Group Shower at Night Gallery: Chris Hanke, Claire Kohne, Ari Marcantonio, Max Schwartz

It was like a dream, my friends. That night shimmers in my memory as the barest reflection of light off the desert floor will create in one’s eye a mirage of water; that I can locate no images from this exhibition enforces my hallucinatory vision.

In Group Shower, at Night Gallery, Chris Hanke, Claire Kohne, Ari Marcantonio and Max Schwartz (along with a Jungle Juice filled bathtub which sat at the back of the Lounge like a throne for some darker entity) gave to an excited crowd a wonderful, dreamy party that lasted until three, and ended – for me – parked near the storied Buena Vista Viaduct, eating an early morning burger, trying to become sober. (I want to thank the four artists. In that cold moment on the bridge, I felt timeless and there was clarity in my mind that was connected to no thing and yet touched on everything I know.)

Less fantasy and more show in a moment, but first: Isn’t this what an art exhibition should be? An experience – one that begins (for the audience) at the reception, with friends and strangers mingling in a libidinous, free-spirited festival, and continues for the duration of the installation as, one by one and in groups, people visit and revisit the show and slowly become aware of the magic in an intellectual way. If one was also at the opening party then all the better, for to have a body memory of an experience and to then approach the experience again using the tools of one’s mind has to be the point of art, or one point, anyway.

Ari Marcantonio’s large, metal clad box has its own gravity, and as I passed I leaned in to brush lightly against the silvery surface. This was hard, but not like steel, and felt less cold than metal sometimes does. The density and mass that I sensed proved to be deceptive, as the cube was hollow, and so – even while heavy – the gravity was weight that I imputed to the sculpture.

The interior space was fitted out with wooden planks, not unlike a sauna (which it proved to be). A plank bench seat, a single bulb light fixture and a chunky satin-finish brass two-point surface mount deadbolt completed the tiny chamber. Sitting, I noticed a plaque carved with words. I perched on the seat and considered shooting the bolt. (Would this seal my fate?) I lingered, paying attention, looking and listening and touching and smelling. My space became only wood, was filled with wood and bright light, and with me. Although I heard voices outside – the universal chatter of all celebration, meaningless in its specificity yet comforting and engaging – outside was another world. Inside was just me, myself, alone. It grew hotter, and somehow denser. The feeling of gravity had returned. My sweat made my clothes cling, my eyes hurt from the glare, and I recalled how I used to feel (and still do!) at parties – bigger than I should be, clumsy, surrounded by voices I cannot reach and afraid of judgment.

“Your words, thoughts and actions are not autonomous / Your self is produced and evaluated by all other selves / The tendency to construct physical and psychic barriers between yourself and others is common but self deceiving / Will you feel purpose, validation, legitimacy when your only audience is you? / Will your needs, desires and appearance still be of significance when those that constructed them no longer exist?” Ari Marcantonio, text for We Want To Live, 2012

Paper – aqua (?) paper, curling and torn hung on the Lounge walls. These were lovely and simple sheets of paper doing what paper does: adopt a form, show gravity by drooping, respond to moisture and other applied materials. The checklist I have calls the materials “seamless paper and mica powder.” I know of mica, I have seen mica lamp shades that give a mysterious glow, but I am not sure what might be seamless paper, nor am I sure now that the color was aqua or if color was a trick of the light. Chris Hanke, Curls, 2012

Moving again into the larger room, and darting between conversationalists and flirters, I met first Phil Chang, and next Calvin Lee, and both photographers were interested (at the moment I saw them) in Max Schwartz’s photos. “Luscious” was the apt term that Lee came up with for Max’s compositions of color and the human form. The figures seemed derived from commercial photography: the human parts were as near perfect as an ad agency can imagine humans to be, there were a toned arm and an equally buff torso, a man’s chest that had just enough hair visible to suggest musk and eros, and superimposed over these figures were vibrant, abstracting colors. Hmm. Do you know how sexy women are associated in ads with cars? Somehow these men make me think of the kind of ads Lamborghini might do: use a totally objectified, non-specific male figure coated in thirty coats of hand-buffed polish to represent a machine. Max Schwartz, Arm, Kimota, Leg, Shazam, all 2012

I feel like Chris Hanke had the widest range of work in this show: seamless paper and mica dust in the Lounge, a film was projected over the top of Marcantonio’s sauna, Hanke’s color photographs of spills were interspersed with Max Schwartz’ photos, in one corner of the large room Hanke had placed a small glass box filled with dust and stuff from his studio. Mounted in a corner I found photos or xeroxes of brambles, running vertically on both walls. The Fall (April), 2012 Do these xeroxes (for this is what they are) represent the experience of a fall, as in down a hill, or into chaparral? Or is it barbed wire? Does the studio dust make me think of the artist’s time in the studio, possibly at loose ends with himself and paying attention to the floor? I don’t know. The spill photos are beautiful the way many vague abstractions have beauty in them. I think for a moment of Brendan Threadgill’s buried photographs. Chris Hanke, Spill (#o1), Spill (#p1), Spill (#g2), An attempt to touch the sun b&w video, Contained space #1 (studio floor), all 2012.

The shower room, the site of so much adolescent angst, the end and the beginning of our covered selves, a place to get clean. “I made the tiles myself,” I heard Claire Kohne tell her family, and from Mieke Marple I learned of Kohne’s shower installation that, “they all had each others back. When Claire first installed the patinated shower heads the would not adhere, so Max and Ari dropped what they were doing and ran to Home Depot while Claire continued with her installation.” This observation of Mieke’s interested me because in an earlier conversation with Ry Rocklen he contrasted the generation of “…the thousands, who came out when the market was flush and were maybe a bit complacent” with “these kids, these undergrads who are coming out of school full bore and ready to take it on.” I would put forth that while they may, and in my opinion are, ready to take on the world, these undergrads and others I have visited and whose work I have seen and written about, they seem to be steeped in a notion of mutual support, of an idea that “for one of us to succeed, we all must succeed.” I contrast this with the fixed-size pie theory of success, which holds that for each person who gets a slice, another must lose one. There is indeed more than enough to go around, my friends, and in fact the more people who are contributing the bigger will be the universe on which we draw. Claire Kohne, Heaven (Don’t hope to drive a stake into empty space), 2012

Night Gallery, where Group Shower is on view through May 31:

Ry Rocklen will have work at the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery for the Made in L.A. exhibition, opening June 2: (And I know this to be a sculpture or sculptures that Rocklen has only shown partially in Santa Barbara and totally in New York. Work on this massive scale by this artist has never been show in our fair city. Get thee to Barnsdall.)

In case you’re wondering, Michele O’Marah will present ENTIRELY NEW WORK at Barnsdall. I learned this while lunching at Cafe Via. (Doesn’t that sound glamorous?) It is we who are the luckiest people on earth, I swear.

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