While Dung was heading to a vintage prefab house designed by Walter Gropius in the Hollywood Hills where he was weekending with some friends, I took the shuttle to the Hertz rental.
And here is my insider tip to LA: do not rent a car!
Traffic is insane, and car rental is expensive. Do you want to be stuck for hours with no other distraction than scanning through 50 Spanish radios on the FM band? Rent a bike instead. But get a GPS from Hertz. Yes, just the GPS, but not the car.
Once settled in my beach motel, I stroll down Venice to rent one of those cruise bikes.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the most tattooed guy will give you the best deal. Try different ones, and ask for their weekend packages. Some offers a surfboard on a trailer behind for another 5 bucks. Not to be missed.
Don’t even consider mountain bikes, go for the cruise: you ‘re almost on your back like in a dentist seat, and when you pedal, your knees climb higher than your chin which is very relaxing, on flat grounds at least.
I had not realized that there are some slight uphill inclines from the beach to the Geffen Contemporary, where the LA Art Book Fair is, and somehow these cruisers are heavier than you would think, and well, they have big tires too. I was missing the pencil-width wheels on my Brooklyn fixed gear when, with night falling, the GPS started repeating the good news of “approaching destination.”.
I had never been to the Geffen, but I was surprised they could fit a whole Art Book Fair in a tiny house, although it was endless rows of houses of a similar architecture, while each ones customized. It was not impossible than the Fair would spread in several pavilions, and knowing AA Bronson, the artist and founder of General Idea and organizer of the book fair event, you just assume that some unusual and challenging concept might be take place.
Knocking with high anticipation at the first door, it was not long after that I was pedaling away at maximum speed, closely followed by 2 enraged pit bulls. It turns out that I added an extra zero to the address on my GPS, and ended up in South Central LA.
It was late when I finally made to the Geffen, after circling the block several times in search of a safe parking spot for my bike.
I ran into the fair, hoping for some sandwiches and a glass of Champagne as I was starving from the intense exercise..
Spotting AA, I asked him where the buffet was, (promising to go straight to the art books and zones after eating), but it was closing time, and all he could do was to recommend a sushi restaurant in nearby Little Tokyo, “Better than in Japan,” he added.
A limited edition signed print of this snapshot of AA and me can be purchased from Bookmarc LA
Three years ago, when I went to Bushwick for the first time to visit my friends Thomas and Mo who had just rented a painting studio there, I was astonished by the beauty of the big warehouses, the abandoned factories, and trucks parked in the empty streets. If you spotted any bearded hipsters with skinny legs and elaborate tattoos, it was just for one or two at Los Hermanos, the taco place, not the constant flow as it is today. There were some abstract graffiti here and there, with wild plants and grass growing out of the sidewalk cracks, and everything seemed interesting and genuine.
Best of all were all the small repair garages and tire shops. Among the second-rate car service Town Cars were always some wrecked, rusted cars with hoods missing parked in front, waiting to be pimped out, and along the hollow sidewalks floated the distinct smell of spray paint.
In the last six months many of these low rent workshops closed down to make room for more profitable artist studios, and as if in fear that it wouldn’t attract enough post-graduate painters and musicians, the old landlords (who for decades had felt punished by God to rent their cathedrals of bricks as storages for nothing), suddenly possessed by the frenzy of the market, offered their walls to the street painters.
Where you had beautiful bare brick walls, you now most likely to see a giant squid with bulging eyes falling from the roof.
Even the corner poultry store requested a pimped out façade from a street artist.
I passed by one Sunday afternoon, at the peak of a heat wave, and saw two bemused poultry employees in their black rubber aprons contemplating the artist sweating under the mask supposed to protect him from inhaling the contents of his spray cans, which strong smell was largely overwhelmed by the one emanating from the living stock.
Most disappointing was to discover that my favorite building, a former ladder factory with an odd metal chimney that looks like a Max Ernst sculpture, was already half covered with murals.
