Talking Turkey

Sinop, Turkey
08.27.10

Left: Artist Ronan McCrea and curator Vaari Claffey. Right: Curators Beral Madra and T. Melih Görgün. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)


TO A TRAVELER arriving from steaming hot Istanbul on the second weekend in August, the Black Sea seemed like an ideal place for a late-summer getaway. The third Sinop biennial, “Sinopale 3: Hidden Memories, Lost Traces,” is either the ridiculous or sublime extreme in the proliferation of such exhibitions around the world. (With eight curators and thirty artists, it also reflects the worldwide proliferation of curators.) Founded by an Amazon queen, the Sinop seaport is located in the northernmost point of Turkey and was once a thriving crossroads connecting the ancient world. Curator Vaari Claffey and artist Ronan McCrea recounted that when they checked in for their flight from Dublin, the Turkish Airlines attendant exclaimed, “Sinop? We fly to Sinop?” Claffey added: “That should have been our clue.” The laid-back town of around thirty-six thousand now shows little evidence of its impressive historical credentials—not least as birthplace of the ancient philosopher and infamous cynic Diogenes.

Following a swim at the gorgeous volcanic Karakum beach, and a huge plate of manti, the Turkish version of tortellini, I attended curator Beral Madra’s slide show–lecture on the state of Istanbul’s contemporary art scene at a former madrassa turned crafts bazaar. Her discussion about the conflict in Turkey between traditional male-oriented culture and “the modernist elite” was interrupted abruptly by the call to prayer broadcast loudly from the mosque next door. Madra waited and then, without missing a beat, continued about how difficult it is to find an audience among the local general public and the lack of a healthy art production in Turkey.

Left: Artist Maria Papadimitriou and curator Branko Franceschi. Right: Artist Alpaslan Karaaslan.


Organized by Turkish curator T. Melih Görgün on a shoestring budget, the third Sinopale turned out to be the perfect vehicle for bringing local residents into the art production process. As the artists were expected to produce site-specific installations within a week, they had to depend on serendipity and the kindness of strangers. The exhibition “Temporarily Shelved,” curated by Claffey and Rana Öztürk, seamlessly integrated a series of videos as archival reading stations in the quaint Doctor Rıza Nur Public City Library. Gülsün Karamustafa’s contribution, Bogaziçi 1954, for example, was a visual diary of a memorable Black Sea ice storm that hit Istanbul. For The Lost Photographs of Alfred H., McCrea collaborated with a local writer who responded in voice-over to a series of anonymous yet personal slide images found at a Berlin market. One unexpected piece of luck was the Sinopean predilection for creative recycling. “Whenever we ask anyone to help us make something, they say, ‘No problem,’ and find new uses for old things.” Claffey explained. “We call it the Sinop solution. There is no trash here.”

Things at the other historic exhibition venue—the notorious Sinop prison, where many of the country’s noted intellectuals and writers were once detained as political prisoners—were not so tranquil. It seemed the intersection between local and global manifested itself in the clash amongSinop’s periodic electricity shutdowns, the nonchalant Mediterranean approach to organization, and the urgency of the impending inauguration. I stopped by on Friday evening to find artist Maria Papadimitriou and her young local assistants waiting for power. “I will be sorry to leave Sinop; I like this place even though it’s humid as hell,” Papadimitriou noted, swatting away mosquitoes.

Left: Artists Georg Klein and Ludwig Kittinger with Austrian consul Christian Brunmayr. Right: Artist Daniele Pezzi and curator Vittorio Urbani.


To kick off the exhibition opening on Saturday, Madra cited sustainability and the activation of traditional local values versus mass consumerism as the most important aspects of the project. The electricity had switched on just two hours before. “It has been very funny,” artist Anne Metzen said. “You just sit all day and don’t know what’s happening, and then suddenly everything is done during the night and you don’t understand how.”

