Gary Baseman loves Halloween. And he has spent over a decade collecting vintage Halloween photos from flea markets, estate sales, and various other repositories of forgotten familial detritus. Baseman has binders of masked and costumed merrymakers, over 1,500 photos in total, and on Saturday October 20, he puts 80 of those special images–all original photographs from 1915 onwards–on display for “Gary Baseman’s Nightmares of Halloweens Past” at newly opened KK Gallery in Chinatown. And not only will Gary be there, but Capitol Records’ Nightmare and the Cat will be performing.
Friday afternoon CARTWHEEL got a special tour of the installation in process and a chance to chat with Gary about the exhibit and his future plans. And wow! From the custom Baseman painted wallpaper which draws on the background of his Ghost Girl painting and prints, to the Ghost Girl chandelier, the shrouded image of Ghost Girl and the hand painted enlargements Baseman made from select photos in his collection. The handpainted orbs and drips add an extra filip of both Halloween horror and cheer to the vintage, at times voyeuristic, images. If you watch enough ghostbuster type teevee shows, it’s clear that orbs on photos are believed to be evidence of ghostly apparitions (though a grimy lens or dust motes may also be at cause!), while dripping liquid is a classic element of horror; these now decorate the snapshots and staged pageantry of costumed families, friends and social groups. In Baseman’s cosmology/symbology, circles are
manifestations of desire bubbles…
drips are of desire too.
they are not horrific, more drips from so much liquid in this world, of longing, etc.
And think of what we desire and long for at Halloween, not just candy, but to be someone else, or an aspect of ourselves we cannot always express in the everyday wake world. Sometimes our desires can appear horrific to others, to ourselves. Desires permeate and shape ourselves, and are shaped by us, and can manifest in numerous ways, incluidng out Halloween costumes.
And who is Ghost Girl, the central figure in this exhibition? In the original photo, the little girl stands in a sheet with eye holes cut out, surrounded by other other children also dressed for Halloween. In the background a sign indicates she’s in Cypress Park, just a stone’s throw from Chinatown. Baseman first utilized her image in his “Walking Through Walls” show at New York’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery, and she is appropriate image for Halloween–blown up in homemade ghost costume, her sweetness becomes something more haunting, sinister. And Halloween is the night when the veil between worlds is thin and spirits can pass back forth, a night of liminal states (for really what else is trick or treating, but standing on the doorstep of an unknown house in the dark, between one world and another, dressed as something removed from one’s usual outfit).
Baseman explains that his concept of Ghost Girl from the original show where she first appeared is the idea of walking through walls, breaking down societal barriers. Baseman stresses that as a first generation American, nothing is more precious to him than democracy and the First Amendment, and that it is imperative that people exercise their free speech. (And free speech can certainly breakdown both personal and societal boundaries). As Baseman points out, the irony is that Ghost Girl is covered in a sheet. So that raises the question, can she really walk through walls? Is it an illusion, or by saying we walk through walls, can we? Do we?
Halloween–though originally a Celtic holiday, and, through the magic of the change of the seasons, also an Aztec one (both co-opted by the invasion of Catholicism)–is an incredibly all-American experience. It’s a cultural right of passage to go trick or treating, to wear costumes, hold parades and parties, give out candy, and as Baseman’s personal collection of photos shows, to document our transformation from every-day to extra-dimensional beings, caught between worlds, standing at the dinner table in a Kennedy mask, on street corners as rabbits, ducks and pigs, or posing in a group as giant pumpkins, cats or witches.
Along with the hand painted photos, a limited number of Ghost Girl prints, signed by Baseman will also be available for sale. Baseman’s personal collection is not for sale!Gary Baseman’s Nightmares of Halloween Past October 20-November 24 Opening reception October 20, 7pm-10pm 963 Chung King Road Los Angeles, 90012 Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-6pm