Book Club: Speedboat Makes Art Waves
through February 24
Durden and Ray, Los Angeles
By Genie Davis
It’s simply a terrific idea: shape an art exhibition around a book that’s art-inspiring. At Durden and Ray through February 24th, curator Steven Wolkoff presents his second book club project, this one inspired by Renata Adler’s Speedboat, an interior, elliptical 1976 novel that was groundbreaking in form, feminism, and boldness.
Likewise, Wolkoff has assembled a diverse and quite wonderful group of artists and other creative LA-based folks, including art works by toy maker Dave Bondi, visual artists Jennifer Celio, Dani Dodge, Tom Dunn, Kio Griffith, Jenny Hager, Ben Jackel, Laura Krifka, David Leapman, Liza Ryan, and architect Jayna Zweiman, creator of the Pussyhat Project and the Welcome Blanket. Also a part of the presentation: video footage by hair stylists Traci Sakosits and Matthew Kazarian projected on a wall. At the opening, composer Michael Webster provided the evening’s score while Ania Catherine choreographed the flowing yet robotic moves of white-clad dancers, who spent the evening rotating throughout the gallery and in and out of cardboard boxes filled with pink Styrofoam.
Like the book, which was reviewed in the Chicago Tribune as a “talisman, a weapon, a touchstone…it will literally knock your socks off,” the exhibition is audacious and entertaining. It is also an entirely successful merging of visual art and literature. It’s fascinating to see what artists create from the themes of, and their reaction to, the book, and to absorb the idea that in the greater zeitgeist words can shape images and images can create a forceful dialogue.
The show offers a wide range of diverse works. Tom Dunn’s Untitled (Speedboat) is a beautiful, large-scale oil on canvas work that is painted to evoke the style of the book’s 70s era. Kio Griffith creates references to the book’s surging, life-force vibe with his video installation, Life in the Fast Lane. Jenny Hager’s acrylic on shaped, unstretched canvas, Girls, Horses, and Camp directly references a passage in the book about coming of age at a girl’s school. The shape of Hager’s swirling abstract piece refers to a school uniform badge, its pink palette an homage to girlhood. Dani Dodge references the book directly as well with Are you shaky on ladders?. Using reclaimed wood, blueprints, and pencil, she has also drawn images from the book in nail polish, another tribute to the book’s highly-charged, deeply female narrator; her images of a high-heeled shoe, a hand grenade, and text that reads “you are nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing” seethes with quiet rage. Jennifer Celio also refers to the feminine in potent terms with The simple operations of life. Here, she uses acrylic, watercolor, and spray paint to create pink clouds or flames rising in floral shapes through the frame work of broken pillars; an illuminating light bar rims the bottom, graffiti and street poster images frame one side of the central image, cut paper representing wire fencing criss-crosses a grey earth and grey sky on the other side. Celio’s work is layered both visually and emotionally, leaving the viewer to parse its meaning and metaphor. Dave Bondi made a resin and foam Street Art sculpture that not so much references the book as physically builds from its pages. Ben Jackel’s 707 is a delicate stoneware, brass, and copper mobile sculpture, which refers to an extended sequence in the book in which the protagonist is air born. Curator Wolkoff’s own I’m Sorry to Have to Interrupt uses his signature thick acrylic on canvas as sculptural material, in a diptych. One canvas features the dimensional paint-written words “that’s enough, that’s enough,” while the other is a thick intertwining of paint-words, from which at first glance the word “Love” stands out. The textures almost ache to be touched. Also highly textural is Jayna Zweiman’s Go Around, a wall sculpture of foam, fabric, and rope that trails on the floor like giant rat tails.
The concept of the show is strong enough to pull the wide range of works in it together into a cohesive whole; and each of the artists’ works here are as thoughtful, poetic, and blissfully random as passages from the book. Like perfectly parsed words, and the roiling shifts of memory, this is an exhibition to savor and mull.