A tiny girl was busy working on a monster creature a hundred times her size. Her cans were neatlyly aligned by the wall, and a security perimeter had been delineated with orange cones. She was in fact so charming and earnest, and happy to have all this surface to work on, although she had to share it with two others artists, that you could no longer complain about the disappearance of the industrial architecture. And it’s not like the Bechers haven’t already documented it well, in case you had some.
It had been very hard, she explained, winter is not a good season for street art, especially in NY. Her hands would freeze on the cans in the windy desolated spots available for murals.
And how was Singapore, I asked?
Singapore was not good for murals either: the scene was boring there.
On the other side of the street, a repair garage had been recently closed, cleaned up and entirely covered with bright murals.
When I asked if I could take her picture, she hesitated. She finally pulled out big shades.
- Of course, as a street artist, you don’t want to be recognized?
- Well, yes…
Give me a plain.
Make it a medium plain.
No, I don’t want anything in it.
You don’t have any medium ?
Only large, extra large,
But don’t fill it up all the way
Glenn is the only poet who understands the relationship of Fashion and the commercial world. Once I heard he read « Beatnik Executives », one of my favorites, inside the Barneys store.
I saw the best minds of my generation
Depressed by lawsuits, dieting, sober, all dressed up,
Angelheaded hipsters renegotiating the social contract,
Trying to renegotiate the lease on life
And cool this microwaved world.
Excerpt from « Beatnick Executives », in Soapbox, Imschoot Uitgevers
Besides having been photographed in his pants by Andy Warhol for the cover sleeve of Sticky Fingers, he is the only poet who has been writing on the subject of « How to Be a Man », a philosopher’s take on sartorial subjects that extend unto questions like « the correct insult » or « what to do after death and how to deal with eternity. »
Most poets try to bring you down to make a living, but Glenn provides workable solutions for life:
When I get confused or dismayed or bored I always think : but what if this was an art movie.
In « Toward a More Bohemian Lifestyle », Soapbox, Imschoot Uitgevers
A color pencil interpretation of “The Happening”, an oil painting by Jean-Philippe Delhomme echoing Glenn’s reading.
I went on a Sunday night, before the definitive closing of the exhibition at 11pm.
Most thrilling was to walk across the lobby of this luxurious and somehow discreet Upper East Side hotel to tell the receptionist: I’m here to see the installation… for it seemed highly unlikely that an installation was taking place there. Without rising an eyebrow, he indicated the elevator, 3rd floor, Suite 30.
Very few viewers, essentially women, were moving silently inside the room, bending to carefully read the narratives accompanying the objects that the artist had displayed everywhere. In fact, the room was filled with Sophie Calle’s works, from the bathroom to inside the safe to the walk-in closet.
In the lounge, the TV was on with the news. The news on that banal sunday night was so odd, looking so much like the News in all its tragic excess or dumbness, that I thought it was another piece of Calle’s work.
The artist and her iconic wedding cake.
A tiny woman with big eyeglass frames (more angular than those of Duras) and a short skirt was sitting on the couch, checking emails while sipping Chardonnay.
She looked so much like the artist, that I couldn’t help inquiring :
- Is it you? I mean, are you the artist ?
- Well, yes, I am.
- How incredible to see you sitting in your own installation! But… is this the real news?
- This? (She looked at the TV.) Yes, it’s the TV. Why ?
- Oh, I thought it was a work of yours, some video you could have also done…
She narrowed her eyes.
- Hmm… that would be an idea…
After that, we had nothing else to say. I kept on watching the news, and her too, while taking another sip of white wine.
A stuffed cat.
- Do you also sleep in your installation? I asked.
- As a matter of fact, I did. Just last night.
It reminded me of the first time I had seen her work, No Sex Last Night, at a Whitney Biennal, in the early 90’s. I stood for a long time in front of the video screen to admit that it was true, night after night, in spite of a wedding in a Las Vegas chapel, there was no sex, and they kept on driving on and on with the top down.
A red wedding dress on a half burnt bed.
A man who was also seated on the couch was introduced as her boyfriend.
- Are you part of the installation?
It’s not very kind, said Calle of my innocent joke, and I apologized.
