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


Try to remember when you didn’t know Eve Babitz.

I first read Eve as part of a book of photographs by artist Zoe Crosher. Zoe’s work is not about the city per se. Through photography and detective archive projects, she maps a certain afterimage of Los Angeles as a black conceptualist. The book, named after his project “LA-Like: Transgressing the Pacific”, reproduced photographs that Crosher had taken of various coastal sites of aquatic 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), dealing with the fate of real stars and fictional characters in the same postcard-quality crime scene quality as 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 preparing her birthday. own book. (Disclosure: Hesse Press, who published Zoe’s book, later published mine.)

“I included clips that surrounded notions of disappearance,” Zoe told me on the phone yesterday as I was doing the dishes. “I have a detective. And it was not easy.

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

I saw Gabrielle the other night hunting in a bush jacket during a museum opening. I asked her if she remembered the coyote’s brain, and she cracked her gum and wondered what I was talking about. She was with Edward Sanford, and when I asked him where his wife (the next one) was, he said he was probably thinking of Kenya. Gabrielle probably “disappeared” her too.

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

Coming to a sentence from Eve Babitz out of the blue was like reading a foreign language. I didn’t know what I was looking at. I have written about art, and my career as an art writer until then had been an exercise in self-flagellation via continental theory, sometimes allowing me to read Maggie Nelson or Chris Kraus or Joan Didion, like a delight. (For a certain type of girl growing up in the lower half of California, especially one who wants to write, there’s a mandatory account with Joan Didion. I don’t remember my first actual encounter with Joan Didion’s work. , only that I ate most of her books in quick succession. Although totally impressed, if not moved, by her impeccable seriousness, I felt alienated by her impeccable good taste. And I had the impression that she closed the door behind her.)

All I wanted was permission.

I’d never read lines like Eve’s – beautiful, breathless, full of information but buzzing with the stress of stumbling upon a coked acquaintance at a party. Eve’s name has turned into a curious shorthand for being a slave to the Los Angeles fantasy, but her prose is jam-packed with detail, detail, detail. Just look at all the proper names in this passage: Edward, Kenya, Gabrielle, Coyote’s Brain. She has written about Grand Central Market, Olvera Street, and Bunker Hill, places I went to since I was a kid that I didn’t think much of in terms of literary merit. She’s written about Musso & Frank, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the Angels Flight Railroad, places bustling with the people who’ve been there and the way Eve talked about them. That one can hunt and collect his lairs has never been what I remember from his books. To visit these places – which you should anyway – just because Eve bypassed the cardinal accomplishment of her job: 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 had never been to Los Angeles. I was trying to put the magic of Eve into words that could get her on a plane. There was a knock on my door and I told him to hang on a bit as I stepped out of the frame to answer. When I came back he asked me what had happened and I said, “Oh my neighbor across the street is a cameraman and I guess he has found a job in Tunisia for the next few weeks. , so he put down his lawyers so they wouldn’t deteriorate. . “I wouldn’t have thought of that very simple sentence if I hadn’t seen the expression on her face after she came out of me.” Eve’s Hollywood “is itself an afterimage of a Los Angeles that would never exist for me, but it made me think about lawyers and what my neighbor did for a living. The attractions of my city were not in what others wrote but in the details, the details , the details of my daily life.

It’s magic. It is sometimes very small. Finally, he got on the plane.

Eve was never simply an art critic, but she sensed the social contours of the art world. She knew that an artistic encounter had started before you even left the house, she sneaked in while you were trying to pick an outfit for the opening and described works of art with the same diction as her. used to talk about food and sex. “Here are the pyramids of Peter Alexander that will put you in a trance,” she wrote in an essay on the Ferus Gallery stage. She had even more chosen words for her ex-boyfriend Walter Hopps, describing her “Clark Kent glasses that cut his face into rectangular squares and made him look as square and cool as celery.” Around the same time that Eve’s books were being reissued, Boris Groys, another preferred media theory provider with whom I like to punish myself, wrote that “traditional art produces works of art. Contemporary art produces information about artistic events. Eve, always prescient, spent her formative years experiencing this dry observation with a sybaritic taste, waking up the next day to write it down. The information she produced on art events was not just gossip, but an art form in itself. In the same essay, she calls a New York artist an “arrogant bitch,” and I like that.

I alternate between getting drunk on Eve’s prose and critically looking at the price she paid to live the kind of life that could produce it. Like Lili Anolik, whose Vanity Fair 2014 profile also helped usher in the new Eve-mania, Zoe had previously been on a mission to find Eve. She tried to explain to me what it was like to know about Eve Babitz at first: “I was completely stunned and stunned that she wasn’t in the canon – she wasn’t even in the libraries. Zoe eventually met Eve, in her signature detective way, exchanging a piece of art in exchange for information about her whereabouts of a fellow artist who didn’t want to be named. “I didn’t bring it up because part of me still wants to hang on to that fantasy of her,” Zoe said of her 2012 meeting with Eve. However, she felt a burning desire for privacy and did not contact her again. If Zoe ever constels Eve in her work, it will be through actors and look-alikes, an amalgamation of a real star and a fictional character that I find more respectful of Eve’s legacy than the voyeuristic fetishization of her. biography. “To be clear,” Zoe said, “I think she’s amazing. For me her legacy is her writing.

Same. It’s hard not to live vicariously through Eve. She did everything we’re not supposed to do now. The women I see posting the most histrionic social media tributes to Eve are also the ones posting infographics on emotional sobriety, or how to avoid “situations,” or any other intangible tool for self-control. This snakeskin of bourgeois psychological management is what Eve continually spent her life wriggling with. His relationships – with men, art, and alcohol – were absolutely situations, sometimes ecstatic, dangerous and always fleeting. In the end, she got the guy, and she did it with her incisive, incisive attention to detail. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, Eve has been a wife, marvelously married all her life.

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

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