There were raucous Ramadan parties every night, inaugurated by a loud cannon shot at dusk. Young people paraded around in clown costumes banging drums, and live music poured out from clubs. At the nightly gathering place, the beachside Sky Glass Garden Café, everyone expressed surprise at the general openness and lack of conservatism. “It is not at all what I expected; I was a little nervous, actually,” Claffey admitted. As we looked up in search of falling stars, Sinopean artist Alpaslan Karaaslan informed us that there are no traffic lights in town: “When they put one in once there was an accident, so they dismantled it.” Metzen added, “The lack of traffic lights is very symptomatic—they handle it in their own way, a constant negotiation.” I asked art historian Funda Arkut whether she thought the exhibition was a biennial in terms of the popular conception. “It’s not a biennale, it’s a Sinopale,” she answered. Fair enough. In fact, the concept behind this edition is to counter the homogenizing effects of globalization by having international artists convey a sense of the place and in turn take something of the locale back with them, rather than the other way around—a hopeful antidote to the “biennialization” of art and the same faces in every different place.

Cathryn Drake

Left: Sinopale's Catriona Maciver. Right: Parades around Sinop.


Back and Fourth

London
08.25.10

Left: Institute of Contemporary Arts Director Ekow Eshun. Right: Artist Grayson Perry. (All photos: Jude Broughan)


LONDON’S FOURTH PLINTH public art project is beginning to feel like something of an institution, which is perhaps appropriate given its proximity to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1841 as the support for a conventional equestrian statue, the pedestal on which the series is literally and figuratively based was left unadorned for some 150 years after the money ran out (some things never change). Then, in 1998, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce commissioned British artists Mark Wallinger, Bill Woodrow, and Rachel Whiteread to produce temporary toppings for the hefty stone block. The results were sufficiently popular that the mayor of London (at the time, the much-loved “Red” Ken Livingstone) initiated, in 2003, the Fourth Plinth Commission as an ongoing contemporary showcase.

According to project director Justine Simons, addressing a buoyant assembly at the Thursday evening launch of the latest round of short-listed proposals, initial suggestions for the plinth included a permanent sculpture of football-and-fashion icon David Beckham, so Londoners might consider themselves lucky that no matter which project is selected from the current crop, it won’t be around for more than a few months. Of the four works that have already occupied the site, Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant, 2005, a twelve-foot-tall white marble monument to the disabled artist, was perhaps the most critically divisive, while Antony Gormley’s One and Other, 2009, which opened up the plinth to ultra-short-term occupancy by randomly selected applicants, attracted the most public attention. On show now is Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2010, an oversize take on the “impossible” tchotchke given a postcolonial slant.

Institute of Contemporary Arts director Ekow Eshun, following Simons to the empty lectern, went so far as to suggest that the project symbolized the go-ahead values of London as a modern, multicultural city. But while this verged on the platitudinous—as did his suggestion that whichever proposal was successful, the people of London would be “the real winners”—his enthusiasm for ideas with “pleasure at their centers” seemed entirely genuine. Heartfelt too was his characterization of Allora & Calzadilla’s proposal, which suggested connecting an ATM in the side of the plinth to a huge pipe organ on top of it, as “bringing some much-needed joy to the banking process.”

Left: Iwona Blazwick, Whitechapel Art Gallery director and chair of the Cultural Strategy Group at London's City Hall. Right: Royalist and Fourth Plinth enthusiast John Loughrey.


Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick had been trailed as a follow-up speaker but seemed committed to one-on-one communication, so attendees were soon free to mingle. The venue for the launch, and for an exhibition of maquettes, was the crypt of local Saint Martin-in-the-Fields church. But while this suggested a supremely atmospheric spot, the eighteenth-century original was in use as a café, leaving “plinthers” to gather in a stark modern extension. Hales Gallery director Paul Hedge helped me identify some of the artists in the crowd, mock-crooning “I Am the Walrus” in characteristically jocular reference to Hew Locke’s extravagant sideburns. One artist who didn’t need pointing out was Turner Prize–winning artist and transvestite potter Grayson Perry, resplendent in couture dress and blond bob. Less interesting to look at but equally in their element were London art scribes Cedar Lewisohn and Oliver Basciano. As for the maquettes, Brian Griffith’s Battenberg, a vast slab of the titular cake constructed from colored bricks, and Mariele Neudecker’s It’s Never Too Late and You Can’t Go Back, a fiberglass relief map of the UK exaggerated vertically into a mountain range, elicited the most curious gazes—though the latter drew some fire for playing to the selectors’ patriotic streak.

