By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Part of Skaggs’ lack of recognition by the art world is due to the unfashionably uncompromising political underpinnings of his work — actively disrupting the easy flow of numbing infotainment that regulates daily life, pulling the rug out from media-anointed authorities pontificating on supercharged issues, and pressing the question of whether the domain of cutting-edge contemporary art-making lies inside the white cube or on the air. Public credulity as shaped by avant-garde art, advertising and other forms of propaganda has remained largely unacknowledged as the predominant cultural medium for at least 50 years. Skaggs is one of a handful of artists who refuse to participate in the denial that allows the high-art world to keep rolling. At the very least, Skaggs’ insistence that we continually question our major sources of sensory input amounts to permission to actually pay attention to our senses, arguably the bottom line of successful art-making.
Several of Skaggs’ earlier projects, such as The Fat Squad (commandos-for-hire who will enforce your diet) and Bad Guys Talent Management Agency(a dummy “creeps only” casting office), took on subsequent real-world lives of their own, and it’s not inconceivable that some canny entrepreneur will pick up the ball on Final Curtain. Forward-looking funeral-industry companies already offer graveside interactive computer and video programming. Those disappointed by the hoax and impatient for the world to catch up with Joey Skaggs’ vision should recall and revisit Los Angeles’ own family of Forest Lawn cemeteries.
Home of talking statuary, the multimedia display of the world’s largest oil painting, reproductions of Michelangelo’s masterworks, elaborate theatrical public educational performances by Montezuma and other historical figures, and perhaps the oddest little museum anywhere (with typewritten labels, cheesy replicas of the British crown jewels, the only stone head removed from Easter Island, and a Bougereau painting), Hubert Eaton’s Glendale Cemetery and Mortuary was undoubtedly the prototype for Final Curtain.
Vilified by Evelyn Waugh in The Loved One(later a brilliant film by Tony Richardson, featuring Paul Williams as a rocket scientist) and by Jessica Mitford in her best-selling The American Way of Death Revisited(reissued in an updated paperback version from Vintage in January), Forest Lawn has become a symbol of the self-indulgent excesses and abuses of the funeral industry. There is something poignant, though, in the company’s steadfast adherence to its original Middle American translation of the therapeutic powers of institutional art. Forest Lawn also displayed a strangely prescient “sampling” approach to the experience of art, conceptually connecting with Skaggs through the back door of appropriation, copyright disputes and culture-jamming studies in general. It’s a must-see for out-of-town visitors, and I’m always surprised at the number of Angelenos who’ve never made the trip.
If you missed the March presentation of the special event A Visit With Michelangelo, where the public is invited to “travel back to the 15th century to rediscover the greatest artist of the Renaissance: plus a surprise guest appearance by Leonardo da Vinci, which incites an intriguing debate on who’s truly the greatest!,” the Glendale facility will host it again on October 5. For details, see www.forestlawn.com. Reservations well in advance are advisable. The gap between the indistinguishably virtual and the inexplicably real is closing rapidly, and there’s only room for so many.
Note: The first 3-D Tibetan Shi-Tro Mandala to be constructed in the U.S. is in the works at Forest Lawn. Scheduled to be completed in September, the Mandala will measure 8 feet by 6 feet. Workshops open to the public will be held June 3 and 11. Call (323) 340-4738 for info.