Under the Big Black Sun is exhausting. The Geffen is stuffed to the bursting point with a gazillion works. Besides being a lot of work, the exhibit is also depressing. Depressing in the sense that most of the work is dead, dumb and pretentious.
But it is also depressing in the sense that most of the works on display are evocations of despair.
Susan Mogul’s 1976 August Clearance injected a very welcome note of silliness. And Mark Thompson’s 1976 film of a swarm of bees flying around against a blue sky was like a zany abstract painting with sound effects.
But these were overwhelmed by the investigations of a world of sordid, soulless, media-manipulated nothingness. I’m not saying that this isn’t reality. But the work seemed complicit rather than a critique.
A few of the works seemed equal to their subject.
Chauncey Hare’s 1977 series of photographs This Was Corporate America freezes your soul with a vision of work completely evacuated of hope. And then you discover Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor photographic portraits on which the subjects added comments in response. “We look like ordinary people,” one woman writes of the dark image of her and her daughter, “We have a terrible life.” We get the message. It is serious and shattering.
Suzanne Lacy’s 1977 Three Weeks in May mapping ninety reported rapes on map of L.A.,made the nearby wall of 100% cliché activist posters look especially clueless.
The dumb installation of Raymond Pettibon concert flyers diminished his work. Not very surprising, since other exemplary artists like John Baldessari, Vija Celmins, Ed Ruscha, and William T. Wiley were also poorly represented by second-rate examples of their work.
The Allen Ruppersberg on display was okay, but not within 20 million miles of his fabulous Picture of Dorian Gray—the one and only certain masterpiece produced in California during the designated time period. Where was it?
Titling the exhibit after the wonderful 1982 album by X should have been a warning. I doubt any visual art produced between 1974 to 1982 could compare with songs like The Hungry Wolf, or Love to Love You Baby, Coat of Many Colors, I Will Always Love You, My Tennessee Mountain Home, Born to Run, Stand By Your Man, Dancing Queen, Kung Fu Girls, Cherchez la Femme, Heroes, Alison, God Save the Queen, I Feel Love, Are We Not Men?, Warm Leatherette, Love Will Tear Us Apart, I Love a Man in Uniform, Fascination, Tainted Love, … ?