Most wars are started in the summer. It’s true.
Most quotes one finds about summer are about how great summer is. Rarely does one find quotes about how horrible summer is. How long, how hot, how interminable the sweaty days, how much worse work feels under the yoke of summer. Most people who are quoted on summer must be aristocratic poets penning their verse with long lazy loops in leather bound notebooks bought for the purpose of vacationing by the seaside.
Summer is long. Summer is hot. Once you’re out of school, summer is just another season, with longer days and more opportunities to get drunk in the daylight. Summer is a bit sexier and a bit lazier, I’ll give it that, two qualities I hold in high regard. Laziness usually wins out when it comes to art. Look up "summer" in any quote book and the phrase “summer rose” appears all too often. Clichés being a kinder way to say lazy. The making of art is one thing; Van Gogh and Gauguin had good summer runs. But for the exhibition of art, summer is bad, generally speaking. In LA, the museums put on permanent collection shows. In Paris, they're choked with tourists craning to see their reflection in the Mona Lisa so that they can say they saw their reflection in the Mona Lisa. In commercial galleries, it’s the Summer Group Show.
THE SUMMER GROUP SHOW; noun; a ubiquitous and almost entirely useless animal that lumbers around every June through August to haphazardly stuffed galleries.
The Summer Group Show (or SGS) is a phenomenon handed down to us from our New York forefathers (and mothers) that signifies the real money is out of town, nobody’s left around but broke artists, and that sometimes galleries still need to be filled with art because the dealers can’t just stop paying rent for the summer, even though, as forestated, the money’s out of town.
Named after French New Wave films or Joy Division songs or under some vague-ish medium such as “Sculpture” (which though flavorless isn’t dishonest), these SGS's are more often than not a composite of friends, a spare few plucked from legions of art school chums and bar mates, or worse, the uneven program of “gallery artists” (or rather whatever we got in the backroom that ain’t sold yet). These can be fun, no doubt, and their laziness is truly the laziness of summer, but there’s rarely any sense of adventure, expectancy, or play. Rarely do we wonder what comes next or thrill at the twists and turns of an unfolding, an unraveling, a compilation. Rarely do we find the major work of a major artist. Calling around the galleries this June, figuring out what would be up for the summer, the most common answer was, “I don’t know.” And some have the mixed dignity just to not have anything up. But galleries should be filled with art. This is a problem that needs some attempt at solving.
Or does it? As the press release attribute all kind of agencies to art, except that it never says it will look nice with your sofa or could be flipped easily for a swift profit, the summer group show may be a thing that is necessarily broken. Perhaps it gives opportunities to young artists who might not otherwise get into gallery shows. (Although there is the pitfall of the perpetual group show rut, where the CV grows long with badly titled, weakly thought out local exhibitions. Not a good fate). I went to a thrown together SGS this week, but when you have works by Nauman and Baldessari moldering in the basement, you could do worse.
In LA, the Summer Group Show is a slightly bad put on, if only because we’re not New York. Though, I know quite a few well-heeled artists that pretend at being New Yorkers and summer on the Cape or in the Hamptons, with all the historic kitsch of quirkily named beach houses, irate townies, and streets lined with East Coasters with bright white pimply skin and brighter white zinc oxided noses.
In the LA summer not everyone is out of town. In fact, many have simply gone to the beach down the road or are lounging poolside in their own backyard. The weather in Los Angeles is always bearable, unlike the Sweatsock Subway Death Stench that overcomes New York every summer. And the money is in town, just like any other time. Collectors are still about; I see them making the rounds, picking up young works on the cheap from the better SGSs and the savvier dealers (who, no matter what show they have up, have a few Eastern European paintings tucked away in the back just in case the right collector should stroll in.) And for those of us not heading to cottages or beach houses, with family either too close to go visit for days or too far away to visit but every couple of years, we are here. We are looking. We wish we could be lazier but can’t afford to, even the critics just write essays about laziness. What a lost virtue...
So I give in. Give me your Summer Group Shows. Here’s to “Sculpture” and “Paintings” and “10 New Young LA Whatevers.” Here’s to “Me and My Friends” and “Stuff We Got That Ain’t Sold Yet.” Here’s to the vaguely assembled exhibition, titled with hip, pop references and quotations from last season’s theorist. Here’s to the debilitating heat and squelch of sweaty skin pulling away from hot leather seats, the flies and dog days and nights sleeping with only a sheet and it still being too damn hot. Here’s to youth and heat and laziness.
Something, I suppose, is better than nothing.
Max Yavno, Muscle Beach, 1949, gelatin silver print, 15 7/8 x 19 7/8 in. Courtesy of the artist.