The Low Life 

Wednesday, Feb 11 1998
Untitled (1998)If we were queen of the universe - now that's a job we'd like - we would ban sports-utility vehicles, which usually seem to be steered by the most menacing maniacs on the road. However, we started contemplating the virtues of four-wheel drive as we tooled downtown through profoundly pounding precipitation. Forget hydroplaning, we swear our car actually floated across a couple of intersections on our way to the MOCA Geffen Contemporary, which was flooded with art tarts and culture vultures who'd weathered the storm, so to speak, to attend the opening of "Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979" (up through May 10). MOCA chief curator PAUL SCHIMMEL, with an international team of writers, curators, critics and academics, has put together an exhilarating, exemplary, exhaustive (and exhausting!) exhibition that examines chronologically an astounding array of postwar artists (more than 100 artists and collaboratives from around the world) and the creative process. And what a process it is: from Jackson Pollock's drippings, to Kazuo Shiraga's paintings by foot, to Allan Kaprow's "action collages," to Robert Filliou's automatic poetry machine (hmm . . . we need to get ourselves an automatic Low Life machine), to Yves Klein's nude models as paintbrushes, to Yoko Ono's interactive works, to Carolee Schneemann's proto-feminist body actions, to Gilbert & George's living sculptures, to Valie Export's street-performance documentations. Gazing at photos from an Orgies-Mysteries Theater performance by HERMANN NITSCH (who also put in an appearance at an Actionist film retrospective that was part of the Beyond the Pink Performance Festival, which runs through February 21) prompted one gent to recall when Nitsch brought his extreme blood-and-guts super-splatter show to L.A. in 1978 (the only appearance ever of the Orgies-Mysteries Theater in town; by the bye, whether the correct title is "Orgies-Mysteries Theater" or "Mysteries-Orgies Theater" seems to be a subject of some debate - we asked Hermann himself, whose only response was a great guffaw and a hearty slap on the back). He'd performed in a Venice loft with a free-music orchestra of about 45 that included the Deadbeats' Pat Delaney dipping his sax into cow entrails that had been suspended above the center of the floor, the Satin Tones' Hal Negro, the Germs' Don Bolles, Geza X, members of the L.A. Free Music Society, along with various CalArts types and Masque punkers. "Nitsch poured cow's blood down the throat of one of the passive participants, who'd regurgitate it, only to have it poured back down," reminisced our informant. "Rumor is that the guy had to have therapy after the experience." After hearing about it, we needed therapy too! We noticed more than a few fellows carefully studying a provocative photo piece on pornography by Throbbing Gristle co-founder COSEY FANNI TUTTI, who had posed nude in various hardcore shots, and who joked that she'd brought the weekend's dreadful deluge with her from England. Frankly, we didn't know what the heck to make of French artiste ORLAN, who had a piece in the show. It wasn't that her hair was chartreuse on one side, black on the other and shaved high on the forehead; nor was it her large matching glasses or capacious cape - you can see that in the mall, for chrissakes! No, what we couldn't comprehend were the Frankensteinian protrusions implanted under the skin on each temple. Evidently, plastic surgery is part of Orlan's creative process, according to a connoisseur who offered to pop by the MOCA bookstore and dig up the tome with all the photo documentation of her experiences under the scalpel. We declined, being somewhat squeamish, but couldn't help wondering, Does this mean tit jobs are art? But then, art is whatever people say it is.

Taking it all in were BIBBE HANSEN with sons BECK and CHANNING (Bibbe's late father, Al Hansen, a famed Fluxus artist, is represented in the exhibition); artist JOHN BALDESSARI; art director and erstwhile Screamer KK BARRETT, whose former bandmate Tomata du Plenty is making a rare visit to L.A. for "Dolly, Loretta, Tammy & Tomata," a one-night show of his paintings at You've Got Bad Taste this Saturday night; vox vixen ANNA HOMLER; painter FRED TOMASELLI, in town from New York for his opening at Christopher Grimes Gallery; multimedia artist and former Party Boys singer MARNIE WEBER; Smart Art Press managing editor SUSAN MARTIN, who along with her two partners in Some Serious Business was instrumental in bringing Hermann Nitsch to L.A. in '78; performance artist SKIP ARNOLD; photog FREDRIK NILSEN; artist MIKE KELLEY; actor DENNIS HOPPER; painter STEVE HURD; artist RACHEL LACHOWICZ; and SKOT ARMSTRONG, founder of Science Holiday, one of L.A.'s first Dada-punk zines and still publishing.

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Four-Wheelers: No wonder actors TONY ABATEMARCO and JOHN FLECK have been losing weight during their run of Charles Ludlam's fun-tabulous farce The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Tiffany Theater. The two, each of whom plays multiple parts, give "quick-change artist" a new definition as they dash offstage as one character and appear moments later as another. We shed a few pounds just watching (if only it were that easy!). As we were leaving the Tiffany, we couldn't help but notice the garish lights of Mel's drive-in, at the site of the former Ben Frank's, blazing up the block. And we got depressed thinking about the po-mo irony of an ersatz diner replacing the real deal. Actually, we always get depressed when the phrase "po-mo irony" pops into our head.

And that's the "low life."

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