LOS ANGELES — The self-titled exhibition and zine release Bitches Rule, Cycle 3 is nestled in the back of & Pens Press, an art bookstore in Culver City set to become a roving/pop-up shop and online gallery come June 2. The show marks the third effort of the “casual” collective of the same name, a group of by 14 queer artists in working in Los Angeles. The two- and three-dimensional works on display here — including photographs by Zackary Drucker and John Arsenault, collage works by artist unknown and Darin Klein, drawings by Jesse Bermea, and minimalistic, sardonically toned paintings by Brian Gainey — are pieced together through the common threads of bodies, queer histories, the memory of memory, and the LA landscape.
Lacking any video art works, however, this exhibition comes off stilted, and at times like a placid, surface-level look at queer culture — past and present — that’s oddly detached from real-time or possible global queer futurities, save for Juan Martin Del Campo’s “Mothership Connection,” a palm-tree-laden spaceship crafted from stained glass. What if LA is already a sort of futuristic queer outer space, and hence one doesn’t need to look any further? The majority of work in this show focuses on other, more visceral questions.
The tongue-in-cheek tone of this show refers to a certain sort of sweet yet smarmy, campy and sassy queen supreme that calls to mind the films of John Waters. Messing with high femme gender, this lady’s a queen with many identities, and she likes it when you look at her. Just look at Prvtdncr’s photo of twirly cursive lettering on an dirty white cement wall that simply spells out “I’ll give you anal” where one is expecting to see “you are beautiful” or some sort of recognizable public art project text. The subject “I” is asserting themselves in the first-person rather than asking anything of you, the viewer, as is considered in the second-person.
Staying with the theme of butt-not-navel-gazing, Bodega Vendetta’s piece “Laguna” (1984), what appears to be a coat rack covered in an array of dangly wood, iron, and mixed media objects, including anal beads, necklaces, ropes, and chains. This ornamental array suggests that the viewer pick their personal decoration, and then decide if it’s for the interior or exterior of the body.
Conversations move into images of the more complicated transfeminine body through the work of Zackary Drucker, whose aim is always to question the gaze, gender, and sexuality of bodies on display — namely, her own. In Drucker and Manuel Vason’s piece “Collaboration #3, Milan (Don’t look at me like that)” (2010), we see a femme-ed out, black high-heel-wearing, cigarette-holding lady, who’s staring back at the camera, posing with her legs open on a blue chair. Her genitals are pressed against the chair’s frame, and a cunt is painted on her inner thigh as if to say “make of my ‘privates’ what you will, I am here to be looked at.”
On another part of the gender identity spectrum, John Arsenault’s “Sparhkle Chic, Palm Springs” (2012) paints him as a cape-covered superhero on a street in the desert oasis that is Palm Springs; the sun shines down, his bulge is large, and there are always palm trees lining the horizon. Anything goes in LA, that place Drucker refers to as the “land of industrialized fantasy” in the Whitney Biennial wall text from her series Relationship (2008–13), which chronicles her transition from male-to-female and her partner Rhys Ernst’s from female-to-male.
Juan Martin Del Campo and Darin Klein’s respective layer-heavy works infuse a heart-heavy element with layers of handcrafted materiality, and do offer a point of entry and emotional accessibility that isn’t found in Arsenault and Druckers’ works. Del Campo’s stained glass “Clouds (for Dolly)” offers pieced-together half-circles upon which a single pair of lips appears, all inside a gaudy Rococo-style white mirror frame minus the mirror that protrudes toward the viewer like long, curved fake nails fresh from the salon, rather than a flattened out manicure.
Away from the salon and into the streets, Darin Klein’s “Medium-Sized Wall Installation” offers a collage of clippings from historic queer magazines, pink-washing all of the text and images. Here we see moments humorous from zines like teenfag, which asks questions like “are blow jobs safe?” to elegant, anonymous texts from a gay man recounting his lover whom he met in a bathhouse in Amsterdam but then somewhat lost touch with, only to receive a letter from him stained by water and covered in numbers right before he died of AIDS. These are layered across other varieties of short articles clipped from magazines, like one entitled “for you black woman,” a short comic about queer boys who love to ferment their own kombucha. Klein and Del Campo’s works offer access to a tangible emotionality and warmth that contrasts with the harder edge of this show that’s focused on self-proclaimed and culturally marked deviant bodies, unrequited longing, feelings of painful breakups, surreal LA futurist-fantasyscapes, and sex-laden subversive messaging.
Bitches Rule, Cycle 3 is on view at & Pens Press (8564 W Washington Blvd, Culver City) through June 1.