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Dec 21, 02:55 pm

The way Eve Babitz wrote about art in Los Angeles was art in itself, LA Times, December 21, 2021 by Christina Catherine Martinez

The way Eve Babitz wrote about art in Los Angeles was art in itself.

I first read Eve in the context of a photography book by the artist Zoe Crosher. Zoe’s work isn’t about the city per se. Through photography and sleuthy archival projects she maps a certain afterimage of Los Angeles like a noir conceptualist. The book, titled after her project “LA-Like: Transgressing the Pacific,” reproduced photographs Crosher had taken of various shoreline sites of watery disappearances. They had titles like “Where Natalie Wood Disappeared Off the Coast of Catalina Island” (2010) and “Where Norman Maine Disappeared at Laguna Beach From the 1954 Version of “A Star is Born” (2010), treating the fates of real stars and fictional characters alike to the same postcard-cum-crime scene quality of Zoe’s lens. They were interspersed with excerpts from Eve’s 1977 book “Slow Days, Fast Company,” still long out of print when Zoe was putting her own book together. (Disclosure: Hesse Press, which published Zoe’s book, later published mine.)

“I included excerpts that surrounded notions of disappearance,” Zoe told me over the phone yesterday as I washed the dishes. “I sleuthed. And it wasn’t easy.”

The first page in “LA-Like” is a photo of a hand holding open a page from an early edition of “Slow Days”:

I saw Gabrielle the other night out hunting in a bush jacket at some museum opening. I asked her if she remembered about the Coyote’s Brain, and she cracked her bubblegum and wondered what I was talking about. She was with Edward Sanford, and when I asked him where his wife was (the next one), he said he thought probably Kenya. Gabrielle probably “disappeared” her too.

NYRB would republish all of Eve’s work starting in 2015, unleashing the literary renaissance of a woman who hadn’t published in over 20 years. Who had, in effect, disappeared herself.

Coming to an Eve Babitz sentence out of the blue was like reading a foreign language. I didn’t know what I was looking at. I wrote about art, and my art writing career up until that point had been an exercise in self-flagellation via continental theory, occasionally allowing myself to read Maggie Nelson or Chris Kraus or Joan Didion, as a treat. (For a certain type of girl growing up in the lower half of California, especially one who wants to write, there is a mandatory reckoning with Joan Didion. I don’t remember my first actual encounter with Joan Didion’s work, only that I ate up most of her books in rapid succession. Despite being utterly impressed, even moved, by her unimpeachable seriousness, I felt alienated by her unimpeachable good taste. And I got the sense she was closing the door behind her.)

All I wanted was permission.

I’d never read sentences like Eve’s — beautiful, breathless, full of information yet humming with the stress of running into a coked-out acquaintance at a party. Eve’s name morphed into a curious shorthand for being in thrall to the fantasy of Los Angeles, but her prose is stuffed with details, details, details. Just look at all the proper nouns in that passage: Edward, Kenya, Gabrielle, Coyote’s Brain. She wrote about Grand Central Market and Olvera Street and Bunker Hill, places I’d been going to since I was a kid and didn’t think much of in terms of literary merit. She wrote about Musso & Frank and the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Angels Flight railway, places brought to life by the people who went there and the way Eve talked about them. That one might chase down and collect her haunts was never my takeaway from her books. To visit these places — which you should anyway — just because Eve did skirts the cardinal achievement of her work: The permission to respect one’s own aesthetic experience, especially in a place like this.
I was FaceTiming with a friend in Philadelphia last year, begging him to come to Los Angeles to recover from a breakup. He’d never been to Los Angeles. I was trying to put Eve’s magic into words that might pull him onto a plane. There was a knock at my door and I told him to hold on for a bit as I stepped out of frame to answer it. When I came back he asked what happened and I said, “Oh, my neighbor across the hall is a cameraman and I guess he got a job in Tunisia for the next few weeks so he dropped off his avocados so they wouldn’t go bad.” I would have thought nothing of this very straightforward sentence if I hadn’t seen the look on his face after it came out of me. “Eve’s Hollywood” is itself an afterimage of a Los Angeles that would never exist to me, but it got me thinking about avocados and what my neighbor did for a living. The seductions of my city were not in what other people wrote but in the details, details, details of my everyday life.

