Art review: Judy Fiskin at Angles Gallery
In photographs and, more recently, films, Judy Fiskin has for more than 30 years looked into the deep, perhaps bottomless chasm between the art world and the rest of the world. Witty and poignant, her work succeeds in part because it never grants a privilege to one side over the other. She plainly lives in both, and the art world and the rest of the world are both revealed to be irrevocably nuts.
At Angles Gallery, "Guided Tour" is her latest film, an 11 1/2-minute journey through a pedestrian exhibition of America's painting and sculpture that is almost entirely installed on city streets, in shopping centers, at neighborhood crafts fairs, in souvenir shops, on commercial plazas — virtually anywhere that is not an art museum or commercial gallery. A few times the camera does slowly pan a typical "white cube" space, which signals that we are briefly inside a socially and culturally sanctioned art space.
But the inexplicable abstract art glimpsed in this unidentified museum (or gallery) primarily serves to make the other art outside the specialized precinct seem alien. Rarely does an ordinary bronze bust encountered on a city street appear to be equally as strange as a sculpture that consists of a row of giant concrete boxes, as happens here.
This is no small feat, since some of that art is signature work by celebrated artists — Donald Judd (the concrete boxes), Richard Serra, even George Rickey. Shot almost entirely in black and white, which adds the requisite veneer of seriousness to its unavoidably comic undercurrent, the film has an anthropological edge — coming of age in the exotic Samoa of daily life.
The soundtrack merges the earnest voices of two art museum docents leading a tour of unseen visitors — a role that a viewer of Fiskin's film subtly assumes. The choice of volunteer docents for the voice-over is inspired, since it neatly bridges the gap between art and life so famously identified by Robert Rauschenberg as a rich source of cultural meaning.
One docent discusses an unidentified Western artist — "a Communist and a patriot" — whose paintings, by and large, have been inexplicably passed over by history. The level of wonder in relation to the art you see on screen, whether conventionally good, bad or indifferent, steadily rises. "Guided Tour" leads you on a surprising journey into your own conflicted assumptions about substance and significance.
Also at the gallery is a large installation of 60 works from several series of Fiskin's intimately scaled black and white photographs, made between 1974 to the early 1990s. (Another installation of related works is in "Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years" at the Museum of Contemporary Art.) Military installations, desert vegetation, stucco houses, a Long Beach amusement park, "dingbat" apartment buildings — her roots in the often sober 1970s New Topographic movement give added insight into the cultural landscape her film explores.