ANYONE WHO REMEMBERS FARRAH FAWCETT'S 1997 PLAYBOY SPREAD AND concurrent pay-per-view special All of Me — the one in which she daubs paint on her naked self, then presses her body against a canvas — knows that she is an accomplished visual artist. Her clay modeling of the human figure was particularly adroit, and many learned for the first time that Farrah had ditched biology to become an art major at UT Austin before Hollywood came a-callin' in the late '60s. Still, it's a surprise to many in the L.A. art community that her work is highly regarded enough to land her a much-coveted “Contemporary Projects” exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The show is made up of Fawcett's collaborative works with CalArts dropout Keith Edmier, who did F/X work on several horror sequels ending in “3” (Texas Chainsaw, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.) before making a small ripple in Manhattan's art pond with autobiographical figurative sculptures best described as Charles Ray Lite with a twist of the Chapman brothers — high-tech materials, mannequin fetishism, insider jokes about scale and the history of figurative sculpture. Not bad, but not original enough to land him this kind of prestige gig on the strength of his solo reputation.
Among the cognoscenti at the exclusive opening, the skepticism ran surprisingly high. Overheard commentaries ran from “What were they thinking?” to “Doesn't she realize she's being exploited?” while an informal poll of art-world figures brought home a general rolling-of-the-eyes consensus.
Preceded by an anteroom designed to provide historical context (Alfred Stieglitz's nude photos of Georgia O'Keeffe and stuff like that), the actual work at LACMA consists of two life-size nude sculptures — Keith by Farrah in cast bronze and Farrah by Keith in white marble with a real diamond earring — as well as a number of smaller works and artsy documentation of the process.
The collision of multivalent art clichés and star-fucking curatorial praxis was indeed disorienting, and I retreated to the courtyard to nibble celery. Appalled by the $5.75-per-glass house-wine cash bar, my plus-one resorted to his emergency flask and tried to spot celebrities.
“Is that the Olsen twins? I think that's the Olsen twins!” And:
“There's Dick Van Patten! What's that black thing on his forehead?”
Ninety minutes into the opening, Farrah made her entrance and was mobbed by well-wishers and other assorted stalkers — including a pair of caricature professional autograph brokers with greasy comb-overs and one-half-inch-thick portfolios of 8-by-10 glossies who nasally exhorted one another to “Get in! Get in!”
I trawled through the exhibit once more to try to figure out what I really thought about it. On its own merits, the work doesn't hold up. At best it's a self-conscious anti-modernist fuck-you to the art world, or perhaps an even crasser (if such a thing can be possible) version of Jeff Koons' 1990 sculpture Made in Heaven, which portrayed his carnal knowledge of wife/celebrity Italian porn star (and Member of Parliament) Cicciolina in a high-romantic life-size sculpture. The more satisfying Fawcett/Edmier art experience actually came in observing the hoopla surrounding the show and contemplating that “What were they thinking?” factor.
“There's Linda Hamilton!” said Plus-One. “There's Ryan!”
While courageous or opportunistic curator Lynn Zelavansky's convincing essay in the deluxe full-color hardcover Rizzoli catalog suggests that the artists' toying with celebrity and fandom constitutes a deconstruction of both, the really fascinating revelations are about the media and the art world — how the vapid celebrity of the “art star” pales to nothing compared to that of a '70s pinup girl/TV star, and how brazen a media whorehouse The Museum has become.
Fawcett's famous photo-lithographic portrait (at 12 million copies sold, among the most widely distributed visual artifacts in history), her softcore Playboy video (as feminist appropriation of Yves Klein's 1958 naked-lady body-paint Anthropométries), and even her notorious disruption of business-as-usual on the Letterman show were all more provocative blurring of the boundaries between popular culture and fine art than this slight and off-center money shot. Most artists would give their right arm to get simultaneous banner coverage in both the N.Y. and L.A. Times; all Keith Edmier and LACMA had to lose were a few large shreds of credibility.
“That is Ryan O'Neal,” I admitted.
“Did you see Farrah's dad pat the statue's butt?”
ON THE BACK WALL OF THRIFTY Wash in Silver Lake, there's a message running on an electronic sign (like the signs with stock prices going by) that repeats the following every two minutes:
“Dear Customer, Welcome to 'your family laundry center' [picture here of a small car trailing a cloud of exhaust that equals the size of the car]. Thank you for your patronage, preference, and recommending us, and keep supporting this store . . . because for you we are here and have a job, it is a pleasure to work with customers like you . . . Friendship is our relation. Please before you leave make sure you do not forget anything alright? Thank you. If a machine refuses to work for you, please make us a note and drop it in the mailbox or ask your attendant OK? Thank you for your confidence . . . God bless all of you.”
Before Thrifty Wash, I didn't understand that Laundromats, like people, have personalities. They all have the same basic set of equipment — washers, dryers, bill changers — but the overall package can come across very differently from one place to the next.
For three years, I didn't like the place I did laundry. My clothes were stolen from the dryers a couple of times. Two TVs were constantly blaring. There was always at least one badly behaved child running around screaming, while the parent placidly folded laundry. The dryers were finicky and wouldn't accept old quarters. The bulletin board (for absent-minded staring at what cars people were selling) was inconveniently located, and the bathroom was gross. A sullenness hung over everything.
I thought doing laundry would be just as unpleasant no matter where I did it. But then a friend told me no, “Go to the good Laundromat — the one under the video store.” Thrifty Wash isn't just good because it has no TVs, very few children and a giant, mesmerizing neon sign with two palm trees flanking the words VENDING CENTER. Thrifty Wash is special, and my friend and I aren't the only ones who think so.
