Lorna Simpson: Momentum @ Frieze Los Angeles, Paramount Backlot P10

Of all the work I saw at the Frieze Fair LA, the video billboard by Lorna Simpson was by far my favorite. The piece features en pointe ballet dancers of color, sporting afros and golden uniforms, looking slightly bored and more than qualified, on what might be audition or practice floor of a traditional dance space. They chat with each other a little, and facing front, while intermittently, performing a perfect twirl. It made me think, immediately, about how much we lose of ourselves when we are forced to fit into other people’s expectations about how we should act; especially when that act is supposed to be one of personal expression. While not exactly a piece about representation, the piece questions what happens when histories of art and culture have rigid boundaries.

Set alongside the sidewalk on streets of the New York City set in the Paramount Lot, the video seemed as if it could be a billboard in the city; something that’s neither fashion, nor art, nor promotional – although touching on all three. It made me think that all cities have failed to properly bring forth the experience of everyone living there, and instead focus on only the aspirational part; regardless of whether there’s any joy left in it. Watching the work is light and pleasurable while delivering this punch, which made it all the more powerful – both in recognizing how especially people want to be entertained, but also how entertainment can be subversive and challenging.

Megan Whitmarsh: “Arts & Leisure Section” @ Los Angeles Municipal Gallery

There is something so feminine about Megan Whitmarsh’s work – her requirement that all things turn soft – the plant pot, the newspaper, the mirror – objects with their own weight and materials turned equal into quilted puffs, to match the pillows that sit in a circular way, under a small living room like bench. From the ceiling hung multiple of these cushy planters, the leaves of the plants also turned into tiny pillows, held by the crochet ropes that might be found in a hippie commune, your grandmother’s house, or an Echo Park bungalow, with a soft murmuring cat inside.

I sat there in the floor while my friend read the “paper,” also made into a soft thing, its columns devoted to suggestions on slowing down written by others: “turn your phone into a seashell and listen to the ocean,” for example. Or “Hear God.“ So I was surprised when I heard the very digital video game like soundtracks behind the female meditative voice – offered over headphones, as a part of the experience. This upended my first thought about femininity – reminding me – with its intimidating building block like structure, a linear robot melody; the melody of a pixelated robot, of the foremost message of first wave feminism that is still true today: everything is constructed.

The piece was a part of a larger show called “Loitering is Delightful,” including a Lani Trock’s delightful ceiling full of bougevvilla branches, floating, chandelier-like, above the audience. While laying on our backs on mats on the floor, we could act as if we were a baby looking up at a mobile from inside a crib, staring, with wonderment, of how things drift and move, sometimes drastically, with only the slightest bit of wind. The whole exhibit offered a childlike yet sophisticated view of the world; asking us to remember an innocence that leads to observation and reflection. And also, perhaps, some simple pleasures.

Image: Megan Whitmarsh, “Arts & Leisure Section,” 2019. Embroidery thread, cotton, canvas, polyester, wood, foam objects, headphones, sound. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. Photograph by Jeff McLane

Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe @ Palm Springs Art Museum

As I walked around the Alexander Girard exhibit, my daughter, Olive, was on a search for images she recognized from a children’s book of his work that she had at home, given to us by a friend who had not consciously remembered we had a screen print of his hanging in our living room. The unconscious at work. She found many versions of the smiling green tree, abundant with leaves and trunk thick and sturdy, and also the smiling sun, unusually constructed with wave like rays reaching out from the yellow circle inside. It is a rare show that can capture the hearts and minds of children and adults alike, and this is, for sure, the artist’s unnamed superpower: the ability to court the unseen child within us that will always and forever want to come out to play.

While Olive continued on her scavenger hunt for images she knew, I marveled at what he had accomplished in his lifetime, not only his well developed playful graphic style – a perfect blend of storytelling and product, but also the variety of mediums – textile designs, toys, posters, as well as spaces, furniture and even the information architecture of his own exhibits – all with the consistency of tone recognizable today as a modern brand. Of course it takes so much sacrifice and commitment to life as art to achieve such a seamless world where all that you love funnels effortlessly to your recognizable portfolio, and I admire it. Still, a jealousy emerged within me, a competitiveness too, whereby my own life’s work seemed pale in comparison and I felt the need to expose something secret or otherwise unsaid; surely this was not the work of just one person.

