Farm Arugula with Figs: Bay Area Bazaar, The RED and the GREEN, and Ripe Family Supper
At five o’clock in the afternoon I arrive at Matthew’s house in North Portland to find Kevin and Dodie. They’re about to leave the house. Kevin has to meet Karla (the rest of the cast has had only one dress rehearsal) and Dodie plans to walk over to Powell’s. It’s a clear afternoon with a quality light that I’ve come to identify as characteristic of Oregon. As part of the Bay Area Bazaar at the Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery, curated by Laurie Reid, at eight o’clock on Friday, September 2, 2005, Kevin or for those of you who are not his friend yet, Kevin Killian—debuted a play, The RED and the GREEN, co-written by Karla Milosevich. Killian asks poets and artists to perform in his plays. Killian initially began by asking artists to perform in his plays as a way to bridge the gap between the Bay Area art world and the writing scene. The performance effortlessly manifested what the exhibition tried to do less successfully.
The play was full of Killian’s trademark humour, a clash of intellectual life and tabloid gossip. A broken hearted Annie Liebovitz (played by Dodie Bellamy) resurrects Susan Sontag (played by Killian himself) on Madonna’s “twenty-eighth” birthday only to find out that Sontag, the first celebrity Kabalist, had simply been in Rio delivering a paper. We also find out, to our delight, that Sontag invented such phrases as “my bad” and “gaydar.” All of this happens while the Green Party, led by Ed Ruscha (played by Chris Johanson), plans to drive the Kabala Center out of London and regain the Green Party’s prominence among the rich and fabulous by promoting, as Ruscha says, “grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, sexual abstinence, non-violence, ecological wisdom, and five other key values.”
As I walk into the gallery, I notice that it’s hung chaotically. I spot Linea. She gestures to a free seat by some friends of hers. Immediately I’m thrown into the exciting and tenuous position of making new friends. The performance was by far the highlight of the exhibition, a delight for all who attended, and an inspired move on Reid’s part to include a play as a work in an exhibition at a commercial gallery.
But before I continue any further, let’s hazard a warning: this is not just a review of the exhibition, Bay Area Bazaar, it’s also about the way a dinner, a play, and the people manifest the concepts of said exhibition. The Bay Area Bazaar itself failed to cohere in a way that the events surrounding it did—even if those events were full of chaos and entropy. The Bay Area Bazaar was about friendship, or more so, about the way friendship networks artists in the Bay Area, and this was both the strength and weakness of the show. Reid attempts to curate an intangible thing—friendship—instead of curating an exhibition. But to re-phrase a Vancouver poet: friendship, like an emotion, has no referent.
Later, Kevin admitted his first thoughts on entering the gallery: “This is a mess!” Laurie’s—or _Reid’s_—talk clarified things somewhat. She described wanting to let an object “be more than it is, materially.” Her practice both as a curator and artist concerns material transcendence. I found the show overwhelming. But that’s the point, Reid would argue, and I respect her prerogative. It appears that works are hung in groups for associative reasons—an interesting idea, to be sure—but it doesn’t work. Motifs, shapes, colours, and emotions arrange the work instead of genre or artist. The show feels cluttered, like it’s trying to do too much. Reid tried to create a space wherein things exist in contrast or association. The problem is that Reid is trying to curate a group of friends rather than an exhibition. The result was a wildly successful weekend-long happening, an intensely emotional and intellectual exchange, but not a particularly interesting exhibition. As an experiment in the dynamics of friendship, the Bay Area Bazaar worked—particularly for its failures. And there was interesting work, to be sure, but the exhibition felt secondary.
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About the Author
Aaron Peck is the author of the novel The Bewilderments of Bernard Willis. His criticism has appeared in Canadian Art and Matador as well as various exhibition catalogues. He lives in Vancouver.