One individual present for whom such an accusation would only be taken as a compliment was John Loughrey, aka Captain John. Brandishing a plastic folder stuffed with letters and newspaper clippings, the eccentric former chef accosted me as the party was winding down. “People keep writing about me in books!” he exclaimed, further assuring me that “I’m gonna write my own one day! For charity!” A Princess Diana “superfan” (he was the only member of the public to attend hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice every day of the inquest into the late royal’s death), Loughrey seemed to have redirected his attention toward the plinth, reporting having also shown up on each of the hundred days of Gormley’s project. Clearly a sucker for interactivity, Loughrey tipped Allora & Calzadilla to win.

Publish or Parrish

Long Island
08.22.10

Left: “Underground Pop” curator David Pagel with Parrish Art Museum director Terrie Sultan. Right: Artist Glenn Goldberg. (Photos: Ginger Propper)


“YOUR FREE SPIRIT needs a different arena,” says my horoscope in the latest issue of Hamptons magazine. “Think Formentera, not Ibiza; Arles, not St. Tropez.” I was thinking Montauk, not Queens, as I set off for the far side of Long Island last Saturday to take in a couple of seaside exhibitions. Resort art: It’s got to be smaller than a suitcase, lighter than a Segway. Glenn Horowitz Bookseller—a purveyor of rare editions that maintains a dignified distance from the J.Crew and ice cream of downtown East Hampton—was presenting twenty modestly sized works on Peter Saville–designed plinths. Made of foam-core, the columns were shipped flat and assembled by bookstore staff: a portable way of attaining the “transformative energy of the plinth” that, according to a statement released by the bookseller, Saville observed at his 2005 museum retrospective. Indeed, had the works been laid on the floor, it would have been harder to appreciate Richard Prince’s shoe soles, Matthew Higgs’s plaster mound, and Josephine Meckseper’s hosed mannequin haunch. Two artists declined to make objects to set atop the plinths: Tauba Auerbach sent a wedge that pushed her plinth to a precarious tilt, while Nick Relph instructed the store to cut a slot in his, yielding a donation box for a to-be-determined charity. These stood in corners of the office. Turnout was thin. Most of the artists’ weekend itineraries didn’t include the Hamptons, but television personality Bill Powers was there, as was Will Cotton, whose tower of cakes was so lavish it needed a metal stud to prevent the plinth’s collapse.

Next on the agenda was Southampton, for the opening of “Underground Pop” at the Parrish Art Museum. What with traffic on Rte. 27, I arrived at the Parrish only as the crowd of silver-haired, white-shoed guests spilled out, to partake of hors d’oeuvres and live music on the lawn. But a brisk walkthrough was enough to grasp curator David Pagel’s thesis: handicrafts, knickknacks, and souvenirs could fit the same slot in Pop art as mass-produced kitsch. Glenn Goldberg’s quiltlike paintings and Leia Jervert’s spectral wreath and trellis were striking, but the show was dominated by the bold lines and colors of James Gobel’s portraits of girlish, bearish men, inlaid with felt and yarn. (A little girl pet them when she thought no adults were watching.) The security guards started turning off the lights, and I made for the lawn, where I chatted with Lina, a local artist who said she worked with model trains. She may have been the most underground one there. Anxious not to miss my ride back to the city, I left the Parrish as the quartet struck up variations on Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” and darkness fell over the Hamptons.

Real to Reel

New York
08.18.10

Left: Work of Art host China Chow. Right: Work of Art contestant Peregrine with Sarah Jessica Parker and Work of Art winner Abdi. (Photos: Barbara Nitke/Bravo)


LAST WEDNESDAY, parents, press, and punters joined artists and “celebrity guest judges” like Will Cotton and Richard Phillips at the “world-famous Brooklyn Museum” for the finale viewing party of Bravo’s Work of Art. I would have just watched at home, but I ended up giving in to visions of a glamorous gathering of Bravo reality TV stars—something, I imagined, like the network’s summertime promo, staged on a Manhattan rooftop, in which “Bravolebs” like Bethenny and Rachel Zoe buss cheeks and Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger cavorts on a couch with a live tiger.

