Costumed performers with masks over their eyes and black clothes draped over their arms were standing at the foot of the grand stairway or out back near the pool at Beverly Hills’ Greystone Mansion Saturday night. “Would you like to dance?” they’d ask in a softly mechanical way and then add “this dance is blindfolded” if someone said yes.
They would then guide prospective dancers to the door of the guest bedroom, which no one ever saw because the black blindfolds went on before anyone entered the room and started waltzing, trusting their partners to keep them from colliding or tripping. By the end, if you were a blind dancer, you’d want to hug your partner for getting you through this situation he or she had put you in. This was Waltz No. 9 (blindness), artist Liz Glynn’s project for the first of what will be non-profit LAXART’s biannual Greystone Gala, an event at which thirty artists debuted new work.
When new art or exhibitions debut at fancy, expensive benefits, the art often takes a back seat to the party. At the MOCA gala two years ago, Eli and Edythe Broad, the 80-something-year-old philanthropists about to open their own museum on Grand Avenue, were among the few who went right for the newly installed Urs Fischer exhibition. The bar waylaid others. (The next week, the show was open to the public.)
At the gala Saturday, you couldn’t avoid engaging with art. Even if you lingered at one of the bars, you’d be in close proximity to Galia Lin’s ceramic vessels, Lisa Williamson’s varnished wood totem or Peter Harkawik’s huge steel bin of neon-colored, ornate foam building blocks (you could carry these around as long as you returned them to the bin). But these projects will not be viewable at Greystone again. So what’s the non-attendee to make of the gala he or she only gets to hear about after the fact?
Two years ago, LAXART, founded and directed by curator Lauri Firstenberg, co-organized a one-night, invitation-only performance art event at the Greystone with the Getty Research Institute. It was part of Pacific Standard Time, that sprawling, six-month Getty-helmed effort to celebrate SoCal art history. Since then, Firstenberg has received ideas from artists specifically for Greystone, or hearing of projects that could work well at Greystone. LAXART has a board member who was the Beverly Hills Fine Art Commissioner, and has a good relationship with the city, so using the house again was feasible. As they’re turning 10 this coming year, moving to a new space in Hollywood and introducing new programming, they decided the time was right.
“There are so many interesting narratives around Greystone,” says Firstenberg. The scandalous trial of the oil tycoon who built the house for his son, the still-mysterious 1929 murder-suicide in which that son, Ned Doheny, was killed by his secretary who then shot himself, the many films that have been shot there since: layers of fantasy compound already complicated layers of memory and real history. The gala became grounds for toying with those kinds of layers.
Ry Rocklen replaced one tire of a Hummer parked in the driveway with a flat, cast bronze tire, a joke on decadence that you saw right away. Marco Perego placed a white-ish marble and wood sculpture that curved and folded in on itself like crumpled paper in the marble-floored solarium. On the way from the central courtyard to the garden, you encountered Zoe Crosher’s The Actual Shangri-LA'd Disappearing Wall, a wall of plants that looked naturally dense but stood alone like a partition, the plants propped up and lit from behind. It’s an unsustainable idea of lushness originally constructed in the former Chinese Communist headquarters in Chinatown and photographed as it wilted for Manifest Destiny, the nationwide billboard project Crosher organized with LAND about the fantasy of going west.
In the cavernous all-wood living room, which has a balcony and weirdly Old West-inspired woodwork, artists-choreographers Gerard and Kelly staged their performance Timelining, in which dancers Ted Henigson and Todd McQuade circled all night, tenderly redirecting each other as they recited abstract and less abstract memories — “we broke up,” “lady yellow pants in front of surfers wearing wet suits.".
A press release dutifully mentioned the fact that guests were drinking Bombay Sapphire gin and eating Sprinkles cupcakes, which they were, and names of sponsors were being projected onto certain mansion gables throughout the night. It wasn’t only art. But the ideal is that most of this work will reappear elsewhere, probably sans Sapphire gin, with the Greystone as an intriguing part of its backstory.
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