1969, organized by Vincent Ramos for The Friends of Distinction (Dan Graham), December 5, 2009
1969 was an evening of performances organized in conjunction with the more object-based exhibition, The Sharon Show (referring to the actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969). Curated by Vincent Ramos, these shows observed and responded to events that occurred in the pivotal year 1969, telescoping back in time to revisit key moments and themes, while also bringing historic ideas into play in the present day. Both shows took place at the new Dan Graham art space (temporarily renamed The Friends of Distinction for the purposes of this project) in Silver Lake, run by Cal Arts grad Aaron Wrinkle.
Like the turbulent and iconic year that it commemorated, 1969 seemed difficult to grasp at first. Performances occurred simultaneously and without announcement or fanfare throughout the course of the evening, seamlessly woven into the convivial fabric of the evening. The vibe was energetic, interactive and completely non-didactic at this opening-night party, which was filled with people who were already chummy with one another. However, thoughtful attention paid to the works and dialogues with the artists, who were all very friendly and happy to share, were heartily rewarded, and my level of engagement deepened the longer I was there.
Elana Mann chose to recreate Real Money Piece, a Lee Lozano performance from 1969. Real cash from a sale of Mann’s artwork, in a variety of bills, was placed in a jar and offered to guests “like candy,” along with coffee, diet pepsi, bourbon, half and half, and ice water (“grass” from Lozano’s original instructions was omitted). The piece, which acted as an explicit refusal of the art economy as well as an examination of social relations within an exhibition or studio context, was every bit as fresh 40 years after its initial iteration. A number of people came through and interacted with the artist, who like Lozano, documented each interaction on a large sheet of durable paper. Money flowed out of and back into the jar, and seemed to become something other than money, released as it was from its customarily cold, cut-and-dry exchange policies.
Out on the sidewalk, Audrey Chan paid tribute to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress who served for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. Using white rope, Chan wove the nostalgic words I VOTED FOR SHIRLEY into the security gate of the storefront space. In a brief chat with me, Chan commented on the importance of keeping these names in the public consciousness, when many people either don’t know or don’t remember who Chisholm was, believing that Obama rose up out of nowhere to become our first black president. Chan also sees the piece as a subtle admonishment of Obama, who has lately been backing down on so many issues that are important to his constituency.
Nearby, Jason Kunke manned a table where he was busy making primitive mimeographed prints on corrugated plastic sheets using mulberry paper and a small, hand-held ink roller. The prints featured striking phrases culled from a variety of popular sources—“you could strike sparks anywhere,” “our upbringing was death,” “another year with nothing to do,” “believe in miracles.” The mulberry paper was fragile and finicky to work with, but it yielded some beautiful shadows and textures on the plastic. After making several large printed sheets, Kunke cut them down to match the sizes of the artworks in The Sharon Show, and placed each piece in the gallery next to the artwork that it mimicked, essentially duplicating the show. I read this work as an homage to the vital role of handmade signs in sixties culture—both as protest and as celebration—with a simultaneous nod to the gestures of pop and minimal art.
Danielle Adair offered a wonderful reading of Walter Cronkite’s stunning 1968 television editorial on the Tet Offensive, which led to President Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election. Appearing to stutter and stumble, Adair inserted herself and our contemporary perspective into Kronkite’s words, with “New York” turning into “Los Angeles” and “intentions” turning into “loyalties,” among many other apparent technical glitches. History was effectively blended with the contemporary moment, as we listened to Kronkite’s impassioned words punctuated throughout by Adair’s notes and re-tunings.
There were two performances that I was not able to catch because I wasn’t at the right place at the right time. Emery Martin gave a computer-generated performance, a summary of which you can check out on his website. And noise musicians Women vs. Children attempted to perform inside the creepy underground walkway that crosses Glendale Boulevard, not far from the gallery, but I heard they were shut down by approaching police.
I left buzzing with the impression of a hive of activity that amounted to an inspired tribute to the game-changing events of a very significant year in American, and world, history. 1969 and The Sharon Show are timely efforts, as we all watch now with bated breath while the world teeters on the brink of sweeping change, threatening at every moment to relinquish that progress in favor of re-annointing the military-industrial-Wall Street-health insurance complex and re-affirming the status quo of big business as usual. We need now more than ever to be reminded of the vast promise awakened by the charged movements of the sixties, a time when real change was in the air and everything seemed newly possible.