Doug Harvey: The critic as (untidy) artist


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Doug Harvey is the art critic for LA Weekly. If you read him -- and if you don’t, you are missing a pleasurable twice-monthly brain-tingle -- you know he’s a master of the unexpected chain-reaction of thought. Point A goes to point Q which goes to point C, eventually arriving at point L. By the time you’re done you’ve gotten enlightened whiplash. Swell!

Fewer know that Harvey is also an artist. As a compact show of work from the past dozen-or-so years in the gallery at LA Valley College demonstrates, his art-making is not unlike his art-writing. The raging torrent of modern media-culture is his medium, and the paintings, collages, drawings and sculpture seem to regard it as a revealing cesspool of bleak but salvageable fun. (Who else do you know that lists as one of his sober art materials ‘shaved fun-fur’?) The work is apocalyptic post-Pop -- or, perhaps more Harveyian, post-apocapopalyptic.


Take ‘Joe’s Temper’ (below right), a large group of paintings the color of dried blood-and-urine on paper, which can be rearranged like puzzle pieces of mass incoherence. (Here they occupy two facing walls, so you can get in the middle of the cacophonous bickering.) Their source is an actual 1939 print advertisement, in which a squabbling husband and wife find perfect marital bliss through the purchase of Waldorf toilet tissue.

My favorite piece is 1994’s ‘Limp Chandelier’ (above left) -- about 100 broken plastic Christmas candles, bundled with extension cords into a cascade suspended from the ceiling. Perhaps the embodiment of a sentimental ‘bad idea,’ it is also a witty riposte to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ manicured strings of suspended Minimalist light bulbs; as a metaphor for life’s inevitable linkages, termination and replacement -- the threat of the burned-out bulb -- those always seemed rather too tidy for the cruel era of AIDS.

If you visit the show (‘Untidy: The Worlds of Doug Harvey’ continues through Nov. 26), here’s a suggestion: Afterward, pull out a copy of Oscar Wilde’s indispensable 1890 dialogue, ‘The Critic as Artist.’ It makes for an excellent pairing.

-- Christopher Knight