Instead, about two hundred mostly non-celebs congregated in the institution’s shingled-glass lobby, a surprising number of attendant journalists admitting that they were Brooklyn Museum virgins. “It’s a bit like the student union of an okay university. Or a new train station in a European city,” a writer said. “A small one,” he clarified.

“This is weird,” observed artist and Episode Two guest judge Jon Kessler, sidling up to the wine bar. “The entire show was actually filmed in a really short time span, you know. So when Jeanne [Greenberg Rohatyn] left for a couple of days, it was as if she were gone for weeks.” It’s like Wonderland, where years can pass down in the rabbit hole without a second going by in real life.

I pondered the rise of art “celebrities,” their seeming implausibility. It used to be that young, unformed artists or inspired crazies might aspire to be Warhol Superstars. Now the artists and inspired crazies want to be NBC Universal superstars (and big Hollywood superstars want exhibitions at LA MoCA). The network that brought us The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Real Housewives of New York City, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and The Real Housewives of DC has recalibrated Warholian principles of stardom and mechanical reproduction to build a highly efficient fame machine on the sticky baseboards of camp and bathos.

Left: China Chow; Work of Art contestants Peregrine, Abdi, and Miles; Work of Art judge Bill Powers; and designer Cynthia Rowley. (Photo: Barbara Nitke/Bravo) Right: Work of Art contestant Nao with Countess Luann deLesseps.


Just before showtime, the door opened and in trotted Countess Luann deLesseps, a real Bravoleb (Real Housewives of New York City) with her own catchy dance-club hit (“Money Can’t Buy You Class”) and even an etiquette book (Class with the Countess). Was she a fan of the show? “My niece is Nicole, so of course I was rooting for her,” she said, referring to one of the contestants eliminated in the penultimate episode. So . . . they’re like reality-show royalty? “Of course!” my friend went off: “The Countess is always talking about her Native American heritage, and Nicole did that piece where she talks about her Native American heritage . . . ”—connecting the Bravo dots.

Could there ever be a Work of Art/Real Housewives crossover? “It’s Bravo—anything is possible!” producer Andy Cohen laughed, twinkling like a gay Willy Wonka playboy. I considered that this manic-looking arbiter of water-cooler chatter was the most powerful person in the room. Either him or Sarah Jessica Parker.

At last it was time for the show. Sitting up front, I had the unsettling privilege of watching the “final three” and the judges watch themselves on the big projected screen, a spectacular reality-feedback loop that left everyone discombobulated—a test for even hardened vets of simulacra. What was most surprising, though, was how much everyone there seemed to like one another, the thrill/trauma of being on the show obviously functioning as potent social glue. When judge Bill Powers criticized Miles’s work on screen, the “real” Powers leaned over to Miles: “Sorry, man.” “It’s OK,” Miles said, and you could tell he meant it. It’s just TV, after all. (Feelings couldn’t be hard anyway, given that Miles just scored an exhibition at Powers’s Half Gallery opening later this month. Now we can start using his last name.)

Left: Work of Art judge Jerry Saltz with Bravo executive Andy Cohen. (Photo: Barbara Nitke/Bravo) Right: Miles and Bill Powers.


When Abdi won, everyone hooted and hollered. “This show is going to change people’s lives,” he said, taking the microphone when the screening was over. He thanked the judges, the production staff, and his mom, then began to ramble. If only reality had the virtue of reality-show editors. “There are always going to be people who are haters,” he said of the show. “People hate on Obama, even though he’s the man!” Noticeably scattered cheers.

You could tell how much everyone wanted to be famous.

“This wasn’t one of my shining episodes,” Powers noted after all was said and done. “My favorite moment of mine was when I told Ryan that ‘sometimes you have to close the door on cool,’ ” he said, considering. “Which might be a bastardization of a Basquiat quote, but what is he going to do, sue me?”

Another writer riffed: “If someone were to describe this event out of context it would be the greatest conceptual art piece ever.” It did have the requisite weirdness of art, but beyond the dizzying levels of mediated uncanniness, the residual payoff was unclear. At least it was fun. For all the complaints about how “unreal” this art-reality-game-show is, isn’t the real crux its hyperreality, the way it exaggerates parts of the art world we love to hate? Artists do often work on deadline (exhibitions?), with outrageous assignments (exhibition “themes”?), under crazy competitive demands (art prizes?), in close quarters (Bushwick studios?), for a shot at absurd “jackpots.”

