The Mountain Bar at Tif Sigfrids, with a performance by Gracie DeVito and company, August 7, 2014
Tif Sigrids, longtime fixture on the early Chinatown scene before she set up her current digs in Hollywood, is paying tribute to her (and our) past with a temporary installation of the Mountain Bar at her gallery. Founded by Jorge Pardo and Steve Hanson in 2003, the Mountain Bar was for many years a gathering spot for the then-hot Chinatown art scene. In 2009, Pardo created the upstairs bar that would become home to The Mountain School of Arts (a free school initiated by Eric Wesley and Piero Golia) as well as various presentations, talks, performances and film screenings. In 2012, the bar closed, and Pardo’s designs have been in storage ever since.
Now, Sigfrids has taken an actual section of the original upstairs bar and installed it on one side of her gallery, where she and various volunteers serve free beer and wine to guests. The beautiful, cinematic design of the bar is served really well by the small, clean space of the gallery, where both its aesthetic qualities and its cultural significance seem to resonate with an extra glow, bathing the entire space in its warm, charismatic light. Perhaps nostalgia and history have something to do with that.
Since July 24, Sigfrids has been hosting a series of events reminiscent of those that used to occur at the old Mountain Bar. For example, there was a screening of Eyes Without a Face hosted by Joe Sola and Jan Tumlir. And last night, a giddy crowd gathered for the latest slapstick performance creation by Gracie DeVito, who was helped in her endeavor by a long list of collaborators that included family members, local artists, and Sigfrids herself.
As I’ve written here before, DeVito’s performances are satirical yet pathos-laden sketches that use obvious tropes from the art world, pop culture, and Hollywood as generative motifs. Last night’s untitled piece made exquisite use of the Mountain Bar installation and all the cultural baggage that comes with it.
It began with a scene of drunken revelers sitting at the bar, effectively played by a group of actors that included DeVito’s mom, Rhea Perlman. Into this bawdy cabaret ambiance, which evoked a Belle Époque scene out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting, walks DeVito, outfitted in some kind of stunt vest and playing a dictatorial sheriff type. She swats the drunks out of her way and proceeds to harass a lone artist type sitting at the bar, yelling at him along the lines of, “What do you think you’re doing?!?! This is a BAR!!!!!” To which he’d yell back, “This is not a bar!!!” This went on for a minute or two, until the man finally said, “Look, this is not a bar. This is a gallery. See? We’ve got painting. And sculpture. And performance art.”
Over on the other side of the gallery, someone dutifully hung a painting on the wall, propped up a sculpture in front of it, and then grabbed some 10-year-old kid and hung her on the wall, à la Marina Abramović’s Luminosity. Then someone else scooped some Häagen-Dazs ice cream into a huge waffle cone and gave it to the kid, completing the work.
The fight between DeVito and the artist escalated into an all-out bar brawl, with the two struggling and exchanging blows. They end up behind the bar, where Perlman also gets into the act. DeVito keeps shouting at her to knock the guy out with one of the breakaway bottles that are lined up on the shelves, and Perlman tries to comply, but in a classic Marx Brothers routine, she keeps missing and ends up bashing DeVito on the head three times.
Getting the better of her, the artist slaps DeVito onto the top of the bar and prepares her for a rebirth. Sigfrids, dressed all in white, is enlisted to be the birth canal. She forms an opening at the end of the bar with her arm and the artist shoots DeVito through it. The finale is Sigfrids saying, “Actually Gracie, this is not a gallery. It’s a Hollywood set. But we are all here for you.”
The Mountain Bar at Tif Sigfrids has its closing event, a Variety Show hosted by Denver Smith, this Saturday at 4pm. If you haven’t been to the bar yet, don’t miss it!