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In its latest incarnation as both store and gallery, South Williard—an epicenter of Gen X heterosexual male style—mounted an exhibition of Billy Al Bengston’s recto/ verso hanging paintings and pigmented ceramic ashtrays, titled A Tribute to Craig Kauffman. The materials employed by the artist (handmade paper, paint, tape, ceramic and glaze) rhyme with the artisanal, American made constructions of brands like Gitman Vintage and the exactingly sourced Japanese pants, Tuki, both available at the outlet.
Even with the specious crossover between gallery and store, the site is a curious context for art. The space cultivates a kind of relaxed calm. Marcel Duchamp, in a mid-60s interview, referred to art as a habit-forming drug. Although a humorous critique, Duchamp’s mid-century idea jives with contemporary notions of art as a social network preoccupied above all else with itself. To pursue Duchamp’s assessment, the Bengston exhibition of inward looking crafts is something like a Vicodin: it is soothing and also makes me want to vomit. Perhaps it is the powerful mise-en-scène that produces this twofold effect. South Willard, as a purported broker of “good” taste, proves that much of my own generation’s apolitical comfort is derived from turning to modes of nostalgia and the obscure. Turn on the radio. Look outside. Advanced culture is more than farm-to-table cuisine and civic taste.
A Tribute to Craig Kaufmann runs from May 24–June 25, 2015 at South Willard (8038 West Third St., Los Angeles CA 90048).