Night Gallery, already one of the coolest and most intriguing galleries in Los Angeles, took their practice to another level this past Sunday night by holding a special exhibition and private hosted party at Bar Marmont, the chic little bar at the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel.
A small lounge and an elevated saloon were used as focused exhibition areas, but the works were well distributed throughout the entire bar. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the show was how subtly the artworks blended in with the decor of the place. Was J. Patrick Walsh's Cobra Gimp (a braided aluminum chair frame) a work of art or a leftover from a seating arrangement? Were the peacock and butterflies embedded in the ceiling an artist's installation, or part of the bar's theme? (They were the latter.)
The saloon even lightly evoked Chateau Marmont's storied Hollywood history with the use of spotlights on stands to light works. One of the spotlit works was Peter Harkawik's Untitled (box for the suburban astronomer), a sort of Indiana Jones-meets-The Twilight Zone box filled with feathers and cast teeth. Nearby, at the bar's entrance, Alika Cooper's Nudes Kissing, a painting depicting two women whose hair and accessories recalled the 1940s, cleverly obscured a man's portrait that was already hanging on the wall.
Many of the works selected by curators Mieke Marple and Davida Nemeroff shared an inscrutable nocturnal quality, as if they'd been plucked from a boulevard gutter during a drunken 3 a.m. walk. A lightbox by Two Serious Ladies (Eve Fowler and Anna Sew Hoy) titled Still from Whole Halves seemed to depict a grilled sausage dressed as a flapper, floating against an indistinguishable background. Paul Heyer's murky abstract paintings sat very cozily against their dark velvet backdrops, while his imposing Clarendon painting anchored the back of the saloon with a glowing red depiction of a street lamp at night.
Sean Townley's excellent Nike Descending Staircase, a large textured sculpture that carved out a serious presence in the saloon area, managed to simultaneously evoke Greek statues, Duchamp's rude entry into modernism and museological displays of grotesque objects.
In a somewhat similar vein, Ariane Vielmetter's Sylvia was a lumpen face mask formed out of bread. Its amoeba-like presence sat fortuitously on a table in the main room beneath Mark A. Rodriguez's Louise, an enormous and very clean graphite drawing of a window with a small face peering through a circle in the center. Nearby on black pedestals, two of Joshua Callaghan's Bicuspids — white cement models of teeth — shined their naked biological whiteness out of the cool dark.
The best works in the show had a deep psychological texture that invited extended contemplation. As such, I found myself becoming completely obsessed with Samara Golden's Busts My Personal Winter, a sculptural installation with live video feed that took up the whole of the intimate lounge space by itself.
A procession of handmade dolls sat in the center of the space. The dolls were propped up in a variety of ways — stuffed into souvenir mugs and wine glasses, or on top of miniature fake Greek pedestals or a pile of Kleenex boxes. When you walked in, you saw the backs of the dolls; a live video feed showed you their faces on a screen at the rear of the room. You could insert yourself into the doll procession, and when you did, your face blended perfectly into the tableau of doll faces on the video screen facing you.
The physical presence of the work in the slinky little lounge was perfect, like walking into the mad scientist's secret lair in an old Vincent Price movie. In a brilliant touch that further blended artwork with surrounding decor, two of Golden's fake Tiffany lamps also hung in the room, adding to an overall feel that conjured Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies.
The faces of the dolls all looked familiar to me. As it turns out, they are indeed depictions of friends from the local L.A. art community. Golden conceives of this piece as an ongoing, long-term artwork. Shown once before at Workspace (another excellent artist-run space in Lincoln Heights), it has already incorporated portraits of some of the people present at that viewing. As the years pass, Golden hopes this work will become something like an ever-expanding and ever-interactive group portrait.
In the dolls, I could see echoes of myself and all the other artists and writers who surrounded me, together in this place and time, but also projected into the future, and hopefully into history. Later in the evening, a few of the “dolls” departed the Bar Marmont for the sixth floor of the hotel, where the Getty's Pacific Standard Time VIP after party was happening, replete with bigwigs in attendance and a stunning, iconic balcony view of the Sunset Strip. Like players in a classic Fellini movie, the rest of us dolls followed suit, and were welcomed warmly into another procession.