This is the magic. It’s sometimes very small. Eventually he got on a plane.

Eve was never merely an art critic, but she intuited the social contours of the art world. She knew that an art encounter began even before you left the house, it seeped in while you were trying to pick out an outfit for the opening, and described works of art with the same diction she used to talk about food and sex. “Here are Peter Alexander pyramids that’ll sink you into a trance” she wrote in an essay about the Ferus Gallery scene. She had even choicer words for her ex-boyfriend Walter Hopps, describing his “Clark Kent glasses that chopped his face into rectangular squares and made him seem as square and cool as celery.” Around the same time that Eve’s books were being republished, Boris Groys, another favored purveyor of media theory that I like to punish myself with, wrote that “traditional art produced art objects.

Contemporary art produces information about art events.” The ever-prescient Eve spent her formative years living this dry observation with sybaritic relish, waking up the next day to write it down. The information she produced about art events was not just gossip, but an art form in itself. In the same essay she refers to a New York artist as an “uppity bitch,” and I like that.

I toggle between intoxicating myself on Eve’s prose with giving a hard look at the price she paid to live the kind of life that could produce it. Like Lili Anolik, whose 2014 Vanity Fair profile also helped usher in the new Eve-mania, Zoe had once been on a mission to find Eve. She tried to explain to me what it was like to know about Eve Babitz in the early aughts: “I was completely floored and dumbfounded that she was not in the canon — she wasn’t even in libraries.” Zoe did eventually meet Eve, in her characteristically sleuthy way, bartering an artwork in exchange for information on her whereabouts from a fellow artist who did not want to be named. “I haven’t talked about this because part of me still wants to hang on to this fantasy of her,” Zoe said of her 2012 meeting with Eve. She sensed a gnawing wish for privacy, though, and did not contact her again. If Zoe ever constellates Eve into her work, it will be through actors and lookalikes, a conflation of a real star and a fictional character that I find more deferent to Eve’s legacy than voyerustic fetishiztion of her biography. “To be clear,” Zoe said, “I think she’s incredible. To me, her legacy is her writing.”

Same. It’s hard to not vicariously live through Eve. She did everything we’re not supposed to be doing now. The women I see posting the most histrionic social media tributes to Eve are also the ones posting infographics about emotional sobriety, or how to avoid “situationships,” or any number of immaterial tools for getting a handle on the self. That snakeskin of bourgeois psychological management is what Eve spent her life continually shimmying out of. Her relationships — to men, art and alcohol alike — were absolutely situations, at times ecstatic, dangerous, and always fleeting. In the end she did get the guy, and she did it with her inviting and incisive attention to detail. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, Eve was all her life a bride, married to amazement.

Christina Catherine Martinez is a writer, actress, and comedian born and raised in Los Angeles.