Surely, I thought, he did not do all this himself. Perhaps there were little elves up at night while he slept, turning one piece into many, as in the fairy tale the shoemaker and his wife – the story of a well meaning couple at the brink of poverty visited by some magical helpers to turn their business and their lives around. My daughter loved to read this story, especially around the time my husband got laid off, as if to assure us of an abundance available to us if only we to trust in the universal energy that provides. If there could be a real life couple deserving of this – perhaps it really were the Girard’s, having stepped off the grid and moved to New Mexico, early on in their marriage, in order to build and make lives their own.

Back at the hotel, another guest who had seen the exhibit wondered the same thing as me: was there not at least a business manager hidden in the wings? In truth, I had prickled at the story of the couple’s move to New Mexico — the only time Susan Girard was mentioned in the show notes at all — knowing full well that the success of a man in a couple must be unflinchingly and invisibly supported by his wife. Was she not, in part, responsible for his graphic genius? If so, what part? Was she like Richard Serra’s wife, who, by his accounts, kept the household running; the kids, the staff, the flow of his internal affairs, his schedule even, so that he could leave his mind free for creative pursuits? Or was even her role minimized in his story?

Still, I longed for the exhibition catalogue, sold out already from previous iterations of the show in other cities, because the style, so clean and cheerful, really did satisfy and inspire. His combination of freedom and control seemed to be the ultimate achievement for a person, proving that art could do for one what meditation also promises (if it can be held to any promise at all). It was my own fascination with brands that held me tight to his vision; the ability to gather in the collective pulse and spin it back out as if it had been solely created. The ability to wield the energetic forces and move them around for your own enjoyment seemed like the ultimate definition of power.

“Is he a white man,” asked my friend Loretta, unimpressed by my description of his artistic range, godlike in scope. Come to think of it, I had also paused at the video, on a tiny flat screen, barely there, of Textiles and Ornamental Arts of India, a show he curated at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, which my post-modernly educated brain deemed at once to be cultural appropriation, a term which also rang true for his wooden dolls, inspired by the Day of the Dead. Is there something in actual poor taste about removing the spiritual history of folk art, dolls – and turning out objects for interior design? Or was the couple’s love of folk art a beautiful way to celebrate parts of culture otherwise overlooked, and the inclusion a way to bring attention to joyous objects beyond what can be more easily reproduced?  The intellectual part of me did not win the emotional part of me over, as I wished for the a way to hold the tiny animal / people dolls in my hand – or a way to wander through the imagined magic of an dense market filled with smells and colors both new to me and old to the world.

The image that left me most curious was the set of binders, archives of textiles, neatly arranged, and labeled, and also, themselves, covered with the beautiful cloth patterns they held. Who paid such loving attention to the remnants of work undisplayed? Is this a gift of the female partner, or is that my own stereotypes creating a story? Was it done in hindsight, after success had already been achieved, or is the care dedicated to one’s past work, regardless of popularity, necessary as a part of the current creative process? This question, of how tender you must be of your own creativity, is what makes me most curious about learning more about their lives, and all those lived beyond the ordinary.

Rebecca Bruno: Deux @ the Sowden House

The Sowden House, designed by  Lloyd Wright, impressed me right away: its imposing concrete exterior,  huge inner courtyard — designed originally to be a theatre and then turned, somewhat controversially, into a pool and entertainment space – and long corridors, passing by sometimes extravagantly designed rooms, were unlike any other place I’d been invited in the past. On this evening it was the Gala for HomeLA, an arts collective responsible for performing experimental work in private spaces, open for one evening, to the public. Though there were many pieces that inspired me throughout the night – the one that knocked my socks off was a video both filmed and then projected in the inner dressing room / bathroom, of the architectural gem. The rectangular room, about 250 square feet, offers a large tub in the center, with a dressing space on one side and a koi fish pond with a seated area on the other.01 February 2020

Over the pond was the projection of a dance piece, by Rebecca Bruno, who moves through the closet, opening and closing a series of matte black drawers and cabinets, in what I recognized as the neurosis of stuff: the unsatisfying search for the self through material things, in this case, clothing. In other moments, she pauses, exploring the surface of a large leather ottoman, as if it might offer something otherworldly and unimagined; a respite perhaps. The figure appears twice at the same time, throughout, heightening the sense of urgency and further suggesting the double life lived by us all – one always searching for something outside to satisfy and one always longing to rest and be at peace. Then the final surrender: a sensuality of the true self, encountered by rolling back on the lounge in the center of the space, heart open, looking back toward the camera. In this moment, the second figure retreats, leaving the person to be, finally, whole. The moment is beautiful, sad and tender, such an unexpected end to the fragmentation of the start.

