Last Wednesday night, two gossips met at the Hammer Museum to do what they do best. But this time, they were on stage, in front of an audience of over a hundred people hungry to hear their stories.
The two gossips were Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, author of the newly published art chronicle Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s, who was in conversation with one of her wilder subjects, Eve Babitz.
Babitz is to 1960s L.A. what Edie Sedgwick was to New York, albeit in true West Coast style: more relaxed, less achingly glam or over-the-top strung-out. During the 1960s, Babitz knew everyone who there was to know in the L.A. arts and culture scene: she dated Ed Ruscha, slept with Jim Morrison (an experience she later described as "being in bed with Michelangelo's David" for Esquire), and for a while was Ferus Gallery curator Walter Hopps' mistress and muse.
She's perhaps most famous, however, for playing chess nude against Marcel Duchamp, during his visit for his 1963 retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of Art, where Hopps later became director. Photographer Julian Wasser invited Babitz to come around to the gallery early in the morning to meet Duchamp, then instructed her to disrobe. She was daring and reckless in her motives: she primarily agreed to the challenge because she wanted revenge on Hopps, who hadn't invited her to the private opening of Duchamp's show because his wife was in town.
In her mid-twenties, she decided to get out of the art world and become a writer; she's most known for penning the wickedly funny but sadly out-of-print Eve's Hollywood, a pointed collection of gossip from her days in the fast lane.
In other words, Babitz is the perfect subject for Drohojowska-Philp's book, itself a constellation of anecdotes and stories that presents an entertaining picture of the vibrant music and arts scene of 1960s L.A.
Survivors of that scene crowded the auditorium last night, many of them eager to hear Babitz's account of the time. She struck an absurdist chord as she talked about going to see a Joseph Cornell collage show on acid, and playing Fool's Mate (a chess game in which you're tricked into surrendering your king almost instantly) with Duchamp, losing three times in a row.
Here are five of her finer morsels, delivered during the evening:
5. On her mother: "She had great parties. She'd invite the Stravinskys over and make Mexican food."
4. On designing the cover art for Buffalo Springfield's second album: I was in love with Paul Butterfield. I heard he was at a bar so I drove there, and the only other guy there was Steven Stills. At the end of the night, he asked me, "Will you drive me home?" I said, "Yes, if you let me do your album cover."
3. On Barney's Beanery, the legendary L.A. art scene watering hole: "I love Barney's. I wish it was still going on, but now you have to go to AA instead."
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2. On why drugs were so great in the sixties: "Because you could drive anywhere in twenty minutes."
1. On being a muse: "I guess I can't help it."
For more of what life in the City of Angels was like in the swinging sixties, check out Julian Wasser's upcoming exhibit, "Sixties Los Angeles," which opens on November 3 at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica.
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