Judy Fiskin at Angles Gallery
Judy Fiskin routinely traverses boundaries of class and culture, and not just the particulars of "high" and "low" cultural products but the discursive and infrastructural circled wagons of the contemporary art exhibition circuit that often is referred to as the "art world" – of which Fiskin, her gallery, and I are all part – and the many other art worlds and cultural spheres that people in my art world don't generally take seriously. For an artist of my world to delve into such other worlds, and for everyone involved, artist included, to feel comfortable about the endeavor, usually necessitates that the matter be handled with a certain amount of winking, snarking and posturing. But Fiskin's works never wink, never nod, never smirk. She handles her content coolly, evenly and probably even fairly – which is hard to measure because your own biases undoubtedly contaminate the assessment of fairness – and without the slightest hint of a tell. The way she deals with cultural data convinces me I'd never want to play poker with her. It's downright frustrating, and fascinating, which is why her current exhibition is well worth catching before it closes.
Shown in a black-box space, the centerpiece of the show, titled "Guided Tour," is a film by the same name. The 11 1/2-minute film is spliced together from footage chronicling art displayed in contexts ranging from museum grounds and interiors to community arts-and-crafts fairs, public and corporate plazas and retail shops. The clips proceed at a pace such that you're still trying to get a sense of the last space as you're looking at the next. The art varies from recognizable works by known names in my art world – Richard Serra, Donald Judd – to works by artists likely known in other worlds but generally alien in mine. The visuals roll to a sound track of the tape-recorded comments of two art-museum docents leading a tour of works that are unknown to us, and which is not the art we see projected before our eyes. Their comments, which range from assertions about genres and aesthetics to speculations on the dispositions of the artists, seem at times to begin to align by chance with the visuals, and at other times clearly diverge, resulting in a sense of randomness, and on-again-off-again connectedness, which parallels the relationship between art discourse and the work it actually is intended for.
Fiskin's smart film – which leaves you feeling gently teased, provoked and vulnerable about your own position and disposition as a participant in cultural production, consumption and discourse – is the punctuation to a miniretrospective of her photographs in the adjacent space. These equally dry black-and-white images of architecture, infrastructure and landscape tied to the Southern California desert, suburbia, military installations, carnivals, industry and shipping are printed at such minute scale and with such detail that they draw you in, almost as if you share Fiskin's position looking through the lens, and share in her vision. And she isn't winking, or blinking. She's invested in these images, and so are you.