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Art review: 'Ryan Trecartin: Any Ever' at MOCA Pacific Design Center

August 15, 2010 |  4:30 pm
Trecartin_1a 
Ryan Trecartin's "Any Ever" is an exhausting -- and exhilarating -- four-hour mash-up of video and installation art sprawling across two floors of the Museum of Contemporary Art's space at West Hollywood's Pacific Design Center. A glorious mess, it's the over-caffeinated grandchild of Jack Smith's "Flaming Creatures" and Andy Warhol's "Chelsea Girls," produced, directed and presented for a digital age of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder by an artist who, while still in his 20s, is turning out to be a kind of  Ritalin Rembrandt.

Trecartin's first gallery solo, held in Culver City 4½ years ago, likewise merged anarchic energy with a thrift-store aesthetic. As I noted at the time, with parentage that includes the work of Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades, the Texas-born artist's installation seems right at home in L.A.

"Any Ever," organized by the Power Plant in Toronto, dispenses with the sculptural objects that were a weaker link in the gallery show. It is composed of seven movies made over the last three years and shown in stage sets by the peripatetic artist, who only graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004 and, since then, has worked in New Orleans, Los Angeles and Miami. (He is reportedly relocating back to L.A.) Its title suggests the work's radical, omnidirectional focus: "Any Ever" celebrates an indiscriminate inclusiveness ("any") happening at all times ("ever").

Downstairs, three movies are projected (in no discernible sequence) in a room tricked out with assorted park benches for lounging, plus idle space heaters, a few broken ceiling fans and suitcases lined up against the walls. The recreational space feels like a temporary public hangout.

Trecartin_3 Upstairs, the mood shifts. It's introduced by a pristine white pair of side-by-side dressing tables at the top of the staircase.

They evoke memories of Richard Artschwager's classic 1964 sculpture "Mirror/Mirror, Table/Table," which is just what the title says. The Artschwager, made from laminated Formica, is at once a group of actual, recognizable pieces of furniture and, thanks to the stamped-plastic material, a synthetic "picture" of those objects -- all artificial surface in a form unique to contemporary life. Trecartin's painted thrift-store version seems that way too, albeit with a twist: His mirrors and tables are like ghosts from a universally shared past.

Functionally, a dressing table is a place where makeup is applied, hair is styled and a private self puts on the playful masquerade of a public face. When rendered as sculpture, you are invited to look but not touch. The fact that there are two of them doubles up the already mirrored effect. (Lots of mirrors are scattered throughout Trecartin's installation.) In the land of  "Any Ever," personal identity is not singular and separate but multiple, malleable and shared.

Collaboration barely begins to infer the nature of the work's torrential flow of visual and aural information, assembled by a cast of, if not thousands, certainly scores of actors, musicians, artists, makeup mavens, costumers and cross-disciplinarians, who work with the artist. (Lizzie Fitch is the primary collaborator.) The movies range in length from 12 minutes to just under an hour and don't need to be seen sequentially or even from start to finish. You can dip in, duck out and come back later if something (or someone) else catches your fancy.

Trecartin_4 If the downstairs space feels like a temporary public hangout, the four upstairs rooms go domestic. A nominal living room is outfitted with sofas. A dining room features a big table surrounded by lots of chairs. A communal bedroom includes several beds and piles of pillows. All of them emphasize the sociability that is also inherent in collaboration. It is where we live now.

The fourth room has bleachers placed in the center. After all, you are both participant and spectator who has come here to watch the play unfold. But, pointedly, bleachers are a form of seating for a crowd.

The walls of this room are also lined with airline seats. Like the suitcases lining walls in the "public park" downstairs, they underscore the reality of contemporary life's unprecedented temporal mobility. Fasten your seat belts: that fluid sense of motion is not just physical but social too.

The specific narratives Trecartin and company enact in these seven movies are obscure, thanks to their layering of images, insertion of "pop up" boxes and windows, framing with icons from a computer laptop, electronically altered voices and other techniques familiar from the world of do-it-yourself video engineering. A gallery handout provides some specific guidance, including tales of work, play, raised hopes, lowered expectations and post-Sister Sledge "family," circa Trecartin's 1981 birth. But the imaginative mobility is easy to see in the shifting fictive images on-screen.

Trecartin_3 "Any Ever" is composed according to Facebook-style social networking and Twitter streams. Its merger of visual, aural and narrative information is less an indiscriminate (and overwhelming) flow of data washing over a bedraggled viewer than a playful scenario mixed by a trusted family of friends, loosely connected strangers and sheer serendipity. Unlike most video installations in art museums, it's surprisingly easy to watch. Sprawl on a bed or sofa with headphones on.

With this installation Trecartin is pushing queer aesthetics to a new level of intensity. Queer is the opposite of normal, not straight (gay is the opposite of straight); and, in case you haven't noticed, normalcy has little to recommend it these days.

Think of him as a dandified, 21st century transformation of a 19th century Parisian or 20th century L.A. flâneur -- Édouard Manet with an iPad instead of an easel, or Ed Ruscha with a cursor-joystick instead of a car. Trecartin is floating on the surging crests of the digital boulevards, and his sole intention seems to be enjoying the dynamic complications of hitherto unprecedented experience. Going along for the ride is a pleasure.

-- Christopher Knight

Follow me @twitter.com/KnightLAT

Ryan Trecartin: Any Ever, MOCA Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (213) 626-6222, through Oct. 17. Closed Monday. Admission: Free. www.moca.org

Photos: Ryan Trecartin, "Any Ever," 2007-2010; Credit: MOCA

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