Let’s Look at Paintings in L.A.!

Before going over the roster of my six-day, five-museum trip to L.A., I’d like to plug Dave’s Chillin and Grillin. It’s easy to say, “I’ll never go to Eagle Rock!” Friends, even Barack Obama ended up in Eagle Rock: can you say you’ll never go there?

Like my sainted mom, Our Next President went to Occidental College for a spell, and not so far from that college on 2152 Colorado Blvd. is Dave’s Chillin and Grillin, a new deli run by a charismatic Bostonian who seems to live for the purpose of bringing first-rate sandwiches to a hungry world.

Dave is attempting to make a mark for himself with pulled pork, french dip and smoothies sold out of a small space. You need no teef to eat his beef; the tuna is a poem. Just for the hell of it, and because we were first-time customers—and no, he didn’t know I was a journalist—he lavished me and the spouse with samples of everything in the shop, including meatballs and chili.

He’s right next door to that famous cafe with the pretentious Swedish name with the umlaut in it, but you’ll like Dave’s place better. He’s promising to spread out to San Francisco, which is, as we all know, seriously deli-impaired. That’s Dave’s Chillin and Grillin, 2152 Colorado Blvd., 323.490.0988. Open seven days a week, but when he runs out of fresh bread, he closes the shop.

We met ex-Metro staffer and nautical novelist Broos Campbell there, and he was pretty whipped by the length of the commutes around town; in L.A. you get to know the inside of your car very well.

But this was the least-horrible trip we’ve made down south. There were two of us, and so it was one long Diamond Lane cruise. Second, we used the Gold Line Metro to get to downtown L.A. Despite what’s been said about the L.A. public transit, everyone uses the Metro. It’s $1.25 from east Pasadena to downtown L.A. on the old Superchief tracks through the jungly arroyo and the edge of Mt. Washington. It curves like a scenic railway around hillsides too steep to build on and glides over a chain of parks that follows the river downtown.

This wasn’t just a nostalgia trip on this leg. The Highland Park I knew is mostly gone; like Edward Arlington Robinson put it, “Strangers would have shut the many doors/that many friends had opened long ago.” I was looking at what is, not what was; and the speed of the little train past these barred-windowed polychrome bungalows, battered old Victorians and sky-scraping palms was fun for the here and now.

In order of recommendation for art lovers:

Museum No. 1 is MOCA, (Museum of Contemporary Art), a bit of an uphill hike from the lovingly restored Union Station. The museum was celebrating its 10th anniversary with a show of 150 works from the permanent collection titled, in honor of a John Baldessari piece, “This Is Not to Be Looked At.” Works from the last 20 years or so in one side; more familiar modern works on the other. When compared with the Broad Collection in the just opened LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)—and I intend to compare them—this MOCA show seemed broader in scale and much more playful.

I like to have a good laugh from the brio of an artist. Chris Ofili, auteur of the scandalous collage The Holy Virgin Mary made with elephant dung, had a piece here of a sequined, fancy monkey in profile, a canvas balanced on two sturdy nuggets of varnished, decorated elephant poop shaped like jumbo jujubes, studded with gemlike map-tacks. Another fave was Neo Rausch’s “Quiz” something like a DEVO album cover; a groveling hapless figure prostrate before a mysterious jury of 1950s suburban types.

Painter Mike Kelley’s berserk wall-length exploration of sexuality and impotence from 1982, a set of nearly a dozen drawings assembled together was maybe the largest piece. It was somehow my favorite—the funniest, most mysterious piece—with its red-assed baboons, painted with mercurochrome; the cartoony horny bell with an erect clapper, or a man in haunted underwear (representing a penis “giving up the ghost.”)

More in Part 2….

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