News & Events
  1. The way Eve Babitz wrote about art in Los Angeles was art in itself, LA Times, December 21, 2021 by Christina Catherine Martinez Posted December 21, 2021
  2. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University acquires Prospecting Palm Frond Posted July  1, 2021
  3. Silver Art Projects Inaugural Evening Expo Thursday, May 6, 2021 | World Trade Center | New York City, NY Posted May  3, 2021
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  7. Peralta Projects 'Motel' exhibition, discussion examines 'home' in an unprecedented era Opens on July 13, 2020 Posted July 10, 2020
  8. After Quarantine / A Fundraiser for EFA Posted June 16, 2020
  9. Venice Family Clinic 50th Online Benefit Auction! May 3-19, 2020 on Artsy Posted May  5, 2020
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  11. To Bough and To Bend, opening today at Bridge Projects in Los Angeles from 12-7pm, through April 25, 2020 Posted March 14, 2020
  12. VIP Studio Visits at The Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts, Saturday, March 7, 2020 / 2–4 PM Posted March  6, 2020
  13. Mae Wested from the Disappearing of Michelle duBois in the Monica King Contemporary Art Grotto, New York, NY Posted February  1, 2020
  14. L.A. on Fire Catalogue available now Posted January 15, 2020
  15. Reading for Slouching Towards Los Angeles this Saturday, December 14th at Wilding Cran Gallery from 2-4pm Posted December 13, 2019
  16. Five more Out the Window (LAX) images acquired by LACMA Posted December  7, 2019
  17. Going Beyond the Photo-Archive The Significance of Fantasy and Photo-Reflexivity in Zoe Crosher’s The Michelle duBois Project, by Yonit Aronowicz Posted November 30, 2019
  18. Opening Saturday night! L.A. on Fire, curated by Michael Slenske at Wilding Cran Gallery Posted November 14, 2019
  19. Starting Something New: Recent Contemporary Art Acquisitions and Gifts at Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MA, on view now through July 26, 2020 Posted October 18, 2019
  20. Inclusion in Conversations with Artists II, By Heidi Zuckerman Posted October 17, 2019
  21. On the occasion of @nyrbooks release of a new collection of essays by #EveBabitz this week... Posted October 11, 2019
  22. Zoe Crosher in The Watermill Auction, The Hamptons, July 27, 2019 Posted July 12, 2019
  23. Prospecting Palm Fronds published in new issue of Full Blede / Issue Seven: The Continuant January 2019 Posted January 18, 2019
  24. Please Support the 24th Annual Artwalk NY Coalition for the Homeless, Nov 27, 2018 Posted November 27, 2018
  25. Wildfires and Dead Palm Trees Haunt the L.A. Dream in Zoe Crosher’s New Show | Seen | New York Mag | Nov 17, 2018 Posted November 20, 2018
  26. An Artist Talk with Zoe Crosher this Saturday, November 10th at 2 p.m. at Patrick Painter, Inc. Posted November  7, 2018
  27. Zoe Crosher's "Sunlight as Spotlight" opens at Patrick Painter on October 19th Posted October 10, 2018
  28. Check out Zoe Crosher's Art Work | VoyageLA | August 13, 2018 Posted August 13, 2018
  29. LA Times Review: As planes take flight at LAX, two photographers find a darker reality below in 'Grounded' at ESMoA, Aug 3, 2018 Posted August  3, 2018
  30. Paradise Lost: Zoe Crosher, Bernt & Hilla Becher, Joshua Hagler at Patrick Painter Gallery Posted July 27, 2018
  31. The Philip Johnson Glass House 2018 Auction, June 9 LA-LIKE: Escaped Exotics (set of 5) Posted June  8, 2018
  32. GROUNDED, John Divola and Zoe Crosher Approach LAX from Different Directions, opening at ESMoA on June 2nd, 2018 Posted May 24, 2018
  33. An Artist Memorializes The Disappearing Palm Trees of Los Angeles - JStor Daily April 24, 2018 Posted April 24, 2018
  34. Inaugural Los Angeles My Kid Could Do That Benefit, April 6-8, 2018 Posted April  4, 2018
  35. Art Matters: Heidi Zuckerman in Conversation with Zoe Crosher Posted March 13, 2018
