The San Diego Art Institute is a mother who seems to be devouring its old and spewing forth the young. I’ve watched SDAI go from Birkenstocks and Ugg boots to leather and lace and pins in your face. The “Tendrement” pop-up show opening left those who may not have noticed looking lost in a time warp. Billed as a showcase for “artists that question socially accepted models of normativity,” the kickoff party on March 24th blasted true to guest curator Ariana Schindler’s pledge that the “pieces are uncanny, thought-provoking and embody the destruction of regimes of authority.” The drop-the-mike lyric from the booming DJ amps was simply, “This ain’t your daddy’s SDAI anymore.”
The crowd was diverse, but for the de rigueur dress code of black, bleak and bleaker, elevated to the level of dancing death wish. And dance to death they did. The raging hormones let loose suited me fine from the sidelines and was a lot easier to take than a vitamin B12 shot. The music by the rotating DJs was killer tough and almost looming enough to drown out the art screaming for life from the walls and corners. Screaming the loudest were Parker Day’s androgynous artifacts of the digital and comic book age. Where Hollywood has morphed into a hero factory, Day’s incamera, blindingly colored photos recast the cheesecake and hunk tradition of another century into an exercise in bizarre body-building, from the inside out. Missed the party? Don’t miss her, but hurry, this end of the world as we know it moment ends on April 1, Easter Sunday, when the world as we know it began.
But the real action was on the floor, where more pics were being snapped than at a Paris fashion show. There was lots to shoot. Eye candy everywhere. Faces in the crowd–a young Orson Welles, every girlfriend I had loved and lost my entire life, Coco Chanel resurrected. Ongoing performing art included a riff on Stendhal’s, “The Red and the Black.” The colors were right, but maybe I just ran the riff in my head. Such is the power of art. In the middle of the floor was a bed where hipsters took turns luxuriating in the limelight. More body art was bared than was on exhibition. The bar was crowded. Waiting in line prompted a Snap Survey. “Upon arrival,” I asked, “What did you check out first?” Survey says: 58% Art, 29% People, 12% Bar, 1% Don’t bother me, I’m posing. Art was still alive at SDAI against a cry from the DJ, “This is a warning from God!” My beer runneth over.
A pop-up, “Tendrement” may be gone before this notice, but consider it an invitation to the brave new world of curatorial capitalism. Not a knock by any means. So much art in the world, so little space for display, it may just be more curatorially compassionate to make art pay when it can so that art that doesn’t will persist. No doubt, “Tendrement” was a raging ticket sales success and further proof that in an attention addled and overpriced world, art may be better as an experience than as a possession. But as the line in the movie goes, “The Dude abides.” And he was hiding in the shadows on Saturday night, wondering where his next SDAI art date was coming from. Balboa Park or out of town? Answering this question is undoubtedly a challenge for our homegrown San Diego Art Institute, but the homeschooling has definitely begun with a slap on the side of the head. Ouch!