When it was time to go, the show’s staff and participants made their way to cars to take them to a real afterparty at East Village dive Lit. “C’mon, Miles!” WoA host China Chow was shouting across the courtyard, and then Miles was darting forward, hopping into a black sedan with Chow and the guy who played Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People. Elegance is learned, my friends.

David Velasco

Left: Work of Art contestant Jaclyn with Countess Luann deLesseps and a friend. Right: Work of Art contestant Nicole (left) with Abdi (right).


Crush with Eyeliner

Aspen, Colorado
08.13.10

Left: Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer. Right: Aspen Art Museum director and chief curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson with collector Amy Phelan. (All photos: Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan)


ASPENS ARE COMMONLY KNOWN as the world’s largest living organism, which makes them an especially apt totem for other organisms aspiring to live large. Dreaming big, I arrived in the eponymous Colorado town last Wednesday—though a monsoon thunderstorm threatened to keep my jet away—for the Aspen Art Museum’s sixth annual artCRUSH benefit and a slate of events tailored to inspire the largesse of the locals.

Trekking to Aspen is a tricky affair (the exit from I-70 isn’t even marked), and I was fashionably late to wineCRUSH—the fundraiser’s opening ceremony, wine tasting, and multicourse meal. I sunk into the scene at the chic, spacious home of hosts John and Amy Phelan, who had rehung their delightfully risqué collection for the party. Among their many guests were artists Mickalene Thomas, Matthew Weinstein, Will Cotton, Josephine Meckseper, Richard Phillips, and Tom Sachs; dealer (and Work of Art judge) Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn; Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs; and Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek, Whitney director Adam Weinberg, former Whitney president Robert Hurst, and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach. “I’m surprised to see so many museum directors,” noted Aspen Art Museum director and chief curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. “Except that it’s August in Aspen—and who wouldn’t want to be here?” I also spotted an elated Marilyn Minter (a towering silhouette against her 2009 video Green Pink Caviar), who was chosen as this year’s recipient of the Aspen Award for Art. Minter’s sensuous and sensorial take on the “pathology of glamour,” as she calls it, set an appropriate tone for the occasion.

Left: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong, and Todd Bishop. Right: Artist Marilyn Minter with dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.


The following day was spent visiting many of the winsome private collections in the area. Twenty of the world’s top two hundred art collectors have homes in Aspen, so there was plenty to see. First stop was the digs of Bob and Nancy Magoon, who recently redesigned their sculpture garden around works by Franz West, Nancy Rubins, Jason Middlebrook, and Richard Woods, among others. Later we dropped by the spare modernist home of Dennis and Debra Scholl—whose gorgeous wine cellar was nearly as impressive as their art—and Susan and Larry Marx, who own a strong collection of works on paper as well as one of the best Mark Bradford paintings I have ever seen. At each stop, stories of bear sightings and break-ins were frequent, an exciting collision of culture and wilderness.

That afternoon I visited the Aspen Art Museum (which was still being presided over by artist Dave McKenzie’s giant, inflatable, bobble-headed Fourth of July float) to scope out the breathtaking show of cool, subdued canvases by Sergej Jensen. “It’s the inversion of artCRUSH in its hypercerebral temperament,” explained Zuckerman Jacobson. “Its moodiness is a good counterbalance to the ebullience.” (Though she was quick to point out, “Both are equally essential.”) She also revealed proposals for the museum’s new Shigeru Ban building, which (once officially approved) will be four times as large as its current location, and situated in Aspen’s downtown core. It seemed that everyone was putting their plans on the table, as later Don and Mera Rubell eagerly hinted at their forthcoming December collection show in Miami. Over homemade pasta (served in the living room of their mountain home, a swank setting used for the 1993 cult film Aspen Extreme), the couple gave me a sneak peek at their catalogue design, checklist, and curatorial premise (and it’s not to be missed).

Left: Artist Xavier Veilhan. Right: Collectors Mera and Don Rubell.


