AN ISSUE WORTH REVISITING
Thank you for Ben Ehrenreich’s article “Afghanistan
Revisited” [October 3–9]. Working as a volunteer for Afghan Women’s Mission,
I know most people I come in contact with believe — since they don’t see coverage
to show them otherwise — that Afghanistan is “liberated” and that there is peace
in that country. Thank you for also printing the story in the issue which fell
on the second anniversary of the bombing in Afghanistan. It was the most comprehensive
piece done that week.
Kristine McKenna’s cover story on Doug Chrismas [“The
Ace Is Wild,” October 10–16] was rich, especially for its curious dismissal
of his importance as a presenter of contemporary art. Her exposé sang with moral
indignation over Chrismas’ financial dealings, but I wonder why any sense of
humor or awe about this colorful character was so absent. Her fervor seems peculiar
since Chrismas’ (and McKenna’s) industry — the contemporary-art business — is
nothing if not riddled with seamless hustlers.
Yes, Doug Chrismas is apparently a compulsive debtor and, as far as his interest
in gallery-empire building goes, a compulsive spender. Yes, his financial unaccountability
is infuriating for his artists. Chrismas’ tendency to financial manipulation,
however, seems more than outweighed by his commitment to the art and to the
craft of presentation. In fact, Doug Chrismas has been a crucial enrichment
of the art-viewing world for Angelenos and elsewhere. It’s also worth noting
that in spite of their hair-pulling over getting paid, a roster of quality artists
— including Tim Hawkinson, David Amico, Charles Fine, Mary Corse — remain with
Ace. That these talented individuals choose to work with Chrismas says a lot.
That McKenna chose not to quote any of them also says a lot.
McKenna takes pleasure in pointing out the grandiosity of Chrismas’ imprudent
amassing and development of ever more leased gallery space. However, the recent
brilliant Sam Francis show proved that he was exactly right in taking a space
with higher ceilings, especially for the one non-edge painting, a glorious 26-foot-by-17-foot
work. Where else would the art-loving public have seen that work? And it is
precisely because of the size and spectacle of Ace Gallery that it is rendered
important enough to attract excellent work by important artists such as Keith
Sonnier, James Turrell, Jannis Kounellis and the brilliant large-format photographic
prints of Hans Christian Schenk.
McKenna goes on to imply that Chrismas’ spaces are unavailable to female artists.
Besides Corse, whose consistent, great work is certain to stand the test of
time, McKenna ignored the single most critically praised artist of the last
season, Tara Donovan. In a world unreasonably favoring male artists, Chrismas
is certainly no worse than any other major dealer in this regard. Ace has, in
fact, shown an interesting series of female artists, including China Adams,
Patty Chang, Sylvie Fleurie and Teresa Margolies.
Certainly Doug Chrismas is a dreamy, irascible, sometimes brutally difficult
character. But his dealings are the business of those who choose to be in business
with him. For those of us who view the art (and, I should think, for those who
write about it), Doug Chrismas and the Ace Gallery provide lovely, joyous experiences
without costing the taxpayer a dime.
Having worked for Doug Chrismas for three years in the 1970s, I found Kristine
McKenna’s article on him quite interesting. Indeed, those seminal exhibitions
by Serra, Heizer et al. were sparsely attended by the general public — not for
any good reason except that that Ace Venice was a bit out of the loop for the
typical art follower. (By the way, contrary to McKenna’s piece, Serra’s Delineator
was at 72 Market, not the Windward gallery, and, while I’m at it, the “uptown”
space was at 811 N. La Cienega, not 736.) There were regular visitors, however,
and they included Larry Gagosian in his Broxton print-shoppe/bad-haircut period
(I always associate his becoming a Big Time Dealer with finding a new barber),
the usual gaggle of art writers, and an array of homeless people, who often
spent the longest time looking at the exhibitions.
I have to say that, during my tenure as Gallery Gal, I wrote out the checks
and, to my knowledge, never bounced any. I’m glad to have missed the litigation
fest that followed, though I always associated it not so much with Doug double-selling
work to collectors as having gotten caught up in an acquisition mania that necessitated
using artwork earmarked for sale as collateral for real-estate and other loans.
I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of the man, though beyond the art-fascist
persona he could be a bit provincial. (He persisted, in those days, in calling
Eli Broad “Ellie.”) And it was not Doug who refused to pay off the Warhol drawing–nappers
but me. Doug gave me the cash fully expecting it to be collected, then dispatched
me to the den of thieves. I didn’t relish being a bag man, and I think I said
as much. I don’t remember the subtext of our conversation, but it was probably
something like, “Linda, it’s better for you to get killed than me.” It beat
Windexing the counters, so I dutifully drove to Levin’s downscale Wilshire Boulevard
I stopped working for Doug Chrismas 26 years ago and spent more than a few
moments after that dreading I might run into him. Recently, I did. He was dressed
in his usual starched uniform and having lunch in the American Rag café. I introduced
him to my daughter knowing that, at 17, she would not offend him with drooling
or other baby behavior. We reminisced for a minute about the party we threw
for Andy Warhol at Mr. Chow’s, and then, as I left, he flashed some goofy hand
Somehow, the revelation in McKenna’s piece that his father was an Alberta
car dealer cheers me.
BEST OF THE BEST
I just wanted to thank John Dentino for putting in print what I’ve been feeling
for a long time now — KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic is mediocre. (On
the other hand, KXLU’s programming has always been great and seems to be getting
I have been an avid listener for years (still am), and have come to realize
that the show encompasses less and less of anything truly new and underground
but caters more to the corporate flunky who fancies himself cool or artsy. The
show is quickly becoming a vehicle for major labels and their “indie” sub-labels
to showcase new, corporate talent under the guise of the “underground” in the
hopes of selling records.
IN THE REALM OF
Greg Bishop’s “Best of L.A.” characterization, in his
piece on Jack Parsons, of L. Ron Hubbard as a tool of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo
Templi Orientalis is utterly false. Mr. Hubbard was sent in by U.S. Intelligence
to disband Parsons’ black-magic group. Those associated with the OTO had become
a serious security threat to the nation’s atomic-research program, with suspected
Nazi sympathizers among them and scientists from Caltech and Los Alamos (Manhattan
Project) suspected of engaging in rituals involving sex and drugs. Clearly a
Mr. Hubbard succeeded in his assignment. In 1946, Parsons’ lodge of the OTO
dispersed. Parsons lost his government security clearance in 1948, and other
scientists involved in his group were among the 64 stripped of their security
clearances after the war.
It really is time for the L.A. Weekly to reassess its perspective and
policy regarding such attempts to denigrate Scientology, the religion of tens
of thousands of people in your readership area.
Manager, L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition
Due to an error by the editor, The New Republic
editor Chuck Lane’s surname came out “Lang” in the headline for Ella Taylor’s
review of the film Shattered Glass.
Last week’s Deadline Hollywood column [“The Queens of Hollywood,” October
31–November 6] reported that Carina Chocano was a freelancer at Salon, where
she was a staffer, and that she had written two books when in fact she had written
one and contributed to another.