A little girl in ballet slippers, a jean jacket and a tulle tutu began an art collection Tuesday night at Barney's Beanery. It was barter night there, and the room with the pool tables in it had been cordoned off and artworks hung above each booth. The idea was that those who wanted the art would come and bargain with an artist. "What kind of bargain? Like, art for food?" an onlooker seated in the adjoining room asked his waitress.
It was more specific than that, actually. Each artwork announced, in some way or another, what the artist wanted in return. Some artists wanted things pricey but tangible. Jonah Freeman's nostalgic collage on newsprint had words "2012 MacBook Pro" written in a thought bubble. Walead Beshty made an ink drawing of a 15" MacBook Air. Ry Rocklen wanted a kiln in exchange for the print he'd cut to resemble lace and then affixed to a mirror. Others' desires were open to interpretation, or difficult to procure. Anna Sew Hoy wanted a clean body. Shannon Ebner wanted sun. Zoe Crosher wanted an evening with ever-elusive, raw and worldly writer Eve Babitz.
The words "More Time" were chiseled into a lead sheet by Corazon del Sol, who co-organized the event with Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). The preschooler in ballet slippers took home that work. Perhaps with guidance from her mother, LACMA curator Christine Y. Kim, she had brought a drawstring bag full of thyme and beat out the plastic surgeon who offered del Sol "more time" in the form of Botox or a face peel. The preschooler also brought a collection of "unusual objects," including a plastic dinosaur, to let artist Shana Lutker, who had asked for "Four Unusual or Distinctive Objects," take her pick (though Lutker ended up giving the piece to another barterer).
The announcement for this event said bartering would occur on a first-come-first-serve basis. That conjured up images of barterers rushing in with objects -- maybe there would be a rowboat, like Rob Fischer wanted, in the parking lot, or someone would come in carrying the bourbon Liz Craft had asked for. But that's not what happened. Instead, barterers went up to the booth near the door and made offers to LAND's Laura Hyatt, who kept a list. The artists would make the final decision, and could potentially reject all offers.
Ed Kienholz (1927-1994), the powerhouse L.A. artist who practically lived at Barney's Beanery 60 years ago, inspired this event. He may have been equally surreptitious, or at least discriminating, when he staged his "Watercolors Show" (now known as the "Barter Show") at Eugenia Butler Gallery in 1969. His works, all watercolor washes on paper with names of objects or sums stamped across them in a sophisticated serif font, seemed straightforward enough. One asked for $1, another for $1,000. One could be had for an outfit by Italian designer Rudi Gernreich, one for a chainsaw and another for nine screwdrivers. But Kienholz wasn't just spoofing the art market; he was exploring his power as arbiter, too.
William T. Wiley, a fan of Kienholz and another artist who showed with gallerist Eugenia Butler in the late 1960s, remembers finding out that one of Kienholz's watercolors read, "For a Work by William T. Wiley." Excited, Wiley made a pen-and-ink drawing and brought it to the gallery. Kienholz wasn't there when he arrived, just Butler. "He'll say it's too small," Butler told Wiley. "People have drug things in here and [Kienholz] comes and looks and he says, 'I don't want that one. It's another McCullough chainsaw I want.'"
No equipment had been drug in to Barney's by the time I left, more than two hours into the bartering, and no one had yet made an offer to artists asking for iPads or MacBooks. But there were plenty of offers for the more open-ended works. Ellen Harvey, whose watercolor reads, "My Desires Are Infinite So Just Give Me Nothing," received six offers in all. Mike Lipschutz, an artist who collaborates with his father as Lipschutz and Lipschutz, had brought an artwork of his own with him, made out of phone books, and offered it for Harvey's work. Other offers ranged from a Zen Buddhist experience to a film that meant a lot to one woman but would "mean nothing" to Harvey. She's still deciding which to accept.
Remaining works have been returned to LAND's temporary storefront gallery at 8126 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, and you can still barter until the work comes down on April 21.