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Progress Report: Gehry in Bloom 

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When it is pointed out that the dancing figures in the grille work are reminiscent of Henri Matisse, Appel says, “Oh? Yeah. I never thought of that.” He is completely sincere, because he isn’t familiar with Matisse’s “Dancers.” But he does know Gaudí. Standing in front of the windows, which are a Gaudíesque pastiche of florid ä fused glass, stucco mullions and casings whose thick impastos make them pulse in too-great relief, he laments how hard it is to adapt the color and texture of the Barcelona genius. Appel, riven with doubt, asks if the windows aren’t too busy, too bright — overdone?

In his Simon Rodia–like naiveté, Jeff Appel is onto something. Almost 40 years ago, L.A. artist Ed Ruscha did a series of paintings of Standard Oil gas stations, some being consumed by fire. Ruscha could paint those stations because they were corporate modernist icons — conjuring easy mobility and middle-class tidiness when L.A. was still a small town aspiring to bigness — and thus reducible to expressions of shape and color, with Ruscha’s loving, sometimes sour twist. Carefully rendering the gas stations and then setting them aflame was prophetic — not just as commentary, but also as an insight into what would be the genuine fate of modernism. Certainly, for gas stations, since the early 1960s, there has not been a more expressive architecture. Dreadful concrete-block bunkers with bulletproof glass have dominated L.A.’s key street corners since the early 1970s. Jeff Appel’s Exxon manages, even in its inconsistent imagery, to come out of the other end of Ruscha’s engulfed imaginings. He is trying, once again, to put gas stations at the center of L.A.’s identity, and if his choice of styles and materials doesn’t exactly capture the current mood of smug ennui — you’ve got to admit he builds a really nice gas station.

—Greg Goldin

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I’m not naked, but perhaps I should be. I am, after all, sitting on a chaise at a clothing-optional resort, the San Vicente Inn, in a residential area of West Hollywood. And I’m surrounded by lots of other naked men. Many of these men are gay male escorts, and they are here for the third annual Male Escort Awards. Yes, gay escorts get awards now. Wal-Mart and Popeye’s Chicken have employee-of-the-month awards — why not rent boys?

They don’t have a good catchy name yet, these awards — maybe some imaginative homo will think up a good nickname like, oh say, the Nomis (you know, after Elizabeth Berkley’s character in Showgirls) — but they do have a conscience. Proceeds from the $10 admission fee go to AIM Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides health care to adult-entertainment-industry performers, so I feel pretty good about where my cash is going.

There are lockers to put clothes in, and while I’m normally not shy about taking it all off in queer clothing-free environments, today I need a pocket for my pen and pad, so stripping down isn’t on the agenda. I have company, anyway: The famous gay comedy writer and the actor who formerly appeared on a successful WB teen soap are keeping it in their pants too.

The sponsors, a brash, young escort-porn Web site called JoeyandCarlo.com, have a poolside banner (tied in with ID brand lube) that reads “Where Love Comes by the Hour.” This is a perfect catch phrase that willfully, brazenly pulverizes the distinction between sex and love, and demands that the latter be rightfully acknowledged even when it’s for sale. Minus any reference to sticky issues of legality, it’s practically a prostitute manifesto. Of course, no one uses words like prostitute at this event — apparently the radical reclamation of that value-laden term hasn’t happened yet among most sex workers. The desire to even show up for their own awards show hasn’t happened yet either, it seems. Only a few of the nominees are in sight, chief among them gay porn star Michael Brandon, star of Stick It In and Packin’ Loads. He’s also the day’s emcee, so he sort of had to make an appearance. I can only assume the other men are busy working or decided that 3 p.m. was just too early to rise for the event. In the meantime, the audience waits for things to get going, and a man in big white high heels, white fishnets, latex shorts, extreme face paint and dreadlocks gyrates on the poolside platform stage to Madonna’s “Justify My Love.” He looks a lot like that guy from Dead or Alive.

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