To watch something in the same spot that it was made is its own version of brilliance. I’ve never experienced such delight in discovery, first to find the video, somewhat hidden in a room on the side of the stage, and then to realize that the place I was sitting was the place in which the dance was originally performed. I felt like all three of us were mashed together: me, the dancer and the person who usually dresses there, all inhabiting the same space. Though I envied the owner of the house initially, for her status and wealth, and then, for her luck at being able to dress in such a pitch perfect place, I grew to be jealous of her relationship to the artist. To be reflected so completely and generously by someone else is usually limited to love relationships or marriage – and here, was proof, that letting an artist into your interior life could do much of the same. This was a kind of portrait I had never before seen.

The black and white film has a Charlie Chaplin like absurdity about it, not only the futility of searching for identity externally but also suggests that the one who is looking so frantically is possibly an apparition, something that might vanish if only you were to be able to come home to your true self. The candlelight below the projection made the image flicker, and the performance happening at the same time, outside the bathroom space, played dramatic music, a soundtrack to what would have otherwise been an ambient soundtrack.  The result is a bewitching and haunting reminder of the selves we have or keep hidden that can be found, only in the presence of others.

I was also touched by the vocal performance by Odeya Nini, showcasing her sometimes guttural sometimes lilting practice, that must have warmed and embraced the baby that was growing inside her. She had a cloth wrapped around her stomach to emphasis her bump, and used her eyes to take members of the audience, circled around her, into the intensity of her piece. In talking with the artist after she was done, I mentioned that the popular song she sang at the end, Take Me Home Country Roads, was one of my favorites and she echoed that sentiment, remarking that the feeling of returning home was one that she felt most of us longed for. When I left that night I came back to my apartment with a sense that a feeling of belonging is what, at best, art can strive for and that non-traditional spaces might be the most effective place to explore our own sense of displacement. It was not my own house that I craved, as much as a place in which I can find parts of myself that are new to me but old to the universe. We can not do that alone in a room, or even within just a family unit, but in the context of a community, since in each of us are stored some version of the other with whom we have yet to relate.

Ren Hang: What We Do Is Secret @ MAMA Gallery

In my own life my bouts with depression had been lifted with the birth of my daughter – but only because I needed them too. So close to fixating on the many unsettling facts of my pregnancy and her birth, I made a daily effort to turn away from the abyss. The artist’s own a careful blend of one part hopeful and one part nihilistic, left me hanging, with nothing much to tip me toward one or the other – a dangerous place to be for any person postpartum. Indeed, some of the subjects themselves are literally on the edge; one on top of a building, nude against the silver roof, body small and pink. As if at any moment, she might choose to leave it all behind.

One photo, of two people embracing, covered in white ash, could be seen as love through apocalypse. A man and a woman cling to each other, her long dark hair drifting lightly over his arm, and his naked back in the center of the photo, her chin nestled into his neck. Around them is a glow that might be as a flashlight illumination their bodies in the otherwise darkness. Gritty paint-like layers of white that look brushed on their bodies hair and face make the impression of dust. They are the center of an explosion, but it’s unclear whether that has come from inside them or from out.

The photo reminds me immediately of a close call accident I had this weekend. I was driving through the countryside with my family and my husband pointed out some cows on the side of the road, to my daughter, seated in the back. I looked to my right and when I turned back to the road I saw we were headed for a huge truck that was halfway through making a turn onto the freeway; its large silver body blocking the lane. In a moment, I grabbed my husband’s hand across the console as I slowed us down enough for the truck to complete its turn. I can’t explain why I grasped his hand; logic would have both on the wheel as I went from 50 MPH to still in the course of 100 feet. But, in looking at the image from the catalogue, I’m reminded that when we perceive loss we might grab close to the thing we have that is safest of all. This would be the hopeful read.

There’s another read though. Because I’m so involved with my daughter, my husband, and even these black and white cows — because I can not stand even an instant of being without them and even though I have seen cows on the side of the road many times in my 40 years and for sure I know already that they say MOO, I turned toward them and in an instant lost sight of my own path, which was going on getting us back home. My own enmeshment with them and inability to separate from their experience of the world almost killed us. That, need it be said, is the darker read.

