Her vision of youthful flexibility and long hair was caught on film for us to project a story onto the twisted perspective. At any moment I felt her eyes could open in revelry and give me an even bigger smile. The photo on the right was also oriented upside down. Slightly out of focus, the frozen bouquet could have been in motion being flung across the room or sitting in a vase as the cameraman snapped the shutter while falling down trying to get his bearings in the topsy-turvy room. Directly in front of Doty’s photos, Caleb Lyons Abstinence dangled from the gallery ceiling. The soaring column was reminiscent of a coat rack but only the most durable of goods could possibly endure the sharp and rough cast aluminum hooks. The ladder/rack hung poised to receive whomever or whatever dared to drape themselves over the rungs. I imagined the sculpture could have been lifted directly from the lobby ceiling of Doty’s Bushwick Hotel if there is such a lodging. The choice to exhibit Doty’s photos and Lyons’ sculpture made perfect sense. My eyes darted back and forth between the here and now physicality of the crude wood to the caught in time transcendence of the copy of a possibly real moment only shared by the photographer and model.
Lastly and most emphatically, Ali Bailey’s You (your reflection) punched me in the gut by bringing me out of the nether world I just inhabited by confronting me with responsibility. That being I am the cultural institution. That means you, you, and you, also. We are all the institution. So if you are going to critique it, don’t be such a hypocrite, and look at your own deeds first. In Bailey’s work as well “the above” was heavily contracted with the frame sinking further down than the mounted construction could fill. In the void, the brick wall of the institution, Control Room, was exposed. The figures in the found image on the left were fraught precariously between a prior incident and the unknown future. As a black and white, the copy looked like a film still, perfectly composed with the security guard of the institution at the far left, two men conversing in the middle ground and a 4th man walking or running briskly toward the edge of the scene. The image on the right looked like a cultural relic from Pre-Colombia. Thus, Bailey’s anonymous images drew an imaginary connecting tissue across the gallery to Mann’s depicted art works housed in a specific, architectural reliquary.
I am grateful to Erin Foley and applaud Eve Reuther and William Kaminski at Control Room for exhibiting Fridge in the summer. I have always been opposed to the excuse to slow down and take things easy in the hot months. To stop delving, seeing and giving seems counterintuitive. Life is just too short. I understand the necessity to step back and away, to take some time off. But, I would rather misanthropically do it when no one else is.
At Top: Sayre Gomez, Untitled. Oil and acrylic on canvas.