Monday, March 16, 2009

Monuments Along the Pacific

Monuments Along The Pacific
(Incidents of Auto- Travel in Greater LA,in and around the CAA, February 2009)
Tom McGlynn

I touched down in LAX around midnight. Bleary eyed, I collected myself to the SuperShuttle. Peripherally, a buckskinned and fringed model- type mounted into her boyfriend's baby Hummer. Across the street, the cool night air condensed around the Bob Hope USO club. I threw my bag into the shuttle for the ride downtown. Already at the Convention Center there, had been one and a half afternoons of papers delivered on such topics as "Rearranging Abstraction" and issues of "Historicizing the Present". The first two days of sessions at the 97th College Art Association were already history.
The telephone pole trunks of palm trees punctuated the lateral landscape of Westchester. Some of the trees appeared to be over sixty feet tall, strange chimney sweep, mop top ,and Suess- like. I mused on the effects of Global Warming and the intrigues of water wars. Al Gore and Jack Nicholson performed a pas de deux in my pop political subconcious. Downtown there were no palms, the buildings more resembled most other American city downtowns. There was the architecture of neoclassical glory and Deco in the late Teens and Twenties,evidence of a brief commerce and housing bump with World War II, then a steady decline from the late Fifties to the early nineties. As in Dallas, the site of the 96th CAA conference, much of what was downtown LA was demolished and redeveloped to feature a convention center. The varied and competitive interplay of downtown commerce has become condensed into a conceptual center, blank slate, hosting spot. A conventional center.
I de-shuttled at the Ritz Milner on Flower Street. This hotel dating back to the Twenties had retained a patina of shabby chic. Ghosts of assignation and despair, dreams in the Golden City. West's" Day of the Locust" meets Valentino's "The Shiek". A traveling Pakistani garment merchant greeted me warmly from the lounge's puffy 1980's chairs which appeared to be copies of 1930's originals. There was a grand piano in the foyer. A sense of historical continuity comforted me. There are instances when even an attempt at stylistic continuity can achieve a fleeting glamour. The hotel was cheap and almost real, two things to not take for granted in LA.
The following morning I met an artist from NJ, Margaret Murphy, for coffee and rode with her on the Dash bus to the Staples Convention Center. A mental post-it note was, at that interval, pasted on the work station in my mind. Artists and art history scholars and academics were in there "delivering papers". The desultory paper boy I was at 11 emerged from my memory together with the half -hearted copy attendants I had sometimes experienced at Staples in the past. A perfect nonlinear, illogical link became established in my mind between rhetorical content and form. I had also recently been reading Marshall McLuan's "Guttenberg Galaxy" which makes similar leaps in claims to the enervating quality of the printed word. Fore- armed against paper pedantics and academic sophistry with these realizations, I took to the Sessions with ardent, if not exactly open-minded, curiosity.
I peeked in to "Disrupting Reality: Pictorial Illusion in Early Modern Art" in a cavernous, dimly lit shoe box filled with row upon row of hotel chairs pointed to a high dais lit with enlarged images and diagrams. There is a part of me attracted to the sheerly ritualistic aspect of the sessions. Simultaneous discussions of "Altars, Relics and Ascetics" and "Diasporic Boundaries" competed for my attention, lady and the tiger -like.
Meanwhile the glass enclosed Staples Center offered spare communal gathering spots other than a fairly conventional quick food mart. There was a nod to a type of terrace, although it was flanked by air conditioner units and other mechanical equipment stowed behind the facade of the seamless lobby.
I met up later with Margaret Murphy and the art historian and curator Aileen Wang. Aileen had a rented car and we resolved to see the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades the following day. The outer landscape of southern California had, since I was a child been literally representative of locations of 1970's TV cop show locations and car chases from Dragnet, to Mod Squad, to Police Woman. You can squash this together with Topanga Canyon burnout sybarites, Manson, The Beach Boys, The Buffalo Springfield, The Doors and the Byrds, Esalon, and the insistent natural disasters that remind all of this messed up ball of humanity that life is just a mudslide or wildfire away from being blasted out of the constant dream state that one finds oneself in in these climes.
We reached the Getty Villa by midday, the weather pleasingly warm for this easterner's usual February. The Villa is one of those sites visited by Umberto Ecco in his Travels in Hyperreality. Regarding the Getty Villa and other such fabrications of historical sites he says:
"For the prime aim of these wild Xanadus (as of every Xanadu) is not so much to live there, but to make posterity think how exceptional the people who did live there must have been. And, frankly, exceptional gifts would be required -- steady nerves and a great love of the past or the future -- to stay in these rooms, to make love, to have a pee, eat a hamburger, read the newspaper, button your fly. These eclectic reconstructions are governed by a great remorse for the wealth that was acquired by methods less noble than the architecture that crowns them"
Yea, Umberto. There is something overweeningly didactic about the presentation of what is a remarkable, (although of sometimes dubious provenance) collection of antiquities in such a forced, simulacra of a Pompeiin villa. I felt as if we were those tiny figures walking through a Thomas Cole painting of the Cycle of Empire. I longed to get back to the garden of the ocean that made a vee through the Eucalyptus trees.
Malibu is the name of a Chevy but also the dis-fabled coastal community that stretches about 20 miles up the coast. Images of Joan Didion in a Stingray and Joan Baez in her beach house pass by our inner eye like wraiths of the old dream of California.
"Here we beheld the Monuments of the The Bunker, The Culvert, The Mud Banks, The Pilings." Richard Neutra inspired modernist boxes perched above the rocks and the waves like neurotic and anesthetized starlets on teetering spike heels. Some conjured launching pads for suicidal swan dives into the Pacific. The end of the earth at the Pacific can be rough. It occurred to me that the newness of the West Coast is looking old. In the close foreground, a Short- Billed Dowitcher picks at a morsel on the beach. Close by , Midori Yashimoto, a curator and art historian, gets drenched by a wave.
That evening we had a Thai dinner in Culver City with Jacki Apple, an early curator of Franklin Furnace and later participant in the early Feminist art scene in LA. Nearby was the Museum of Art , Architecture and Design, and the Museum of Jurassic Technology whose website tag line is: "guided along as it were by a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life."
We never made it to the Tar Pits.

1 comment:

Charles Kessler said...

You really capture the hallucinatory quality of driving around LA. It's a delight to see how you and Irene can write about the CAA conference so well and yet in such different ways.

Nice to see Jacki Apple is still active.