Videos as art and on art–Ruscha at the Fab

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The Ed Ruscha video “Premium Saltines,” and the Bruce Nauman/ William Allan triplet of videos now at the Fabric Workshop and Museum are enough reason to visit there.

(One more video was really great, but there’s some labeling confusion and until I straighten it out tomorrow, I’ll hold off writing about it.)

At the movies with Ed Ruscha

Anyway, what sets this particular Ruscha video apart from art video in general is plot, conflict, dialog and character–oh, and by the way an incredible eye for color and texture. Just give me these ingredients and I’ll sit through all 22 or so minutes.

Its main character, played by artist Larry Bell, is a creepy control-freak manipulative artist who arranges fresh vegetables artistically on a seedy bed in a seedy hotel room (the bed of lettuce reminds me of the giant, catered platters that the Famous Deli used to make when it was owned by Dave Auspitz). He then lures/manipulates a woman to the room and to his veggies. I won’t tell you the rest.

But we get amazing shots as Bell shops for tomatoes in the supermarket, the beautiful colors of off-beat, painted walls, close-ups of the vegetables as they are being arranged, a retro limo gleaming and reflecting light at night, the texture of a blanket that looks like it’s imitation fur. The camera plays on Bell’s face. He looks like a psycho jerk in the movie–repelling and attractive all at once. And there’s the story to keep you entertained (top image is Bell, a moving white blur, shopping for tomatoes).

The Fab is showing this one in the Pardo Lounge on a monitor, which makes you feel like you’re watching an old movie on tv (you are). Perfect.

The other Ruscha video (also in the lounge) is of him making his food prints. You get to see him squeezing berries and silkscreening the juice. This is basically documentary and has a more limited interest (at least to me–although if you’re mad for the process and worshipful of art history, this might fascinate you).

Video philosophy

The Nauman/Allan videos also document an artistic process. But their intent is quite different. They raise philosophical questions about what makes a thing what it is, to ask whether an art object is the thing it represents. (In some sense the Nauman/Allan videos are closer to “Premium Saltines” than to Ruscha’s more documentary work. “Saltines” also raises questions about what art is.) I especially loved “Abstracting the Shoe” and “Legal Size.”

The hands in “Abstracting the Shoe” build an object out of some yucky material that they shape into a shoe (a real shoe sits right next to it on a little pedestal). The sculpted shoe is without function, without a hole for a foot. But it is identifiable as a shoe.

In “Legal Size,” hands create a legal-size envelope by taping together two shorter ones. The hands ultimately paint over the masking tape with white, to make the new envelope more closely resemble the white legal size envelope that served as a model. The new envelope does in fact work. It has a flap (with two points instead of the traditional one) and it has an interior space. This object is indeed the thing it represents–and yet not. Plus, it’s pretty funny and hokey (image above right is from “Legal Size”).

The videos are part of a group now up at the Fab that are from the Kramlich Collection, which includes early performance-related video in the 1960s to recent work. (This collection also was shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and at P.S. One in New York.)

The Fab’s exhibit, which is in two installments, includes work by Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, Henning Christiansen, Christof Karlhofer, Sigmar Polke, Larry Clark, Mariko Mori, Dara Birnbaum, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Dan Graham, and Alan Ruppersburg.

By the way, the Fab would like you to know that they have a Ruscha collaboration coming up in the fall.

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