Much later, when researching the news of Ren Hang’s death, I read a brilliant interpretation of Ren Hang’s work that confirmed the latter: The famous dissent Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, told TIME that “Hang’s works interpreted sex in a Chinese way, which contained a sense of loss and sorrow,.” Weiwei said, “In Chinese literature or poetry, sex is about something which is impossible. It’s very different from the West. It’s sexier.” This seems to suggest that the darker read is true, that I grabbed my husbands hand because I was about to run us into a truck and that being close to others creates a sense of danger, one that some find to be alluring. Crashes, explosions, destruction – there’s no doubt that we love to see these images – the news is covered with them day in and day out. But the idea that we, humans, the body, and our grotesque need to merge, are the source of all this suffering, that is indeed a confrontational prospect. Or more concretely, when we merge, we explode.

Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel @ The Hammer Museum

I used to think gender was everything; the lense through which all else must be viewed. Got a problem? Put on your gender inspectors and poof, the solution, once hidden behind culture’s murky gender norms, would be revealed. But since Hilary Clinton’s loss (could we hate anything more than a woman who seeks power?), and Caitlin Jenner’s rise (not her personal story and strength but the media’s strange infatuation with it) — and to be honest, probably quite a long while before that – I’d come to think maybe I’d lost touch with the meaning of the word. Leave it to the next generation, I thought, who, at best, see gender as an intensely personal and political choice and, at worst, see it as invisible. But artist Sarah Lucas took no such defeat. Using the typical tools of contemporary art, she does what any badass person does with a complicated topic: she makes it strange, funny, a question mark. Her summer show at the Hammer (can’t help but wonder if the touchy subject was hidden in the downtime month) used gender signifiers to question the legacy of art as a male domain.

Though the female body was partially on view here (the advertisement for the show was a self portrait of the artist with fried eggs on her shirt where her breasts might lay) the main thrust – if you will – was to confront the solipsistic art world and its comfortable, if cloaked, collusion with what’s considered male. The photo posted at the entrance of the gallery was another self portrait – this time of the artist in a leather jacket eating, of all things, a partially unpeeled banana. “Men of the art world,” I hear her saying, her eyes direct and playful, “I’m coming for YOU!”

Indeed, humor was the show’s own foil, which Lucas uses with a masterful touch. One of the entry pieces was a mechanical hand pumping up and down near a penis shaped dildo, surrounded by a box of mirrors. Without the mirrors the piece has no humor at all, but just by adding a frame, a reflection, a reflexive wall, the sculpture turns into a joke about the masterbatory nature of solo work.

Later in the show a huge clay sculpture of a penis takes up the middle of one of the gallery rooms, which kind of bothered me, until I thought of it As suggesting that the penis is extinct. Like we might go visit in the halls of the natural history museum someday and point at it with awe and curiosity, as we do a bunch of dinosaur bones; a big dusty relic. Behind the penis hung a big sculpture of Jesus, made up in a graphic print, reminding us how saturated our world is with iconography of all kinds. Or perhaps he was just there to watching the penis, on guard.

My favorite piece was a video of the artist sitting by a kind of pale blue fountain (image above), reading aloud from a book of prose. She seemed at once to be making fun of the desire to film yourself reading aloud from the work of another author in the name of art (love the sound of your own voice, do you?) and also curious about that desire. The cord for the video camera was visible on the floor next to her; a clear shout out to Cindy Sherman’s, who left the mark of her camera’s click extender in her Untitled Film Stills; confronting the assumption that woman’s bodies are only works of art when captured by the gaze of man.

Porn also got a laugh, with photographs of stuffed leg and arm-like shapes humping and holding each other, which, from afar might look like pages from a nudie magazine, but, close-up were clearly mushy forms made by hand, like the limbs of a doll. Given the similarly, might we also question our view of what’s perverse?

The entry placard to the show warned that you may want to use parental discretion when visiting the show with children, which I support, if only to protect yourself from having to answer many many questions. The biggest confusion my toddler had was also my own; what exactly ARE the long thin leg looking things, covered with colorful stocking, sitting, otherwise body-less, on the outskirts of a pool table? Something about the violence that occurs in male spaces when the female body is a part? Or the requirement of women to be both sexy and half of themselves to fit into the male game? To me, this work was more uncomfortable than all the penises and porn combined; the suggestion that the sanctity of men’s pleasure, though old-school, is as strong as it ever was.