  36. CURIO exhibition and Fainting Club, curated and presented by Yasmine M. Zodeh and Sandi Turner Posted March  8, 2018
  37. Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys 1967-2017 opes at The Des Moines Art Center Posted February 19, 2018
  38. Zoe Crosher to judge 2018 Golden Pear Award, designed to raise interest & awareness for independent & artisan perfumers ~ London, April 2018 Posted February  1, 2018
  39. Publication of Wanderlust: ACTIONS, TRACES, JOURNEYS 1967-2017 Catalogue ~ Essay by Melanie Flood Posted February  1, 2018
  40. Zoe Crosher, The Imagiatic ~ UCLA Lecture & Studio Visits, January 26, 2018 Posted December 23, 2017
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  44. Two Truths & A Lie, August 24th - September 30th, 2017. Artist Talk: Zoe Crosher Thursday, August 24 | 5:30 p.m. Posted August 18, 2017
  45. ArtCrush Auction 2017, August 2–4, 2017 Aspen, CO Posted July 30, 2017
  46. Zoe Crosher listed as Cultural Influencer and Innovator in Summer 2017 Issue LAC Magazine Posted June 21, 2017
  47. Zoe Crosher is Artist-in-Residence at Marble House Project in Dorset, VT Posted June 20, 2017
  48. Art Seed Artist Talk at the Marble House Project Posted June 20, 2017
  49. Deconstruction, the 11th Los Angeles Fainting Club Posted June 14, 2017
  50. Steve Turner L.A. is pleased to present All the Small Things, an exhibition of Los Angeles-based artists featuring works that do not exceed six inches in any dimension. Posted June  1, 2017
  51. Zoe Crosher in Residence for 2017 at the Wende Museum, a collections-based research and education institute that preserves Cold War artifacts and history. Posted May 11, 2017
  52. Zoe Crosher in LACE BENEFIT ART AUCTION | Wednesday May 10, 2017 7-9 PM Posted May  2, 2017
  53. Zoe Crosher & Catherine Wagley at DFLAT Residency, Mexico City, March 18-28, 2016 Posted March 26, 2017
  54. The Fainting Club in Palm Springs inspired by the current exhibition at The Palm Springs Art Museum: Women in Abstract Expressionism Posted March  1, 2017
  55. Joanie 4 Jackie, Zoe Crosher brings Miranda July and Astria Suparak to CalArts during their Pacific Coast Tour, November 13, 2000. Posted February 17, 2017
  56. SUPERNATURE, Organized by Zoe Crosher & Emma Gray at Five Car Garage Los Angeles, CA, January 2018 Posted February 16, 2017
  57. Panel Discussion / Art in the Age of Donald Trump at Art Los Angeles Contemporary Posted January 24, 2017
  58. Amplify Compassion: An Art Sale to Benefit the ACLU at 356 S.Mission / Los Angeles, CA Posted January 19, 2017
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  61. Zoe Crosher in Human Condition, curated by John Wolf, at the recently abandoned Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center Posted September 30, 2016
  62. Zoe Crosher at SFAI The Visiting Artists and Scholars Lecture Series Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, 7:00PM - 9:00PM Posted September 14, 2016
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  81. Zoe Crosher Joins the Advisory Council for the Arts at Cedars-Sinai Posted March  1, 2016
  82. Mayeur Projects Inaugural Artist-In-Residency Zoe Crosher, Las Vegas, NM, March 17 - May 14th Posted February 16, 2016
  83. LeSwim announces LeSwim x Zoe Crosher at Rob Pruitt's Flea Market, Presented by LAND Posted February 11, 2016
  84. Book Release for LA-LIKE: Transgressing The Pacific at LA Art Book Fair, MOCA Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles, February 12th Posted February  8, 2016
  85. Artist: Zoe Crosher, by Caroline Ryder for Distinct Daily Posted February  3, 2016
  86. LA-LIKE: Transgressing The Pacific, published by Hesse Press, 2016 now available Posted February  1, 2016
  87. Art House at Soho House Hollywood, curated by Sharón Zoldan, February 1st Posted January 28, 2016
  88. photo l.a. panel discussion, January 22nd, 2016 at The REEF/LA Mart, Los Angeles Posted January 18, 2016