By the time Friday evening’s artCRUSH rolled around, I had been reveling for three days straight and was on an unmistakable Rocky Mountain high. And with tents decked out in tune with a Barbarella Bubble Bar theme, everyone’s spirits would continue to soar well into the night. The range of works up for auction included ones by Kiki Smith, Ed Ruscha, Roni Horn, Tara Donovan, Amanda Ross-Ho, Catherine Opie, and Delia Brown, whose generous contribution would be a commissioned portrait of the winning patron in a decadent social scene. “I’m looking forward to this painting,” exclaimed Brown (whose go-go boots complemented the decor). “It’s a really good assignment.” Spotting some display cases of Sotheby’s bling (a new diamond jewelry line aimed at the art set), I had just enough time to indulgently try on a $750,000, seven-karat ring before everyone was called to dinner.

As supper was served, Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer took to the stage to referee the live auction. Though my view of his performance was at times obscured by the lava lamp–ish centerpiece, Meyer thrillingly drove sale after sale, badgering patrons into purging their pockets. At the end of the night, the museum had raised nearly $1.5 million—artCRUSH’s highest yield yet. What better excuse to celebrate? The polished crowd thinned out, many filing over to the afterparty at Syzygy restaurant, where celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson (sans Lindsay Lohan) kept people dancing under the glow of Green Pink Caviar. Even if it was all a bit pathological, it was hard not to crush out on the glamour of art.

Catherine Taft

Left: Artist David Lambert. Right: DJ Samantha Ronson.


Stuff of Dreams

New York
08.06.10

Left: The front door of the Uranian Phalanstery. Dorothea Baer Tyler, cofounder of the Uranian Phalanstery, with codirector Mehdi Matin. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)


AS HISTORY IS ERASED BY DEVELOPERS, I walk around downtown in a constant state of loss, always wondering about the few pockets of aura that remain. Last week, on a brilliant sunny Friday, I had the chance to enter a bohemian time capsule. Soon packing up, after remaining basically unchanged since 1974, the Uranian Phalanstery on Fourth Street in New York is like the interior of a moldering Joseph Cornell piece the size of two crumbling brownstones. (One has electricity; one has water.) The buildings are crammed with every kind of spiritual icon, art, tchotchkes, toys, esoteric books, personal artifacts, and some garbage.

Richard Tyler, along with his wife, artist Dorothea Baer Tyler, founded the Uranian Phalanstery as an “anarchist utopian commune for practitioners of art and cosmology.” They believed in “documenting every moment of time.” Attracted to the NY jazz scene, in 1957 Tyler moved into one of the buildings, then a Hungarian synagogue, as the “Shabbos goy.” When the shul left in 1974, the Tylers transformed it into an “Orphic lyceum,” a gnostic-artist congregation and Fourier-inspired “phalanx” that was hopping until 1983, when Tyler died (of face cancer, which he documented as well). Through the 1970s, they celebrated each pagan festival with jazzy happenings (including “planetary dancers” who personified heavenly bodies in masks and cavorted to the “music of the spheres”). They ran a Tibetan burial society and a printing press (the Uranian Press, which sold chapbooks from a pushcart in the Judson churchyard). They cast runes; did Tibetan healing tattoos; and wheat-pasted FREE TIBET signs all over the city, “early, in the ’60s.” All of this performance, meditation, and practice informed by a mélange of esoteric traditions that converged on “the singularity,” as codirector Mehdi Matin put it, and “going within.”

The altar-filled “music room” was the first hit of what was in store. Through a corridor papered with sacred texts, past a soiled plush unicorn, the dark, artifact-packed basement reeked of mildew. It was like Geraldo opening Al Capone’s vault, but with hippies. Shining flashlights, we stood at the pushcart itself, near an old-timey arcade magician. You could spot groovy signage on the wall: URANIAN PRESS, and, in corny Wild West–style letters: AGENTS WANTED (what they called their twenty-two board members). One Uranian tract envisioned a “schizophrenic bomb.” Matin glossed: “Phalanx is a Roman strategy of military. . . . [Richard’s] ideal agent would be so psychologically balanced as to appear to be normal.”

Matin is earnest, young, disconcertingly cute.

Behind the press, he pointed to a cot covered in faded mod fabric with a primitive-looking mask at its head: “He died in this bed. And those are his ashes.” In an urn on the chair nearby.

