The buzz on Night Gallery -- a unique art space in Lincoln Heights that is only open between 10pm and 2am, Tuesday through Thursday -- is growing steadily. A few months ago, co-proprietors Davida Nemeroff and Mieke Marple made the decision to turn the gallery into a full-on commercial venture, and since then, there's been a noticeable increase in their visibility. In addition to the posh soirée they threw at Bar Marmont last month, the gallery will also be participating in the NADA Art Fair at next month's Art Basel Miami Beach, as well as the Frieze Frame section of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair in New York.
Last Tuesday night was the opening reception for Samara Golden's latest project, a large-scale installation titled Rape of the Mirror. I spent much of my evening there and it was by far the biggest, most diverse, and most high-profile crowd I've seen yet at the tiny gallery. Among the couple hundred people who piled in were MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch; LAND founder and director Shamim Momin; artists Karl Haendel, Piero Golia, Stanya Kahn, Laura Owens and Evan Holloway; and collectors Joyce Ostin and Richard Massey.
But don't expect Night Gallery to turn into the next Gagosian or even Blum & Poe. Marple and Nemeroff are not likely to be showing bland, bloated work by established or over-hyped artists any time soon. Rather, their genius lies in their ability to select and nurture artists who are doing memorably unusual work that you can't imagine seeing anywhere else -- and then, finding a place for those artists in the commercial market.
Such is the case with Samara Golden, the artist who was responsible for the hypnotic doll installation at Bar Marmont that I wrote about last month. Her new project is no less than a total transformation of the Night Gallery space, poetically described in the announcement as follows: "Night Gallery is reborn as an ocean side villa dangling from a cliff in the sixth dimension where blue is red and yellow is clear. A hypothetical cyclone suspends in rotation the rooms of a demolished fantasy; reflecting back hurled pieces of styrofoam that once were the bricks of a dream home. Reflective furniture, a Jacuzzi and a queen-sized bed fitted with light blue sheets occupy the gallery space. A video of breaking waves crashes over the installation, illuminating the darkness while stretching the space to the other side of the earth."
After seeing the work and talking at length with the artist, I can tell you that the above description is actually quite accurate. Rape of the Mirror essentially remakes Night Gallery into two cracked fantasy rooms: a lounge with Jacuzzi and ocean view, and an interior master bedroom. Powder blue carpeting has been installed throughout the gallery, and the walls have been painted a similar color. Tall, empty, Ikea-style bookshelves loom everywhere. A few strange tchotchkes populate the bedroom; a single eye peers into the "window" of the lounge, which is also outfitted with an elaborate stereo system.
It's all very plush on the surface, but look closer and the whole shebang falls apart; almost all of the objects are created out of R-Max, a thin and flimsy foam board that's used to insulate homes. Give one of the shelves the lightest push and it'll fall over; try to sit on the bed and it will promptly cave in. The artifice here is touching -- it's as though a child has worked really hard to make the adult dollhouse of her dreams. Folded into this sense of longing is a sinister streak as well; violent scratches mar the surface of the bed, and the sheets dissolve into a shattered mirror, reflecting images from two video screens. On the sound system, Golden's voice can be heard singing a version of Brian Wilson's melancholy "'Til I Die."
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Video feeds, positioned throughout the installation, play a key role. The large projection in the lounge gives the illusion of crashing waves outside of a window, while two projections in the bedroom spool through every image and video taken on Golden's iPhone in the last year. Others are live interactive feeds, providing opportunities for you to see yourself or others embedded within the artwork; Golden uses a nifty green screen effect so that captured bodies become canvases for projections. Overall, the video feeds function like wormholes enabling transportation and dialogue throughout the installation.
It's clear that this work is highly personal, but it's also highly absorbing. Golden has helpfully provided a comfortable sofa between these two rooms, so that viewers can have a leisurely place to sit and contemplate the work. This helps with soaking in the work's subtle details, and it also makes you feel like you're in it, like you're part of the movie set that the artist has created. Golden has been making interactive video/sculpture installations for some time, but this one feels more open and expansive than her previous efforts. Rape of the Mirror quietly invites you into its world, then takes you into others if you're willing.