Allen Ruppersberg: “Lectures and Film Screenings (1994)” @ The Hammer Museum

I had about 20 minutes to get through the entire career of Allen Ruppersberg, but that’s all I needed to fall in love. His capacity to transport you in time and space is so effortless, and his point of view so full of joy and humor, that he redeems the whole of his generation in an instant. His work, a collection of what made the 60s and 70’s, the 60s and 70s: colorful bold work, unashamed at its difference, stands in direct contrast to the clean and boundaries modernism that came before. In seeing his work at a glance, I learned something important: that the point of being anti-establishment, is to show others, who feel the same way, that to which they actually belong.

With my toddler in tow, I ran through the exhibit – passing artifacts from mock restaurants, and slideshows from quickly mounted bohemian art hotels, and pages of posters and zine pamphlets, until I stool, aghast and in full admiration of “Lectures and Film Screenings” (1994); a recreation of a school hallway, made in the hallway alongside the main gallery, such that the two blend together and the exit of one real space is the same as the exit of the imaginary space. The three doors that line the hallway, which don’t open, blast recordings of lectures that might be playing in such a room, if you were to be in a school hallway in the time that Ruppersberg was a child. The half green halls, and the red linoleum tile are broad details that quickly say 50s, along with the black tiles at the side of the each door that announce the class that would be held inside, like, “Philosophy.”

So much is funny: the booming male voice that might be lecturing something “important,” is contrasted with the fact that you can’t get inside. You are in the hallway, maybe only with your ear to the door, or more likely on an extended pee break, wandering the halls with a pass, momentarily free of the confines of adult expectations, but still somewhat too small to take full advantage of the freedom. The hall, normal size, feels high and big and you can almost hear the squeak of a sneaker that could be your own. When have I last thought about the hallways of my elementary school and the feeling of being alone through the glossy and industrial space, and felt normal for doing so? Only in dreams.

Image: Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968–2018
Installation view, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, February 10–May 12, 2019. Photo: Jeff McLane

Karen O & Danger Mouse: An Encounter with Lux Prima @ Marciano Art Foundation

Karen O is the only singer I know whose lyrics are secondary; just there to mark the feeling. But you can recognize her voice in an instant; if you hear a Karen O moan, you know it. It’s croaky and wise beyond its years. There’s nothing better than hearing a female artist age well and I was insane excited to see her perform her first major work since motherhood. Only, it wasn’t a performance.

The collaborative show promised to be a visual extravaganza – a multi-media collaboration between musicians Karen O and Danger Mouse, and creative directors, sound designers, lighting designers, visual designers and projection mappers — otherwise titled —“An Encounter with Lux Prima.” Pair that description with an instagram photo of the opening party, where there was actually a show, and you have what turned out to be a very well planned mistake.

The event was at the Marciano Art Foundation, a private museum in Los Angeles, with showings that began at 10am – which should have been my first hint that this was not going to be a rock show. But I was just pleased that I could actually go – late nights and young kids don’t really compliment each other and I had a fresh toddler in my midst. The only challenging aspect was that the invite read to please wear black. And I had given up that east coast uniform a while ago, in favor of the cozy LA sweat pants and yoga gear attire.

On Friday night, I ran out to Alter on Sunset, a Brooklyn based boutique, to get my requisite skinny black pants and then paid a visit to my best friend, Allie, who has nothing but black in her closet. We chose a few possible blank tanks from her endless collection, some of which had been gathered in preparation of her own year long live music touring schedule. And when I arrived the next morning, I snapped a photo for her – at 9am people were already lined up and if there’s one thing I can say for west coasters it’s that we can follow directions; everyone was midnight head to toe.

The outside line was only a line for another line, inside the atrium of the museum. As I waited I began to theorize: what is the promise of a rock show in a museum? What are the benefits for the artists? In the lobby where we waited for the “experience” to begin, there were about eight speakers up above us, with the sounds of dripping and electricity and wind, as if we’d stepped into an underground tunnel: a subway, if you’ve got your easy coast memories in tact. Imagine: the burnt out light sizzling, the water dripping down from somewhere and the tingling metal of a train coming from far down the tracks, the sounds of it rushing like a wave but still too far to be hopeful. You’re alone. And you’re waiting for the C.