  89. Announcing the publication of LA-LIKE: Transgressing The Pacific, published by Hesse Press, 2016 Posted January  8, 2016
  90. Mayeur Projects Announces Inaugural Artist in Residence - Zoe Crosher, March 2016, Las Vegas, New Mexico Posted December 14, 2015
  91. The Fainting Club Holiday Party in Los Angeles, December 11th Posted December 11, 2015
  92. Los Angeles County Museum Of Art to acquire work from Out The Window (LAX) Series Posted November 29, 2015
  93. LAXART's 10th Anniversary Benefit, November 15th, Los Angeles Posted November 13, 2015
  94. The Fainting Club Dinner in Syracuse, New York, November 15th Posted November 12, 2015
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  97. Staging Los Angeles: Reality, Fantasy, and the Space Between at USC Roski School of Art and Design, opening November 6th, Los Angeles Posted November  2, 2015
  98. Exhibit | Zoe Crosher: Prospecting Palm Fronds, by Alicia Eler for Crave Posted October 26, 2015
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  • The New LA-LIKE
    1. LA-LIKE: Sunlight As Spotlight
    2. LA-LIKE: Prospecting Palm Fronds
    3. LA-LIKE: Escaped Exotics
    4. LA-LIKE: Transgressing the Pacific
    5. LA-LIKE: LA Imaginary As Unlit Lightboxes
    6. LA-LIKE: Fools Gold Dust (Mimic) Paintings
    7. LA-LIKE: Day For Night (or Sunlight As Spotlight)
    8. The Manifest Destiny Billboard Project, in conjunction with LAND
    9. LA-LIKE: Mirage
    10. Shangri-LA'd & Expanded Shangri-LA'd
    11. LA-LIKE: Composition I-10, Desert Center
    12. The Manifest Destiny Billboard Perfume
    13. LA Disappearing Frond-Like
    14. LA-LIKE: Transgressing the Pacific, Dessert Concepts & Recipes
    15. For An Evening with Eve Babitz, at the Chateau Marmont
    16. Tear Sheet Posters
    17. LA-LIKE (LOST)
    18. LA-LIKE: LAXART Billboard
    19. The Pools I Shot
    20. LA-LIKE
  • The Michelle duBois Project
    1. The Uniqued Series
    2. The Additive Dust Series
    3. Mae Wested
    4. The Disbanding of Michelle duBois
    5. The Vanishing of Michelle duBois
    6. The Disappearing of Michelle duBois
    7. The Other Disappeared Nurse
    8. Silhouetted
    9. All Her Shadows
    10. Blackened Last Four Days & Nights in Tokyo
    11. Almost the Same
    12. The Unveiling of Michelle duBois
    13. The Unraveling of Michelle duBois
    14. Posed Postcards
    15. Polaroided
    16. The Reconsidered Archive of Michelle duBois
    17. Obfuscated
  • The Santa Cruz Kids
  • Out The Window (LAX)
  • The Fainting Club
    1. The Fainting Club (London)
    2. The Fainting Club (New York)
    3. The Fainting Club (Los Angeles)
    4. The Fainting Club (More Cities)
    5. The Fainting Club (About)
  • Publications
    1. LA-LIKE: Escaped Exotics / The Bronzed Blossoms of Madame, published by X Artists' Books
    2. The Good & The Glamorous, A Memoir of Misremembering & The Cold War
    3. LA-LIKE: Transgressing the Pacific, Published by Hesse Presse, Los Angeles, CA - Spring 2016 (Sold Out)
    4. Both Sides of Sunset: Photographing Los Angeles (May 2015) Published by Metropolis Books
    5. Forthcoming: The Re-duBois Book
    6. Returning to Berlin / Publication curated by Kim Schoen - Motto, Berlin (August 2013)
    7. Why Art Photography? by Lucy Soutter (2013) Published by Routelage
    8. Volume 4: The Disappearance of Michelle duBois, aka *Mitchi* (Fall 2012) Published by Aperture Ideas
    9. Volume 3: The Unveiling of Michelle duBois, aka *Cricket* (Spring 2012) Published by Aperture Ideas
    10. Volume 2: The Unraveling of Michelle duBois, aka *Alice Johnson* (Fall 2011) Published by Aperture Ideas
    11. Volume 1: The Reconsidered Archive of Michelle duBois, aka *Kathy* (Spring 2011) Published by Aperture Ideas
    12. Out the Window (LAX) with essays by Norman Klein, Pico Iyer, & Julian Meyers (2007)
    13. NTNTNT (2004)
    14. L.A. Now: Volume One, Published by Art Center College of Design, August 2002