By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
ANYONE WHO REMEMBERS FARRAH FAWCETT'S 1997 PLAYBOY SPREAD AND concurrent pay-per-view special All of Me — the one in which she daubs paint on her naked self, then presses her body against a canvas — knows that she is an accomplished visual artist. Her clay modeling of the human figure was particularly adroit, and many learned for the first time that Farrah had ditched biology to become an art major at UT Austin before Hollywood came a-callin' in the late '60s. Still, it's a surprise to many in the L.A. art community that her work is highly regarded enough to land her a much-coveted "Contemporary Projects" exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The show is made up of Fawcett's collaborative works with CalArts dropout Keith Edmier, who did F/X work on several horror sequels ending in "3" (Texas Chainsaw, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.) before making a small ripple in Manhattan's art pond with autobiographical figurative sculptures best described as Charles Ray Lite with a twist of the Chapman brothers — high-tech materials, mannequin fetishism, insider jokes about scale and the history of figurative sculpture. Not bad, but not original enough to land him this kind of prestige gig on the strength of his solo reputation.
Among the cognoscenti at the exclusive opening, the skepticism ran surprisingly high. Overheard commentaries ran from "What were they thinking?" to "Doesn't she realize she's being exploited?" while an informal poll of art-world figures brought home a general rolling-of-the-eyes consensus.
Preceded by an anteroom designed to provide historical context (Alfred Stieglitz's nude photos of Georgia O'Keeffe and stuff like that), the actual work at LACMA consists of two life-size nude sculptures — Keith by Farrah in cast bronze and Farrah by Keith in white marble with a real diamond earring — as well as a number of smaller works and artsy documentation of the process.
The collision of multivalent art clichÃ©s and star-fucking curatorial praxis was indeed disorienting, and I retreated to the courtyard to nibble celery. Appalled by the $5.75-per-glass house-wine cash bar, my plus-one resorted to his emergency flask and tried to spot celebrities.
"Is that the Olsen twins? I think that's the Olsen twins!" And:
"There's Dick Van Patten! What's that black thing on his forehead?"
Ninety minutes into the opening, Farrah made her entrance and was mobbed by well-wishers and other assorted stalkers — including a pair of caricature professional autograph brokers with greasy comb-overs and one-half-inch-thick portfolios of 8-by-10 glossies who nasally exhorted one another to "Get in! Get in!"
I trawled through the exhibit once more to try to figure out what I really thought about it. On its own merits, the work doesn't hold up. At best it's a self-conscious anti-modernist fuck-you to the art world, or perhaps an even crasser (if such a thing can be possible) version of Jeff Koons' 1990 sculpture Made in Heaven, which portrayed his carnal knowledge of wife/celebrity Italian porn star (and Member of Parliament) Cicciolina in a high-romantic life-size sculpture. The more satisfying Fawcett/Edmier art experience actually came in observing the hoopla surrounding the show and contemplating that "What were they thinking?" factor.
"There's Linda Hamilton!" said Plus-One. "There's Ryan!"
While courageous or opportunistic curator Lynn Zelavansky's convincing essay in the deluxe full-color hardcover Rizzoli catalog suggests that the artists' toying with celebrity and fandom constitutes a deconstruction of both, the really fascinating revelations are about the media and the art world — how the vapid celebrity of the "art star" pales to nothing compared to that of a '70s pinup girl/TV star, and how brazen a media whorehouse The Museum has become.
Fawcett's famous photo-lithographic portrait (at 12 million copies sold, among the most widely distributed visual artifacts in history), her softcore Playboy video (as feminist appropriation of Yves Klein's 1958 naked-lady body-paint AnthropomÃ©tries), and even her notorious disruption of business-as-usual on the Letterman show were all more provocative blurring of the boundaries between popular culture and fine art than this slight and off-center money shot. Most artists would give their right arm to get simultaneous banner coverage in both the N.Y. and L.A. Times; all Keith Edmier and LACMA had to lose were a few large shreds of credibility.
"That is Ryan O'Neal," I admitted.
"Did you see Farrah's dad pat the statue's butt?"
ON THE BACK WALL OF THRIFTY Wash in Silver Lake, there's a message running on an electronic sign (like the signs with stock prices going by) that repeats the following every two minutes:
"Dear Customer, Welcome to 'your family laundry center' [picture here of a small car trailing a cloud of exhaust that equals the size of the car]. Thank you for your patronage, preference, and recommending us, and keep supporting this store . . . because for you we are here and have a job, it is a pleasure to work with customers like you . . . Friendship is our relation. Please before you leave make sure you do not forget anything alright? Thank you. If a machine refuses to work for you, please make us a note and drop it in the mailbox or ask your attendant OK? Thank you for your confidence . . . God bless all of you."