LAXART Gala at the Greystone Mansion
What: LAXART Gala
Where: Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills
The surreal flavor of the evening begins with the shuttle ride from the Beverly Hills Public Library parking lot to the Greystone Mansion. In the same tongue-in-cheek deadpan as what you might find at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, an older female docent stands up at the front of the shuttle as a representative of The Historical Society of the Desert to pitch walking tours of the Doheny Estate aka Greystone Mansion. She does this with gusto. At the end of her speech she hands out booklets that have chapters with oblique references to the estate and the Doheny family. Artist Jason Metcalf is credited with reprinting this out of circulation pamphlet. Rousing cowboy music plays just a notch too loud over the shuttle’s speakers for the remainder of the ride.
Once at Greystone Mansion, I am greeted by a full size black Hummer SUV with a flat tire. The tire appears to be made of either 24 karat gold or brass. Perhaps Sculptor Ry Rocklen is making a reference to a “Cinderella,” maybe we are the VIPs, arriving at the gala just in time with curbside service. The golden flat tire also serves as a reminder that we are in Beverly Hills after all and our playground for the evening is for an exclusive audience.
At the mansion’s entrance, I hear the celebratory pop of a cork flying from a champagne bottle. A waiter in a white tuxedo climbs a ladder and pours the golden liquid onto the top of the Isaac Resnikoff sculpture consisting of a tall pyramid of champagne glasses installed tabletop and lit from below. Very little of the liquid spills and instead it flows down, glass to glass, row by row. Each tier of champagne glasses emits a particular shade of gold depending on its proximity to the light source. The process takes many bottles of champagne and quite a bit of time. The final sculpture is a lovely ombre pattern. (see video below)
To the left of the entrance is a long table tiled with mirrors, both on top and all around. I am invited to hit it with a ball-peen hammer. There is a plastic barrier that prevents the shards of glass from flying out. Each point of impact radiates a spider web of broken glass. Several people hesitate in participating, myself included. “We want you to get over your superstitious beliefs!” The attendant then leads me through an obstacle course designed to flaunt fate: three ladders to walk under, a paved path of cracks to step on, a large sack of salt to spill or throw over one’s shoulder. At the end of it, I receive a medal.
Once inside, I am approached by a masked man in eighteenth century garb. He asks me to dance with him. Taking my hand, he leads me to a dimmed hallway at the entrance to a ballroom. I am blindfolded and led inside. Our waltz is clumsy and I step on his feet quite a bit as I am swung around in one direction and then the other and as we move through the room. The Blindfolded Waltz by Liz Glynn lasts a long time and is fun. There is intimacy and trust involved. At a certain point, it feels like I have been swapped to another dance partner, however, once outside again when the blindfold is removed, I am with the same man I entered with. Later in the evening, I see my dance partner and ask how many people I danced with. He tells me ten.
Next I find myself in a large room with two men talking and walking around the perimeter. The performance piece sounds improvisatory. One man seems to pick up the thread of what the other is saying and half repeats it. It is hypnotic in its monotony. Dropping in on their stream-of-consciousness conversation, I hear them describe what I am wearing and talk about the people standing next to me. Later, they separate and each man performs repetitive movements that seem to riff off each other. The work is by Gerard and Kelly, who are two dancers, choreographers and writers. (see video below)
I make my way into the kitchen where I hear there are Sprinkles cupcakes. I am delighted to find many loaves of fresh baked bread. The top of the bread looks like a true-to-life casting of the artist Matt Merkel Hess’ face. I am invited to cut a large slice off a loaf and there is jam and butter to go with it next to a bread knife and cutting board. The bread is delicious, but the experience is slightly uncomfortable in a Donner Party way. Matt Merkel Hess is a sculptor and ceramicist.
In a nook outside the kitchen, the sounds of a vintage typewriter announces Tim Youd’s performance. He is typing up Upton Sinclair’s Oil, a book which references the Doheny family. Youd will fit the entire novel onto one sheet of paper.
Downstairs next to the bowling alley, Joel Kyack is giving out real jailhouse tattoos to anyone who would care to have a symbol of currency on their body. There is a crowd of people watching closely. The light from the lamp he is using, is the main light source in the room.
Outside, Brian Bress has installed a video projection inside a window. The room it opens from, the Murder Room, is the site of Ned Doheny’s murder in 1929. In the video, two figures representing murderer and victim, remove each other’s features in slow motion. They both have foam heads and are wearing padded outfits that give them a doughy ghostly look. The way the items on the face come off is reminiscent of Mr. Potato Head.
These were just a handful of about 30 performances / interventions / sculpture installations throughout the estate that night.
Video Credit: Christine Palma