"Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections," Oct. 7, 2001-Jan. 6, 2002, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Ca. 90036.
I told David Salle that I was looking forward to seeing him and Eric Fischl and Jeff Koons together on a panel at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that weekend. In New York we would probably never see that particular threesome together on stage, I thought. To that David responded, "If we did it in New York, who would show up?"
On the weekend of Oct. 4 we take a car away from our place in burnt-smelling downtown Manhattan. On the way to the airport we pick up Eric and the artist April Gornik, his wife. It felt lucky to be with them for our flight to L.A., because we had been Manhattan refugees together out in Sag Harbor during the week of September.
Eli Broad, the king of the contemporary art collectors, lives in L.A. He wanted to make sure that some of the living American artists in his collection were smartly cared for, housed and delivered, thus ensuring they would actually show up for his big party celebrating the installation of some of his artworks at the Los Angeles County Museum.
That is why Jeff Koons, his girlfriend Justine and their baby, Sean, plus David Salle, Eric Fischl, April Gornik, Hans Haacke and his wife, Linda, Dorothy Lichtenstein and her son, Mitchell, Cindy Sherman and I are boarding a Gulfstream jet at La Guardia. We leave from a terminal the size of a Starbucks, that contains the only bust of Fiorello La Guardia I've seen at the airport named for him. We board the little jet with scattered leather lounge seats and birds-eye maple trimmings. Nice. Clean. I feel like Robin Leach. We can even see the pilots driving the damn jet. The bathroom is so cool and minimal I can't figure out where the toilet is.
Everyone knows each other from the 1980s but we're all like in the cozy fuselage so after awkward weirdness, everyone starts reading the vast piles of magazines, books and newspapers that are on board. This goes on until we get to the Grand Canyon, the sight of which brings us together. Odd. It reminds us of our own New York disaster canyon and we all cry, sort of.
The other icebreaker is the New York Times article about the born-again Christian artist Thomas Kinkade, who is such a success that there's even a suburban tract based on his sentimental pictures. Kinkade attended the Pasadena Art Center, where artists like Mike Kelley now teach. Irony comes in many forms, but Kinkade is a master [con] artist. Every "born again" person I ever knew used to be a drug addict.
The baby Sean is pretty cool. Jeff and Justine are very focused on baby care. After six hours, we land in Van Nuys, and I am thankful that Julian Schnabel didn't come, because its a full house-jet and a few years back he said my cable TV program was stupid and we had yelled at each other.
On the freeway to our hotel we look for American flags on the cars and are relieved when we see some. We also notice that their flags have plastic brackets that don't screw up your car The same group of artists also camp in the same hotel. The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills is posh, tacky, takes a wad for tips, and we only have an hour and a half to get ready for the museum's black-tie reception followed by a sit-down dinner. I don't have a tuxedo, but I have new blue loafers.
We are still late for the opening because we didn't read all of the itinerary packet, which would have told us that there would be a car waiting to take us so we drove a rental Honda. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a tallish bunch of buildings that form canyon walls around the monumental entrance of granite and fountains. There are lots of tuxedos and gowns and waiters with champagne and caviar and a bar with every kind of booze. This is a good party but they take it away from you if you want to go in the galleries to get a look at the art.
The exhibition spans from Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons, and starts in the main gallery with Koons' 10-foot-high metallic blue stainless steel Dog Balloon. I have a picture of it with a security guard yelling at me to turn off my camera. What is with museums and cameras?
Eye-popping perspective on the benefactors, Eli and Edye Broad. The wealthiest people in L.A., the largest contributors to the Democratic Party thereabouts, and from what I gather the grandest collectors of postmodern art by living (for the most part) major artists in America. Eli founded L.A.'s MOCA, bulked up UCLA's art department and created two separate nonprofit foundations for the purpose of lending art to museums and colleges that couldn't otherwise afford to show it. They own 1,000 major artworks from the 1960s until now. The Broad Foundation building in Santa Monica is Dia Art Center-like in size and scope and open to art professionals and students. The Broads have the means to support cultural expression even when it might conflict their imagination, and they have done it while maintaining a low profile. And they have been married since 1954. Whoa.
Once we pass the Balloon Dog, the gallery goes to Warhol. I don't know what it is about Andy Warhol's work, even his classic Two Marilyns or Dollar Bills or Elvises, they work as well as wallpaper for jaded types like me. I find looking at the fancy people more riveting. The women look shiny and slinky, and the men wear tuxedos, except for the artists.
You really can't get artists to wear tuxedos unless they're getting married or paid. I see Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a tuxedo and looking at the Warhols. Now that's impressive.