Left: A letter from Timothy Leary. (Photo: Fred Tomaselli) Right: redartprojects’s Maureen Sullivan.


In the Cornellesque ambience, it seemed weirdly apt that Tyler’s remains “remained” in his disused workspace. Once Uranian headquarters, the basement was now a shrine to Tyler, a cave-size scrapbook: every wall and ceiling collaged with personal artifacts, photos, medical prescriptions, news clips, artwork, letters people sent him (one from Timothy Leary, Ph.D., on the letterhead of the IFIF—International Federation of Internal Freedom), pages of esoteric texts, and vintage ads. (I looked up and a Cass Elliot poster smiled back at me: FLOWER POWER.)

Near a collection of tattoo paraphernalia (and cancer meds), under a quote from Leviticus forbidding tattoos, an impromptu tabletop altar displayed small animal skeletons rotting on cardboard: a little bird with bony wings decayed near gag nose glasses and an incense burner.

A section of ceiling was papered with masks, each customized with a plastic schnoz.

“These were here before his face was eaten away?” asked Maureen Sullivan from redartprojects.

“He actually died in this room, too,” added Matin.

“Hence the vibe.”

Matin, a gnostic painter, described himself as an apprentice of Dorothea, whose art and spiritual “ripeness” he spoke of with great respect. “It’s karma . . . fragments of death and rebirth. One of my favorite books is The Hobbit. The original title is There and Back Again, and that’s how I feel, like Tyler magnetized (people) to them, drew everyone in . . .” We had an intense conversation about “now-ness.” He enthused about lucid dreaming, Castaneda, whirling dervishes, and never missed a beat as tour guide:

“See that sandwich?” He pointed to a fake cheeseburger in a plastic bag. “Claes [Oldenburg] gave him that.”

Left and right: Inside the Uranian Phalanstery.


Almost nothing has been thrown out since 1974, and the Uranian mission “to document their lives through art” can look rather hoarder-ish, the line between Art and pathology agonizingly slim.

“Have you seen the show Hoarders?” I ask.

Matin shuddered. “I had to help her throw out a lot. A lot of newspapers.”

Everywhere I looked, something crazy caught my eye: a pile of big fuzzy tigers huddled under a synagogue ornament, a life-sized cyclops mummy slumped in a ratty armchair near an old coat hoisted like an empty scarecrow with a Star Wars mask-face. A bathroom completely covered with Hindu deities. Elderly piñatas faded underfoot. Dusty altars and installations everywhere merged into a mishmash of sacred and silly mashups.

Dorothea lives “upstairs,” said Matin. “You walk past [her room and think], She’s still hoarding.” He’s been here for seven years.

“How has it been living here with these vibes?”

“For me?” he asked, completely surrounded by chaos. “I like very stoic environments, very minimal. I’m from a bourgeois background. And this cured it.”

When I left, I thought about Matin and “Dor,” living so unflappably amid the relics and rubble, like a gnostic Harold and Maude. Left intact, the Tylers’ happening Orphic lyceum became a mausoleum. Now it is literally disintegrating matter, like Tyler himself. The mystic practitioners who celebrate the masks of the flesh also cultivated consciousness of its evanescence. From its heyday in the ’70s through its “ripest point in ’83” and beyond, the counterculture clubhouse has reached the end of its life cycle. What first seemed like hoarderish weirdness struck me as a profound performance piece, like an NYC real estate Tibetan sand painting: two buildings, filled with life, first “documenting every moment” then decaying into dust.

“The work will be archived,” said Matin, and the buildings will be sold, to pay a tax lien. Death and taxes: eternal verities.

