Art

Celebrity Approved: Kalup Linzy in LA

A view of Kalup Linzy’s drawings on display at Ltd Los Angeles. (photo by the author) (click to enlarge)

Ltd Los Angeles is an inconspicuous gallery nestled into Sunset Blvd. a block from a great comic book store, two good restaurants, and an awesome dirty Mexican joint. The gallery has been open for a while, but with blacked out windows and a small logo, it is hard to spot. Their fourth and current show in the large and welcoming space features the work of Kalup Linzy in an exhibition titled Fantasies, Melodramas, and a Dream called Love. Unfortunately, Linzy’s show is disappointing. 

A view of the front area of the exhibition. (photo by the author) (click to enlarge)

It is worth noting that this show just further proves that some artists and galleries have turned to celebrities for their endorsement. So in true celebrity culture fashion, the Linzy show at Ltd LA has an essay from actor turned performance artist James Franco. Yes, the same Franco of Spiderman and Pineapple Express fame who we’ve recently seen ascend to the upper echelons of the art world. The same Franco who recently had a guest appearance on the daytime soap General Hospital. It was an appearance that forced him to weather a storm of criticism from the Hollywood community, which is unforgiving of those who take what appears to be a step back — a movie star on daytime TV, PSHAW! Franco explained the whole thing as an elaborate performance art piece inspired by Linzy and in conjunction with power gallerist turned museum director Jeffrey Deitch. But art world watchers know that this was only the latest Franco chapter in the pretty boy actor’s attempt to take the art world by storm … oh, and never mind whether he truly earned that show at PS1. Then again, celebrities don’t have to earn anything do they, they just are.

The Ltd LA website links to the essay by Franco, which reads like an undergraduate love letter from an adoring fan to an artist. After seeing Linzy speak he confesses:

I had an epiphany. I knew that he was going where I wanted to go.

He went further to explain, or maybe justify Linzy’s work in an incredibly long, convoluted, and run-on sentence:

I was immediately struck by the pared down, do-it-yourself aesthetic and the underplayed humor: the characters gave no hints that they knew what they were saying and doing was funny — all the scenes were played with earnest melodrama. They were performing in soap-opera inspired scenes but using profanity laced dialogue that cut to the essence of the melodrama.

The essay reminds me of something I might have written when I was younger about Nirvana. But this is all a digression. The important thing here is the art, right? We assume so.

The gallery is fairly underwhelmed with art. It is a large industrial storefront with no lights on. The largest wall has one of Linzy’s videos projected onto it and there are two cathode ray televisions in the front showing two other videos. The three videos: “Keys To Our Heart” (2008) on the big wall, “Melody Set Me Free (The Series Episode3)” (2007) Television #1, and “Lil’ Myron’s Trade” (2009) Television #2, are low-fi productions with Linzy voicing all the characters. Strictly speaking the videos are fine. They are not game changing insights into culture. Instead they are melodramatic sensationalizing pieces sure to appeal to some. The subject matter is at times petty, and the way the characters are handling the drama in their respective shallow lives is overly dramatic. This, we assume, is a meditation on soap operas which, ostensibly, are a meditation on our daily lives or the way we wish they might be, exciting. Only the problem with Linzy’s characters and situations is they are not exciting or fantastical and feel a little too detached from reality. So as a story teller he falls into some gray area that a sane TV or theatrical critic would describe as a failure. In addition to these shortcomings, as a video geek — which I am — you could find it distracting that the syncing of the characters in the videos is off and the mouths move a few frames after the voices. While this may be part of his point it didn’t fascinate me at all.

The themes in Linzy’s work are simple enough. He talks about homosexuality, transvestites, love, betrayal, embarrassment, and alienation. He tackles the theme of family and the importance of being yourself, regardless of whether you want to or not. There is also the obscene and what is and isn’t obscene or acceptable to say aloud in a quickly evolving open society. These are all important topics and while the videos, as mentioned earlier, are not particularly groundbreaking, they have found a certain art-world formula that makes them at once controversial and palatable. They pretend to be lowbrow and easy to latch onto because one can simply watch and comprehend, also pretend to relate and associate with a culture you will never really have to be a part of (yes, talking to all those white liberals out there). And if you are ever going to quote the great Huey Lewis from Huey Lewis and The News, now might be the time … “If everyone likes it, then you must be doing something wrong.”

THE ARTWORK YOU CAN BUY AND HANG IN YOUR TRENDY LOFT ON THE OFF CHANCE JAMES FRANCO MIGHT COME OVER FOR COCKTAILS AND SAY: OH, YOU OWN A LINZY

Even if the videos didn’t particularly impress me I thought Linzy’s gouache and collage works were awful. I can only assume the gallery wanted them there so that it could sell something that collectors were looking for, but the work is insulting to the viewer.

Kalup Linzy, “He Loves Me Not” (2010) (image via ltdlosangeles.com) (click to enlarge)

My first question: did Linzy make them? According to the gallerist: yes, Linzy is a real “DIY” person, and he created the work, which he then collaborated with the animators to bring to life. Some of the works are a few years old and some of the collages are more recent. Linzy is now doing larger collages on canvas, I was told, so we have that to look forward to, but the gallery informed me that his primary focus is video so there is less time to make these collages.

The renderings are childish and simple and without the narrative of the videos they are as interesting as the inside of an eighth grade student’s notebook. The fact that they are related to the most well-executed video makes it even more astounding.

This is not a critic discounting the art of Linzy. There is in fact a place for him in the world of art and the narrative he is trying to tell is an important one, as we have seen recently with the outbreak of gay teen suicide. And in great art it is fine to ignore the greater scope of the world and focus on your community, to be shallow and oversexed, but it is not okay to be without an evolving insight or intellectual curiosity, which I sense in Linzy’s work.

The artist isn’t as daring as he and James Franco would like us to believe. He isn’t breaking new ground and he isn’t pointing out anything that we don’t already know about the world. Is it fun to watch? Sure. Would I want to see it again? Probably not.

Kalup Linzy’s Fantasies, Melodramas, and a Dream called Love is at Ltd Los Angeles (7561 w. sunset blvd #103, Los Angeles) until this Saturday, October 23.

comments (0)