A personal, wide-ranging account of the artistic community in downtown Los Angeles during the 1980s.
Amid the squalor of an industrialized wasteland, a group of artists coexisted in an abandoned building dubbed the Citizens Warehouse. In this thoroughly engrossing book, Davis (Bipolar Bare, 2009) provides an in-depth catalog of the works he exhibited between 1981 and 1986 in the Art Dock, a loading dock attached to his studio. As he states in his manifesto, this savvy, provocative decision resonates by “epitomizing the nature of contemporary art in the on-loading, off-loading, and up-loading of commodity.” With a few exceptions, each chapter contains an image of the artist (usually taken by Ed Glendinning), photographs of the art installation, concurrent sketches from Davis’ “daily diary page” (often reflecting his state of mind at the time), an interview with the artist and a postscript with follow-up information about his or her subsequent career. Along the way, the author relates the concepts explored in the exhibited works to his own autobiographical narrative, as he reveals personal struggles with sexual identity, substance abuse, mental health, career path, finances and dyslexia. While he focuses primarily on the Art Dock, Davis includes artistic and political happenings in other areas of LA as well. For example, he observes the changing relationships among artists, the homeless population, building inspectors and the police force, especially as precipitated by the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. Readers may notice occasional editing lapses in the text or the repetition of the phrase “I asked” during reproduced conversations, but these minor drawbacks do not lessen the overall impact of the project. It’s also worth noting that not all is doom and gloom; alongside real suffering and marginalization are tales of humor and companionship. In fact, Davis ends on an uplifting note of clarity in the epilogue, where he recalls one particular exhibit not included in the original chronology: a playful, interactive installation he created with his young daughter. He comments: “ ‘Snowflake House’ reminded me of what is so wonderful about art. There is the pure delight in creation. There is the happiness and meaning it provides for others.”
A valuable, permanent record of transitory and improvised events, embedded in a particular historical and artistic moment, which otherwise may have been lost.