“There used to be a big battle between three Laundromats,” explains Dale, 33, who grew up in Hollywood. This battle was between Thrifty Wash on Hyperion, another place next to the Radio Shack, and an old one where the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is now, on Hillhurst. “For a long time, the Radio Shack one was the best.” Dale says. “But it became hard to park and got seedy when the 7-Eleven moved in next door. Then Thrifty Wash became cool.”
“It's clean,” says Peachy, a tiny woman in her late 30s with short, dark hair who is doing six loads — four for herself, two for her mother. “I've been coming here since '92. I live in Glendale now and I still come here.”
Rogelio, sharing a Butterfinger with his granddaughter, Leah, has three loads in the dryer. He has a washing machine at home but not a dryer. “I come here because they let me just use the dryers, no problem. Other places don't let me.”
A lot of Laundromats (my old one included) are strangely proscriptive like that, treating you as though you are there not to do laundry, but to get away with things and wreak havoc. They express this mistrust with a lot of crabby “Don't” signs: Don't sit on the tables. Don't overload the machines. Don't change the TV channel. Thrifty Wash, by contrast, believes that you are essentially a decent, reasonable person, and wants to work with you: “For best results, load washers only þ full.” “Caution. Hot water 140 degrees.” “If a machine does not work for you, leave name and address in mail box and money will be refunded.” On the door to Thrifty Wash is a notice that does not say “No dogs allowed,” but rather asks dog-owning customers if they'd be so kind as to leave their dogs outside, because the dogs bother other customers.
In a culture where civility and good will are as rare as a viable Democratic presidential candidate, Thrifty Wash is an oasis. It's a reminder that drudgery can in fact be an okay way to spend a couple of hours, if you don't have to do it in a festering pit of despair. It revives that feeling that we're all in this together — in laundry as in life — so let's make the best of things, shall we?
THINK JERRY SPRINGER MINUS THE Chicago studio set and racy topics, but with an out-of-breath city-council chief of staff facing down an audience of jeering, insult-hurling residents. That would be the most recent meeting at the Eagle Rock Community Cultural Center over designating part of Eagle Rock and Glassell Park “Philippine Village.”
The sum total of the proposal is to put signs up on Eagle Rock Boulevard between Norwalk Avenue in Eagle Rock and Avenue 40 in Glassell Park establishing a new symbolic neighborhood called Philippine Village. Other Los Angeles enclaves, from Little Armenia to Thai Town, have honored various ethnic groups, but in Eagle Rock, diversity apparently is a fighting word. A previous meeting on the proposal was so antagonistic that the president of the Philippine Village Center and a ä number of elderly Philippine residents refused to come again. “We didn't want to expose them to rudeness,” said the soft-spoken Oscar Jornacion, executive director of the Philippine Village Center.
Patricia Villasenor of the city of Los Angeles' Human Relations Commission started things off by asking opponents of the plan to keep the jeering and booing to a dull roar. But her pleas for civility fell on deaf ears.
“Hogwash!” “He thinks he is a big shot!” “Speak English!”
“We recognize Filipinos, but this is a step backwards,” said one of the more moderate voices at the microphone. “I think this would segregate the Filipinos . . . This is just starting a trend.”
“I agree that they should get a plaque — somewhere,” said a smiling Vietnam vet while the crowd chuckled.
“This is racially motivated,” added a bespectacled middle-aged man, who quoted Bible passages. “This will pull the feathers off of Eagle Rock.”
Next up was a 13-year-old boy. “Why do you want to change the name?”
This time the crowd cheered.
“We are not changing any name; we just want to have recognition. A simple designation,” responded Jornacion, while the other Filipino representatives shifted uncomfortably in their seats. “We are the first to object to segregation. Nothing will change.”
“I am offended,” said Tom Topping of the Boulevard Sentinel, an online community newspaper. “I have helped with revitalization, and none of us have said that we need a sign with our name on it.”
“We resent people coming here and trying to change our borders and not giving us the opportunity to know about it,” added an elderly woman, pacing back and forth on the stage like the host of a variety show.
“Are there plans to put a sign up that says 'Welcome to Eagle Rock's Philippine Village' on the freeway?” asked another.
“This is not a landmark,” answered the befuddled Jornacion.
“Answer the question!” some in the audience screeched while others booed.
“Everyone please. We aren't miners here. Be civil,” said Villasenor, who grabbed the microphone away from the questioner and restated the question.
“Those are rumors. There won't be a [freeway] sign,” Jornacion added quickly.
“Why do you want to put a label on yourself?” asked the next person up.
“Let me emphasize. We are not dividing,” said Jornacion. “It is a misconception you have in your mind.”
“Then drop it.”
“What can you do that you cannot do with designation?”
“We can do more. As far as what we are contributing, we have close to 100 businesses.”
About half an hour into the meeting, Lloyd Monserratt, the chief of staff for Councilman Nick Pacheco, went up and tried to allay residents' fears and clear up misconceptions.
“The Filipino group has collected 5,000 signatures,” Monserratt began.
“They got them from Manila,” yelled a resident.
“Has the Philippine Village made contributions to Pacheco's campaign?” another roisterer shouted.
“Many people in this room have made contributions,” Monserratt said limply.
Finally, Monserratt challenged the neighborhood organizations like the Eagle Rock Association and the Chamber of Commerce to meet with the Filipino reps to see if a compromise could be reached by simply putting a sign up at the existing Philippine Village Center.
“This is a challenge for all of you. I know everyone here wants to get along,” he said, adding that Pacheco would make a decision by Christmas.
On that note, the Bible-loving middle-aged man stood up and faced the Philippine representatives.
“This will spill over. It is a racial issue. It will be our children fighting in the schools,” he warned. “There is a group of people unseen who will provide a wrath unseen before.”
“Yah,” mouthed another, “the gangs.”