The pretext was, in Gary Baseman's words, "to celebrate the beauty of the bittersweetness of life." But La Noche de la Fusión, Saturday night's over-the-top opening of the pop surrealist's largest solo exhibition, celebrated the beauty of life, full stop.
Or make that non-stop. At every turn inside the Corey Helford Gallery and its expansive parking lot next door, another dizzying sight from his imagination: lithesome nymphs clad in outrageous costumes; Coney Island-style games; balloon animals of his characters, which also appeared hand stamped on popcorn bags; a "documentary" of all the famous landmarks his star creation and alter ego, Toby, visited as Gary opened his exhibitions around the world these last two years; amusment park-style incarnations of his characters (including a life-sized Toby undoubtedly inhabited by the artist); Thai silk banners and lanterns overhead silk-screened with Baseman motifs; a Japanese artist hewing a dancer's face out of clay; house deejays, samba dancers, flashing lights, ice cream cones, and hoola hoops ablaze with fire.
And that wasn't everything.
Gary calls himself a pervasive artist. Like his contemporary peers, he strives to blur the line between the fine and commercial worlds, and he's so far succeeded, having extended his vision to paintings and sculpture, collectible vinyl toys, museum exhibitions, coffee table books and cuff links (as in the new hand-painted, limited-edition sets he collaborated on with Hobbs & Kent). He's won three Emmy awards and a BAFTA as the creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed series and film "Teacher's Pet," and his signature style appears on the "Cranium" game. Not unlike Paul Reubens, a.k.a. PeeWee Herman and whose voice appears in the 2004 big-screen version of "Teacher's Pet," Gary doesn't dumb down his art for the kids.
On closer inspection, of course, the artwork isn't exactly the stuff of youngsters. Love and lust, seduction and rejection play out among his plump cutie characters. The pleasures of the flesh, as imagined by Baseman, were all the more conspicuous Saturday with the live young women fabulously costumed and acting out accordingly. Pal and five-time Emmy nominated designer Wendy Benbrook was behind the 15 stupendous get-ups, including the papier mache characters and the babes who required a chaperone or two to keep exuberant guests at bay from their super-sized hoop skirts.
From the mini army of players to the artist pals who lent a hand, this was a collaborative affair. Wendy, who toiled behind the scenes all night and missed out on the frolic, told me later that Andrae Gonzalo from "Project Runway" fame appeared and pitched in–and they'd never even met before. The pair are now BFF.
The "bittersweetness of life" is a constant through Gary's work, but with every fear and insecurity summoned, there's always a fire pit nearby, as there was Saturday night, to turn them to ashes and rejoice until the next reality check comes along. Given the spread of red dots marking the works sold on opening night (some of the major pieces were dotted long before the doors opened), something tells me Mr. Baseman wasn't feeling too gloomy the morning after his cuckoo carnivale.
Gary Baseman's La Noche de la Fusión, Corey Helford Gallery, 8522 Washington Blvd., Culver City, runs through May 23.
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