I notice that the line isn’t filling up as quickly as you might expect twenty minutes before the start. But then again, remember, it’s only 9:40am. And it’s a Saturday. And the tickets were free // although an early reservation was required. And of course, this isn’t a music show, but I hadn’t been hipped to this quite yet. This relative quiet only excited me more – instead of 1000 teenagers, the audience of the last Yeah Yeah Yeah show I saw, this might be like a private Karen O show! With a group of other handsome sophisticates. Excellent!

As I’m waiting I’m wondering is there a stage? Will the performers be on the ground level? Will it be like Karen O stepped into a dream?

Speaking of dreams, this whole morning was conjured. A few weeks back when I made the discovery that show was happening, the list was already full. I forgot about it and the memory came back to me in a deep deep dream two days ago, when I woke up with the sense that I had driven to, or was on my way the museum. But the light of day, a sold out show wasn’t promising. I forgot about it again, until I told another mom in the park that I used to write art reviews. I said it as if it that life were one of some long forgotten person. I remembered the show and thought about how I might like to go. And then, bingo. I looked at the website again and spotted the press contact. The voice came louder: I USED TO WRITE ART REVIEWS. One quick email later, and I had a ticket.

And in we went, through the black curtains and into the space. It’s dark and there’s a dark stage with a big black boulder shape in the middle, shrouded, like a sculpture wearing a cloak. Above there’s a single blue light illuminating a wide 3D triangle over the whole stage and we walk onto a grassy area with four pebble paths leading to the center. There’s a tiny rainbow where the triangle of light hits the ground, the last color of which is a true alien purple. I reach my hand into the cone shaped light and it gets sucked into the light, as if to touch another realm. Which, in my lively imagination, is where Miss O will appear, like a hologram.

Fucking awesome UFO landing in a public park (are my first thoughts). Yes, this is cool, I said to the person next to me. We were not in the subway but there was still a windy rumble running through the speakers with a few sounds of feedback cutting through the more ambient sound. The rumbling got louder. The train was coming. But it’s a futuristic one – signified by flash of tiny lights illuminating in a ring around the room, matched with a warbling sound. The flashing lights moved around us now in a circle and there was a spiral sound as if something was arriving from another planet.

Then the sound of something grotesque, like a monster coming out of a murkily lake. If I were actually alone in this park at night, I would be a bit afraid. I looked around and see there is some space. Grassy area and benches. I could even be walking around the space, strolling as if I were in a park at night alone with a very dark presence.

The light from above projects a thin line that hits the top of the rock — like the Sword and the Stone – and the triangular orb is gone. There’s an organ sound that starts up like the beginning of an 80’s sci-fi movie, or reminiscent of the opening of Twin Peaks, and an ethereal voice floats out of the speakers, the first sign of her arrival. I wished, for a moment, we were in a stadium, where you would most certainly begin to smell the refer drift through the air.

I read that the first song on the Karen O’s new album was influenced by Pink Floyd, and what we’re listing to it’s indeed, very Dark Side of the Moon. Then it began to dawn on me. We’re going to be listening to the album. That’s why the show is listed at 34 minutes long. This is not a concert.

I wish I could blame misunderstanding this on being a parent but really this is a mistake I would have made any old day. The text on the website clearly says: “an immersive, communal listening experience soundtracked by the pair’s forthcoming album.” But where I’m from (NEW YORK, HAVE I MENTIONED?) we have a name for that.

Later, not much later, just when I leave the museum, I will I think about the expectations I have for other women, gargantuan as those women may be. Karen O has a four year old. Of course she isn’t doing six shows in three days, some starting at 10am. I just made it out of the house in clothes that were not made for yoga for the first time in three years. Did I mention it’s the Saturday after Good Friday? The same one that’s a day before Easter Sunday? Karen O is probably collecting Easter eggs with her tiny, for god sakes.

“It’s a listening party,” I text Allie. “Not a show. Hi. Duh”

Now we’re just listening to the songs together in a room, somewhat soullessly.

The people behind me laid in the fake grass, like we were in a concert in central park but at night. Small white lights flashed toward the stage and the rock sparked about. The second song began and the era was the 70’s. We lost the historical thread. I start to feel glad that at least this was free. (Note – what I thought was the second song is actually part of the first song on the album “Lux Prima.”)

The third song came and it’s a bit fantasy like – reminding me of Edward Scissorhands soundtrack – but much of the visuals in the room are the same. The rock glimmered a little more. What’s missing here was the communal part. We had park benches. We had music. We had grass. But somehow, it did not feel like we’re in in this together.

This could be a gallery show. And it would be a cool room.