- So how did you sleep? Did you sleep on the Red Wedding Dress, or did you set it aside?
She looked at me, surprised.
- There are 2 beds, I slept on the other one.
- I see.
Once again, we had nothing more to say.
- And you, who are you? she asked.
- I am the Unknown Hipster.
I indicated my url and she checked this very blog you are reading right now.
She didn’t seemed facinated beyond measure. She landed on the post about Carine’s karaoke, Anna Dello Russo’s legs and Valentino singing My Way.
- Who are these people?
I tried to explain that they were giants in the fashion world, but she seemed dubious.
At that moment, a tall blonde woman, with whom I had earlier admired the installation inside the kitchen fridge at the beginning of my visit, was now walking toward the artist to hug her.
She was a dear friend, and they completely forgot about me.
Just before I made my exit, I interrupted to ask Sophie Calle if I could take a picture with my iPhone .
- Are you going to do a portrait of me?
- I don’t know, I said. Maybe.
On September 9th Andy did a one day installation at the Half Gallery.
In a work entitled « Casa Grande AZ 1972-1975 » 30 cacti of various shapes were arrayed on the floor, while black ballons floated above, up against the ceiling.
As the gallery text said : « Andy Spade’s first solo show offers a glimpse into his youth growing up in a small town Arizona town. In a household with a new stepfather, he and his brothers felt the tension between his fits of rage and depression and his mother’s blind, yet always sunny disposition. This installation represents the sublimation of childhood disenfranchisement. »
The deflating balloons exploded when low enough to touch the cacti, and their number gradually diminished.
This slow but inevitable process went on all night behind the gallery’s closed door.
In the midst of the winter I was invited to a preview of the Martha Graham Dance Company’s 85th Anniversary season.
It was cold and lightly snowing the night I went up to the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance on East 63rd Street.
In a basement rehearsal room folding chairs had been set up along the walls. A school bench placed in the middle of the floor was being used as prop, and a dancer was waiting against an exercise bar.
The calm assembly of dance scholars and serious writers made me feel slightly out of place : not only do I know very little about dance, but I’m always in fear that a live performance will extend to an inhuman length of time, like contemporary art videos almost always do.
But I was struck by the beauty of the piece, and hypnotized by the grace and intensity of the dancers.
They performed excerpts from « Snow on the Mesa », a dance choreographed by Bob Wilson and premiered in 1995 after Martha Graham death, and originally subtitled « A Portrait of Martha ».
It turns out to be no time at all when I had to extract myself from this « Cave of the Heart », to return home, enlightened, by the subway.
Martha Graham Dance Company 85th Anniversary Season at the Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, NY, from March 15–20, 2011
At D’Amelio Terras, the incoming visitors had to be contained so as not to storm all at once the Polly Apfelbaum’s installation. In a piece titled « Off Colour », the artist had cut and arranged sequined stretch fabric in colors derived from a stack of erotic slides bought in a London flea market.
Althought most viewers were carefully navigating through the piece’s negative space, some pieces of fabrics, simply laid on the gallery floor, were disturbed out of place by the more distracted visitors—or those equipped with oversized shoes—leading the artist to re-adjust the pieces in an unpremeditated performance.
I then had to elbow my way down to the MoMA store in Soho, where Adi, Gaby and Angela from threeASFOUR were paying tribute to Yoko Ono’s 1964 « Cut Piece » by cutting into pieces their own design worn by a model. Here Adi wears a dress with drawings by Yoko, from the previous collection.
A wide range of scissors were available to the participating viewers, and when my turn came, I was torn between not damaging my friends’ design with the desire to reveal more of the stunning beauty.
This was about twelve months ago in Paris, at about this same time of the year.
I went into a supermarket, around noon, and in the most mundane surrounding, my eyes were suddenly attracted by an unusual, while somehow familiar silhouette.
A very tall, white haired and bearded man, wearing a green turtleneck, slightly worn khakis, and carrying a cool tote bag, was walking down the alley, giving a gentle but slightly amused stare at everything that came his way. A benevolent giant, or a Dutch hippie, who reminded me somebody: John Baldessari, the great conceptual artist! Could it be him?
