There's a monster exhibition at the moment at the Pompidou Center, "Los Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an Artistic Capital" (it sounds less clunky in French, je vous assure). It's the first exhibition of its kind, taking on Los Angeles' artistic legacy as it does. Ruscha, Baldessari, and Hockney, et al, are there. It's supposed to be quite good.
And I am sure it's amazing. But I will probably never know.
Because I don't like the Pompidou Center. I have nothing against the curatorial staff, nor its patrons, nor do I underestimate its cultural importance one bit. They have all kinds of great shows there, all the time it seems. Like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, it cranks out good ideas, night and day. But I just don't feel comfortable there. Physically. It makes me ill at ease. And so I tend to stay away from it. (Ironically, with the escalators on the outside of the building as they are, and the empty space in front of it, it reminds me of the Beverly Center -- in particular the side that faces onto La Cienega.)
I wouldn't blame you for thinking that I am being ridiculous. That I am willfully being a pinhead and depriving myself of an important and possibly enlightening experience. I admit that it is a risk I am taking. But for now, I don't want to go.
And besides, I might someday change my mind. In my defense, as well, I would like to say that I use the personal-comfort standard as often to identify places I enjoy as I do to avoid places that I do not. The Cour Carrée at the Louvre is a good example. It really is "carrée," and by that I mean perfectly square. I don't spend very much time there, but I do walk through it often. no excuse to walk through it is too flimsy for me. It also happens that it's a great shortcut from the end of the Pont des Arts to the rue de Rivoli -- a route I travel on foot several times I week anyway. I am convinced that its perfect squareness and symmetry creates a completely unique atmosphere within its walls. My blood-pressure drops, invariably, when I enter. I can exhale more completely, and inhale more deeply, in its confines. I loosen.
(But. Last time I walked through, they -- it's always Them, isn't it? -- were in the midst of setting up an enormous white tent on one side of the courtyard -- for a fashion show, I am sure. But even if I hadn't seen the tent, I would have known something was wrong. Because I could feel a heaviness in my chest that I have never felt in that place. Its magic flow, its calm and solidity, usually as irresistible as an undertow, was disrupted. Its symmetry had been thrown off. Tent-pitchers messed with its mojo.)
I felt it my duty nonetheless to support this moment in Los Angeles-Paris relations (FYI: the City of Lights-City of Angels film festival is on just now 6,000 miles west of here). So instead of looking at the city's contribution to modern art, I went to the Galeries Lafayette to check out their salute to fashion à la Angeleno.
As the barker in the store said over the P.A., "Toute la folie de Los Angeles aux couleurs des Galeries Lafayette." I'll say. A circus, really. But the effort was sincere, despite some false notes (if you can overlook the fact that the whole thing was a ruse to encourage people to buy clothes. Why am I such a buzzkill?) For sure, they had me at the logo, "Boogie Nights"-worthy come to think of it -- very seventies and Jumbo's Clown Room and French all at the same time.
However, I got the tiniest twitch in the corner of my eye to see that they chose Naomi Campbell for the cover of their "Los Angeles Fashion" catalogue. (She doesn't strike me as a Los Angeles poster girl. I shudder to think of her driving skills, particularly with her seemingly endless anger-management issues. And she already has a tan, anyway. That's cheating). In the photo, she is seated in a giant hamburger, wearing a gold bikini and squeezing the air out of a terrified-looking dog -- a ringer for that perky little terrier in the Coach ads (the pooch, not Naomi).
(Also, just a detail, but important: the giant hamburger is served on a bun. A bun. Do you know how many carbs are in a hamburger bun five feet in diameter?)
Turns out that just the night before, there had been an "American Style parade" on the Boulevard Haussman. But in the store, one could buy Antik Denim jeans, shirts by James Pearse, and ethically-correct thongs by American Apparel. One could have a "Baptism by Harley," whatever that is.
In the "Studio for Blondes," women were making appointments for a complete "Re-Looking" (makeover) including blonde wig, spray-on tan, teeth-whitening, acrylic nails, and a portrait session. (I would give good money for a chance to leaf through the series of photos that documents the emergence from their cocoons of these newly minted, Skybar-ready papillons.)
I was too early, it turned out for the Krumping demonstration, and right on time -- sadly -- for the ChippenBoys. All the people of the village were there: a navy guy saluting, a policeman in mirrored shades (and a big nightstick that he wouldn't let go of); yet another unzipping his aviator suit while Kenny Loggins screeched about going to "The Danger Zone." I know well that I ought to have turned and walked away the moment the construction worker took hold of his hard hat. I should have gone somewhere safe. But it was a train wreck. You can't not look.
I honestly admired the effort and affection that went into the project. If it had been my job to create a Los Angeles vibe, I would have done a few things differently. I would have added additional high-wattage lighting in the store to approximate the effect of the December sun on one's eyes. And I would have put a taco stand out on the sidewalk, tucked yoga studios into totally random corners of the store, and had salesclerks carry their headshots with them at all times.
Most importantly, I would have created a sensory surplus tank for people to sit in for twenty minutes at a time. Having changed from their end-of-winter clothes into shirtsleeves and sandals, they would enter the darkened chamber -- the air in which had been heated to 74ªF -- and sit in a sturdy upholstered chair. A gentle breeze would blow in their face. The breeze would have the lightest tinge of salt and dampness in it, almost too faint too taste or smell, but present nonetheless.
In the gentle-blowing air would also be a tapestry of smells that faded in and out: the scent of skunk many miles away; oak leaves; wet lawns; chlorine; corn tortillas; and night-blooming jasmine, which would pulse like the beam of a lighthouse, never staying for long but always coming back into the foreground.
They could choose a song to listen to -- any song, provided it was one that reminded them of one small happy moment from the past they were otherwise in danger of forgetting. In the distance, they would hear crickets, faintly. The occasional siren. A galloping cumbia beat.
And sitting there, surrounded by these sounds and smells, they would put their hands on the steering wheel, and, focusing on the cool sheets and tall glass of water and good night's sleep to come, they would know how it feels to drive home late one summer night in Los Angeles.
PS I also noticed a gaffe on the Galeries website. See if you can, too. Answer below the photo.
Did you catch it? The pre-op tranny in the wig and the striped bikini -- hailing a taxi in vain on Pacific Avenue in Venice -- is standing next to a lamp-post that has been imported from the Bronx. Courtlandt & East 162nd St to be exact. Not so far from Yankee Stadium. With a Metro North sign, to boot. Girlfriend has clearly woken up in a very bad dream.