Growing Pains

Los Angeles
08.03.10

Left: Artist Mike Smith as Baby Ikki. Right: Trulee Grace Hall and artist Mike Kelley. (All photos: Catherine Taft)


OF THE MANY OPPORTUNITIES for growth and discovery this summer, West of Rome Public Art’s first annual benefit was perhaps the most sensory. Staged inside Mike Kelley and Michael Smith’s collaborative project A Voyage of Growth and Discovery—a warehouse-size multimedia installation of Burning Man–inspired videos and sculptures—the journey officially began last Monday night at the Farley Storage Building in Eagle Rock once guests had signed a waiver: “. . . you elect to participate in an ‘activity’ that may cause social discomfort or distress in some participants.” Said “activity” included Nurse Olive’s Playroom, where adult babies were spanked and had their diapers changed by an eerily loving dominatrix nurse; the Furry Room, where oversize Marnie Weber animal costumes came to life; the Rebirth Room, where artists Asher Hartman and Haruki Tanaka orchestrated a “complete meditative experience projecting viewers to when time individually began”; and gloomy tarot card readings presided over by a stuffed unicorn in platform boots. Once I’d signed the form, receptionist “Melissa” (artist Matt Greene in drag) handed me a bib embroidered with my name, and I headed into the party.

After being announced over a megaphone (by Stanya Kahn, costumed as some sort of interstellar mammalian bird) and offered multiple cocktails, I settled into the scene. My bib, a natty white and lavender number, matched those sported by Jeffery Deitch, Deborah Irmas, Ann Magnuson, Stephen Prina, and Nancy Rubins—not to mention Paul, Karen, and Mara McCarthy. It was like a designer accessory, worn on the back so as not to ruin the silhouette of a dress, or artfully tucked into dress straps à la Diana Thater (who, let’s face it, can make anything look good). None of this seemed out of place given the mise-en-scène: a row of Porta-Potties, a gutted van, and several jungle-gym structures festooned with stuffed animals. There were also several video projections of Smith’s Baby Ikki wandering through encampments of ravers in the Black Rock Desert.

Left: LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch with artist Diana Thater. Right: Artist Stanya Kahn.


A samba troupe stormed the space, followed promptly by plates of hors d’oeuvres by chef and restaurateur Suzanne Goin, who had designed the evening’s meal with different stages of baby food in mind (from bottles of vanilla vodka and milk to lima bean puree with pine nut pesto to “solids” like braised lamb daube). But nothing was as tasty as the lineup of entertainment. Jim Shaw, like a maniacally beatific cult leader, guided his band through a psychedelic set of sonic waves. Artist and musician Scott Benzel—who, in addition to making music for Mike and Mike’s new video, recently premiered a revisionist score for Roger Corman’s The Trip at SASSAS’s “sound.” series—seemed a particularly attentive audience member. Shaw and his contingent were followed by a sizable drum circle that gathered around one of the jungle-gym sculptures, which seemed set up for a ritualistic cakewalk. At the percussion crescendo, Baby Ikki appeared, a little too hairy in his oversize diapers and tiny sunglasses, stumbling about and sucking on a pacifier. Toddling to the music, he dug into the chocolate cakes, offering them to guests before throwing them into a gigantic wok and stirring them around. A blissed out WoR founder Emi Fontana leaned over: “Suzanne’s got nothing on him,” she whispered.

The mashed-up cake was passed around on silver platters for guests to pick at, and the drum circle dispersed, making way for the far-out improvisational sounds of Ya Ho Wha 13, a band founded by notorious hippie cult leader Father Yod of the Source Family. “We have their box set at home,” remarked enthusiastic LACMA curator Rita Gonzalez. “It’s basically sixteen hours straight of space jams.” As the scent of sage and marijuana (undoubtedly medical) drifted over the intimate crowd, guests seemed to loosen up, finding respite in the mesmerizing electric guitars and smooth but funky lyrics.

Feeling edgy, I sneaked away to Nurse Olive’s Playroom, where artist Jennifer Cohen (as the eponymous Olive) was still reading to her two pierced and tattooed adult babies. With only a few other voyeurs in the room, Olive ordered another diaper change. Excitedly, the man-baby prepared for his powdering, an arousing experience that, once underway, attracted more guests. The audience, it seemed, was very naughty, because soon we were all being (voluntarily) bent over Olive’s knees and spanked; no one was spared, save Kelley, who instead took to provoking the nurse to hit her subjects harder or softer. Laughter roared, a few buns were bruised, but perhaps the most surprising discovery of the entire night was that more than a few partygoers truly enjoyed their punishment.

Catherine Taft

Left: Jennifer Cohen with artist T. Kelly Mason. Right: West of Rome founder Emi Fontana with artist Matt Greene and Trulee Grace Hall.