The next galleries contains gobs of the '60s masters -- when dinosaurs ruled. Jasper Johns has a gallery with a 30-year range of work that includes his famous Flag paintings. If there is an American Mona Lisa, that has to be it (especially now). Rauschenberg also has his own gallery with the benchmark red painting. Roy Lichtenstein has a gallery that includes Live Ammo and I... I'm Sorry.
Ed Ruscha's classic '60s-'70s landscapes make me think of the Doors. He is underrated in New York. The pop classics remind me of those days gone by when I was young and stoned. I see Diane Keaton, too. She might have Ed stories from those days gone by. The Broads did not start buying art until the '70s, so they had to double back to get the '60s work. That must have cost.
There is a batch of works by some of the big '80s artists that's sort of connected by John Baldessari's photo-paintings like a bridge from the '60s. And there he is, super tall with silver hair and beard like a ghost and I don't know why but he makes me think of the wise old ape in the original Planet of the Apes. No offense, John. His friends call him Baldo. I don't know if he likes that, but most artists know that he is so key.
Deeper into darker LACMA we encounter the "hit" artworks of the '80s. The German Neo-Expressionists Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz and Georg Immendorff. The Euros' paintings are much more serious than the Americans, even when they try to be funny, as in Immendorff's tribute painting to the art stars of the early '80s (Eric, David and Julian included). Keifer was scarier then, huge wheatie landscapes or symmetrical interiors with the Nazi thing lurking within, only we Americans just thought "epic" while the Euros were having fits over his work. None of the Euro artists were there in person. There is only one big-plate laden painting by Julian Schnabel, and not bad looking at that. He only gets one wall. Its not enough for him to show up, though. The zeitgeist was ponderous, to say the least.
There are two David Salle paintings with the classic porno girls with furnishings and such. The Broads have a dozen or so. David said there were supposed to be three, but before the show he suggested to the museum curators that they show one he thought was better than the one they picked so they should use that instead. And then there were two. Oops.
Eric Fischl has two paintings in the show. I remember his famous nude girl looking at her privates with a mirror. I have a feeling its more of a guy painting. He was new school in the '80s. Now art students think he's old school, but when I see John Currin or Lisa Yuskavage paintings I am reminded of Eric, among other things. I think that all painters end up being old school just by painting. In person Eric is like a big handsome somebody type who is hilarious. We had a big laugh over the tragic life of Gregory Hemingway, as described in the Times obit that day. That sounds cruel but you had to read it. Eric lives a comfortable life, hangs out with other cultural heavies and works in two big studios, so we don't have to worry about him.
Hans Haacke has his own gallery room, too, for his fab Reagan portrait installation. Hans is pre-'80s and in a league of his own. His work has upset legions with his caustic political nukes. Eli Broad has a sense of humor.
The Jurassic period of the '80s pretty much ends with Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons as far as this show is concerned. And the show itself as their galleries are last in the sight line. Not least. Broad has collected Koons and Sherman from the early days and it is retrospective in scope. Cindy thinks there are too many of her works in one room. I don't. I think its cool. It's overall a cool show if you go for a survey of a collection of art from a guy who's got too much money but spreads it around.
It's too bad the show does not come to New York. It appears at the Corcoran Gallery in D.C. and to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Then Europe. Go figure. It would do nicely in the Brooklyn Museum.
We are summoned to dinner for like a couple of hundred people. I get to sit with Cindy, which never seems to happen in New York. In New York you are lucky if you can even see your date at a dinner with seating tags. We sit at table seven with Joanna, who is curator at the Broad Foundation, and Charlie Ray, who isn't there, and some rich people. The Broads are at table one with Arnold and Maria and Jeff and Justine and the mayor of L.A. and his wife. Power and fame blur political boundaries at these things. Some dealer and artist friends are seated at table 34. If you have an ego these dinners can provide opportunities for self loathing. It's healthier just to loathe someone else, which is common in the arts.
After dinner I hear a guy loudly telling some other guys that "Maria [Shriver] was checking me out!" Right.
We are giving Hans and Linda a ride back to the hotel. The hotel is only ten minutes away but I have driven for 20 so we've gotten a little lost. Hans starts looking rather wide-eyed but then we find our way. Everyone is in a good mood because we are at the Four Seasons safely, so we go to the bar.
The bar is crowded with guys sitting at tables watching everyone that comes down the pike. Apparently late at night this part of the bar is like the runway at Hooters. We see Eric and David so we sit down with them but I think they were having more fun before we got there. They report that they've seen Pamela Anderson and Dennis Rodman and many strumpets. I'd like to see Pamela Anderson but I acted like I didn't. We all had a drink and then went to bed.
If Matisse said art should be like a comfortable chair for a tired businessman then I'm glad to know artists that like comfortable chairs.
PAUL HASEGAWA-OVERACKER is the producer of Art TV Gallery Beat.