Lights danced on the rock and tiny veins and pattern marks graced the surface. It began to glow white and to pulse and have something running through it, as if the rock was about to give birth to something alien. I was still holding out that it will burst open and Karen O will be inside. Then it turned black again, with tiny colors and the best song so far begins. Still, we were all just sitting around watching a rock. It’s a nice listening party but my expectations, even of any claimed experience to take place, are now solidly dashed.

The rock turned a lava red and then a very cool dish scale like color and then was alive again with white veins. It’s gorgeous then like a chrysalis. I decided to summon the long lost stoner in me and be in the here and now. Tiny sperm travel up the rock and I think: We all have the same beginnings. I remember Karen O’s statement that this was the first music she’s written since bringing life into the world. Her son. My daughter. Her singing and lyrics took me in that moment and held my heart with the words: “Make me crystal pure, cast my heart anew.” It’s her voice, as I remembered it, but it was without any of the normal punk I expect from her, yet still definitely her. All of the femininity, all of the transformation, all of the things of motherhood right there, in those two lines. As quickly as it comes it goes.


The room turned red, with a thin red shape around the rock and the classic Karen O singing returns. It’s a song about a woman, that reminds me a little of Witchy Woman, only it has a wonderful raspy lo-fi drum crashing out from behind the song. A nostalgic moment; and the rock projects a black sheath into the space; long live my goth heart.

Rain began to fall on the rock. A tiny beautiful song with heartbreaking guitar part began and the rock was dark. It felt nice to be in the rain without getting wet. A triangle of light formed around the rock and the stage. I noticed that the aisles that lead to the center of the room are made of rocks that are perfectly raked. Oh for sure no one was going to be walking up these aisles. The rock formed a light crack and it the projection created a door as if was going to open. It looked like lava again and then like gold.

This is a very powerful rock and we knew this because of the mystical asian melody and classical asian instrument sound of the next song. Forgive my sarcasm. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a really good movie.

I adjusted my expectations completely. This was a light installation. It’s gorgeous. The rock’s surface began to look like a pink malachite stone and then like a blue ocean stone and the it turns black and dripped with sparking lava but turned back agin nto a black cosmos, then pink and purple with far away stars.

Honestly, this rock can’t do anything for me, I thought. Doesn’t matter how many ages it can summon. The laughter of a child struck through the sound and I remembered the precious moments I was missing with my daughter – for the first time since 8am, I wished I was with her. To be fair, I’ve never lasted more than 2.5 hours away without wanting to return.

As the lights turned on, and the show concluded, I saw that one person across the room is wearing a gold sparkly shirt. I mean, this shit was made of tinsel. People started to get up. Others were clapping. For the rock. Which brought up some laughter. I began to wonder why I bought something special for this.

What can I say. It takes a lot to impress me these days? I just watched a human learn the entirety of the English language from scratch in two years. I no longer live in New York? These sighting mean less to me than they did, although I certainly fell for the hype. Plus I WENT to those shows. I was there in 2001. I saw the microphone eating monster romp across the stage, I drank those six margaritas. I saw the towers fall.

Or, maybe. I just no longer wear black.

Of course it beat what I usually do on a Saturday morning; a message at a local joint that plays ocean sounds while you lie on a heated table – a curated nap, my mom of two friend calls it. But this show was like a curated happening. Which is really not like a happening at all; missing the sense of spontaneity and in turn, lacking possibility. In the parking lot, my car wouldn’t start. My therapist texted. I’m late for my appointment, which I then had to cancel. I ate a museum cafe lunch in the car while I wait for AAA and text my husband who is watching our daughter: feed the creature, I wrote. I tallied up how much I spent on this adventure: black pants: $81, pregame breakfast, $20, car battery $121. Plus four hours of time which in my life has become so dreadfully underpaid, it’s hard to put a number on it.

I pitched this story in two places: I have a 2,500 word essay on mistaking the listening party at the Marciano foundation for a live show – at 10am. On a Saturday. Themes include, motherhood, artistry, collaboration, installation and disappointment. No answer And then let it sit for a long while.

But you know, then things call to you anyway. In a dance class some month or two later the teacher included the songs on Lux Prima on her mix for our hour of improvisation together. Without the presence of the rock, without the lights and the sound show and the prearranged gathering, the songs sounded perfect; Karen O’s voice a tiny crystalline reminder of the life I once had and might still have, deepened by the birth of my daughter and all that motherhood brings.