“I want each painting to be something that really unravels over time...From the moment I started painting it was always about kind of obfuscating something obvious...Because the way I’m constructing the painting is using these fragments of something that is verging on descriptive and then interrupting it...That battle is always going to happen in every single piece because there is this set-up which is the beginning of something that is familiar and then the destruction of that...”
I’ve decided not to renew my membership at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I’d gone two straight years without setting foot in the place, but I always figured I’d be back, if only to see Michael McMillen’s extraordinary installation “The Central Meridian” (AKA “The Garage”), which is for me the highlight of LACMA’s collection.
A few months back I finally got around to a return visit, which was my first glimpse of the “Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA”. (If you’re a billionaire donor it’s no longer enough to have your name on a wing or a building; now you have to have a museum within a museum.) First off, the Renzo Piano building is dreary, the latest dreary addition to LACMA’s incoherent jumble of structures, of which Oklahoma eccentric Bruce Goff’s Pavilion for Japanese Art is the only standout. Second, Broad’s collection is shit. He’s a savvy businessman, obviously buys whatever his advisers tell him will appreciate in dollar value, and no doubt it has. But if a room full of Jeff Koons’ chrome bunnies is the highlight of your collection, you are no collector. You are an investor. Finally, and most infuriating, “The Central Meridian” has been shunted off to the sunless oblivion of whatever Charles Foster Kane warehouse imprisons the parts of LACMA’s collection that aren’t on display, the least distinguished of which has got to be better than the best of Broad’s collection. It’s not worth it. So long, LACMA.
I hadn’t yet written off LACMA when I went on last year’s Culver City Art Walk, centered on La Cienega Boulevard, which now has the largest concentration of art galleries in LA. But I wasn’t expecting much from the galleries. It seemed the art world (inseparable from the art market) welcomed only cynics and charlatans like Koons and Damien Hirst. I was still asking myself, as I have been for a few years, “Where have all the painters gone?”
I found my answer at the Honor Fraser Gallery.
At first I thought I was being introduced to the work of some undeservedly obscure abstractionist, probably not a day under seventy. Turned out these gorgeous paintings were the work of Annie Lapin, who was born in 1979. Hallelujah. There may be a future after all.
The first painting that drew me in appeared to be pure abstraction, a dynamic composition in a radiant polychrome palette that reminded me of Howard Hodgkin. Others, I realized, had elements that bordered on figurative, a suggestion of landscapes: muddy rivers, dark forests, shimmering lakes. Still others had unmistakable human forms, structures. The progress from figuration to abstraction is long since a historical fact, an evolutionary path that welcomes returning travelers, and the dynamic element in Lapin’s paintings lies not just in the individual canvas but in the constant tracing and retracing of that path, from painting to painting.
“In art there is no progress,” wrote the late Robert Hughes, “only fluctuations of intensity.” A video of Lapin shows her walking through the industrial landscapes of Los Angeles, among relics of the era of beautiful infrastructure. (Of infrastructure, period.) She has her camera in hand, but the photography may be an excuse for the walk. Writers walk, not necessarily to explore or discover, but just to walk. ("How many shoe soles, how many oxhide soles, how many pairs of sandals did Alighieri wear out during the course of his poetic work?" asked Osip Mandelstam in his “Conversation About Dante”.) Annie Lapin travels a path carved out year back, but every paved road is an invitation to speed, exhilaration, a chance for thoughts to drift, while the compass can be safely ignored.
The metaphors of motion through space apply both to Lapin’s relation to her forebears and to the paintings themselves, most of which step back from the radical, severe two-dimensionality of abstraction, particularly abstract expressionism, and embrace perspective. You look at a canvas that stands outside the limits of representation, and at the same time you are drawn into it as into a landscape. This, along with her gorgeously vivid color palette, give the viewer an intensely sensuous experience, a reminder that art is about pleasure, which too many contemporary artists seem to think is either an unserious pursuit or more than the viewer deserves.
If Annie Lapin is engaged in some sort of rearguard action, be assured that the cause is entirely heroic. Her work is not reactionary but a rebuke to decay, and entirely original. This isn’t “progress” (Hughes is right; there is no such thing in art) but rather a furious surge in intensity that could brighten the entire streetscape of the contemporary art world if its landlords had the sense to plug into it.