I had met him 17 years ago in NY. He had a show then in a galery in Soho, and I had shaked his hand, after he signed a small poster printed on tracing paper.
Although it was a bit surprising to see him in this dull Paris supermarket, it could be because of the forthcoming Basel Art fair, about to open in Switzerland a few days latter. It wasn’t illogical that he would have made a quick stop to Paris on his way to say hello to his dealers, or even to discuss a major retrospective at Beaubourg.
Mr. Baldessari… ? I hesitated to greet him among the other customers.
In the same way an insignificant black-and-white photograph on which is added a pale blue or yellow dot becomes a Baldessari, I contemplated how the whole supermarket had been turned into a Baldessari by the simple presence of the famous L.A. artist in its insignificant alley.
I wondered how many people had recognized him. While debating on whether keeping a discreet distance to respect his incognito, or approaching him to confess my admiration, I saw him strolling away with one or two whisky bottles in his tote bag, followed by a pigeon, in the direction of the Luxembourg garden.
I was delighted the whole day by this poetic vision, although already saddened by the prospect of never seeing him again, and having wasted the chance of a great encounter.
Nonetheless, two days after, on a sultry evening, I saw the man again. He was swaying on the boulevard, dragging his tote bag, his pants half unbutonned and covered with dirt, with a somewhat demented and defiant look on his face.
As if to add insult to my delusion, Art Basel was aproaching its end, and the bum who could then onwards commonly be seen in various states of decay, had become a fixture of the area.
This was a few weeks ago at the Dia Beacon Benefit.
The Michael Heizer sculpture, the most powerful and impressive piece one might see in an indoor art space, was open to the Art patrons so they could walk around the vertiginous holes. Physical confrontation with the geometric void was in fact so overwhelming that even the most self assured Art experts and trustees would only bend over in the most overcautiously manner, fearing loss of glasses, cellphones, or dignity (by having to be winched from the depth of Art by a crane).
When all the guests were finally safely gathered in the John Chamberlain room, Dia director Philippe Vergne announced that, as a surprise and special treat, Trisha Brown had decided that she will perform a dance piece herself.
She silently came out barefoot, and very slowly became to animate parts of her body at the contact of the other dancers. It started out in very light and delicate touches of fingers and palms. The graceful fragility of hands, wrists, and necks made for a moving contrast with the heavy metal, brutally bent and hammered car parts Chamberlain sculpture which stands next to the soft flexible bodies of the dancers.
A sartorial note : it was hard to figure out a dress code for this kind of event, when everyone has to get noticed while blending in the Art world. For men, the formal outfits were most commonly pastel cashmere tight cardigans, as if dressed for a picnic, while a few individuals met the occasion with bolder statements.
A rival hipster, Kenneth Goldsmith, made it on to several blogs wearing a paisley Thom Browne suit.
I did my best to sit in front of the artist with the appropriate seriousness.
But when she lifted up her eyes, Marina didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic.
I felt like a forgotten lump of clay on a sculpture stand, half dry, and not very enticing, so that after a little consideration the artist finally decides not to use it.
I felt like another mile in the endless journey of a truck driver.
I thought of Marina’s performance as a living illustration of the philosophical concept of how Art looks back at us.
Was Marina hypnotizing me ? I became incredibly relaxed and felt a tremendous urge to sleep.
Images of the full MOMA collections were flying by in my head, along with highlights from the Prado and never-shown pieces from the Louvre reserve.
I watched black and white 16mm footage of early seventies performances, when girls in the audience wore printed miniskirt, and men with wide ties on fitted white shirts, spectacles and long beards, similar to those of today, but with outstanding genuineness.
I was woken up by a nightmarish vision of Marina’s « Dragon Heads », a series of pieces where she had big snakes all around her face.
How long had I slept ? Many of the visitors were in awe.
Walking out, I passed in front of a group of people who seemed offended. In doubt, I apologized for possibly snoring.