Strip malls are a particularly fertile place to show art in Los Angeles. In a city often written off as discontinuous, whose art scene grew in part out of a handful of MFA programs that until only a few decades ago were mainly way stations to New York, the site can work to integrate often insular forms of cultural production alongside the 24-hour donut shops, laundromats, and ethnic restaurants that structure a large part of daily life in our metropolis. The space can also be used to reflect on the intersection of art and commerce, as LAND's tribute to Eugenia Butler, occupying three storefronts in a strip mall in West Hollywood, playfully accomplishes through the use of mirrors installed throughout the main and largest gallery.
For instance, in the case of Adam II, the late Paul Cotton's People's Prick, 1969, one experiences the piece and one's own unarticulated reaction to it at the same time, as one pulls the string dangling from the multiply suggestive lace-and-fabric genital to trigger the music box concealed inside. Presented in this way, the centrality of individual interaction with the object as the work itself takes on a new dimension, as the particular self-consciousness imposed by the mirror behind it and the space it reflects emphasizes how this exchange pushes beyond the bounds of consumerism, the sculpture's voluptuous hermaphroditism exposing itself as a surrogate for “the impossible dream” that its tinkling song names.
This tendency is even more pronounced and sardonic in the four works from Ed Kienholz's 1969 Watercolors exhibit, simple and uniformly sized washes that centrally feature text identifying the object for which the work may be exchanged. (In one case, a Timex electric watch; in another, $11.) For the purposes of the current exhibition, LAND recreated the show, inviting a number of local artists to produce works that identify their own price in trade, with results ranging from Ellen Harvey's My Desires are Infinite so Just Give Me Nothing, 2012, to Eve Fowler's One Night in Topanga, also 2012. What's notable about the project is the way in which it shirks simple recreation, so popular among any number of Pacific Standard Time-sponsored curators, in favor of something that can properly be called an echo, showing how the faithful communication of a history can go hand-in-hand with exploring the creative possibilities of the present.
In turn, LAND's resurrection of the Barter Show has a new relevance in light of the current debate over the expense of Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass, playing out in the context of the ever-growing visibility of blockbuster art and the billionaires that finance it. In an art-historical landscape scarred by the loss of many of its most prominent gallery brands, such as Ferus, due to Los Angeles' apparent inability to sustain an art market that could remotely compare to New York's, Perpetual Conceptual goes a very long way towards making the case for the continued relevance of other forms of exchange, an achievement all the more impressive given the difficulty of re-presenting work that employs ephemeral and often self-destructive forms. In this light, there's something particularly apt about the fact that the exhibit will close, on April 21, with a séance—so much of the work on display here conveys the sense of returning from the beyond, having passed out of existence in its original form (as process, perhaps) only to return with a new and possibly stranger life today.
(Image: Malcolm Lubliner, Eugenia Butler at dinner party for Roy Lichtenstein at Betty Asher's home, 1968; Courtesy Malcolm Lubliner and Los Angeles Nomadic Division)