Katy Grannan followed Dorothea Lange’s path along Route 99, and Grannan’s photos, both black and white and color, are monumental, timeless and sleazy. Hers is an in-your-face nation of bathers and motel signs, the squinty and grand despair of humans looking into the sun. Katy Grannan’s content feels almost too large for the photos. It is like the sound was turned off and the resulting silence that you can’t pull away from is agonizingly private and political.
One of Stephen Shore’s portraits of the Lower East Side shows a 7UP can matter-of-factly jammed into the round hole of a chair’s Formica holder. This detail seems strangely amiss-like that can’t be all that works? Roe Ethridge’s family is from Belle Glade, Florida. One photo shows an enormous car going down (I guess) into the dirty water. There was a sullen obscenity to the disaster like a dead shark. Everywhere – around the sad boats and the sorrowful sunsets- you smelled the stink of economic disaster.
In another show at Wattis, “Painting Between the Lines,” artists were given passages from a work of literature that contained a description of a painting. The artist was then to create it. Marcel Dzama got a snippet from Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. In the novel, a runaway boy breaks into a house on the beach where in the library he sees a painting of another boy. What Dzama kicked out in response is an early 20th century collage style account of family hullaballoo, guns and naked women. The boy, he conjectured, was killed in a political protest. It’s a bumpy Dargerish piece, full of pathos and raucous organ music.
One friend groaned when I informed her that I’d be seeing the big Francesca Woodman show at SFMOMA. Few deny the expansive allure of Francesca Woodman’s work, but the cult of the female artist, handed repeatedly to generation after generation of female art students at the outsets of their careers, is of course totally such a sorrowful legacy. Because she’s not Arthur Rimbaud, or even Doris Wishman, who herself made such terrific early films and then hauled off to work in a video store in Florida for the rest of her life. No. Francesca has just this one story, and yet there is so much of it. In one photo there’s a row of naked young women wearing Francesca masks. I couldn’t help thinking of David Wojnarowicz’s Arthur Rimbaud in the piers and wondered if he saw Woodman’s photograph too. It’s such an Italian idea, kind of Venetian. I remain a giant fan and am thrilled to look at more of what there is. Francesca Woodman’s genius holds every inch of its space and more.
I mean, really, is there anything to not feel sad about in art today? If it’s not portraiture of economic squalor, which is just the confirmation of our government’s badly orchestrated callousness handed around like a great idea, it’s Francesca’s delicate framing. “Yet another day alone/I wake up in these white chairs,” she wrote in ink under exactly that, and the quiet of her radiant melancholy youth holds everything for a spot. In another photo, she stands-it’s kind of intense to be looking at an art in which there is no need, no possibility of separating the artist from the work. It’s all myth, all creation here. Her presence is utter, all utterance, I guess-barefoot on a mirror, hands on her thighs, and behind her a cat is passing. She writes, “they say that mirrors are just water specified.” Which wriggled with me as a thought through the rest of the exhibitions, and there is a lot in SFMOMA. What a huge museum.
Since I wrote an essay for “The Air We Breathe,” the show that has camped itself right next to the gay marriage question, I don’t think I can say a thing about that bold and quirky show. There was a reading in the evening by Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy, George Albon and myself. This was late afternoon and I was still a little jet-lagged so I joined Sharon Lockhart’s Lunch Break. This very slow video, a panoramic workplace full of red wires and ladders and men descending and grinning and leaving as the camera plunges deeper and deeper into a corridor of dailiness, the sounds of clanging hammers and talk, and distant shouts and the fact that this was being screened within a deep and carpeted art garage, meant that I could actually lie down and take a nap in it and I did.
In the evening Simon Fujiwara’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf performance piece was a slow spasmodic surge of male erotic intent with a high-seriousness slapstick to it that unfolded like a surprise opera in a thrift shop. The stage actually turned. We went from a bedroom to a Franco-era Spanish bar to a wedding in a shifting liminal space. We learned a little Lacan in order to get why this young boy, a local actor, had been conscripted into this show to self-consciously slap palms with Simon Fujiwara, to iron his own bright orange and red designer sheets and have a sexual awakening in front of the painting that inspired IKEA to make these sheets. There was a Christmas morning awkwardness to Simon Fujiwara’s undertaking. Which I liked quite a lot-though Simon was coy as hell in his explanation about what was about to happen and what did happen, and what it meant. He was a witty host and docent throughout, and we all were ringing in the aftermath, and still lightly jangling now in our strange political moment of foment and repression and bright mash-ups, this day at a time in which we are all, in the main, the lucky ones, surviving.
Top: Francesca Woodman: Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silver print, 5 1/4 by 5 5/16 inches. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.
Bottom: Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break (Assembly Hall, Bath Iron Works, November 5, 2007, Bath, Maine), 2008, 35mm film transferred to HD, 80 minutes. Courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.