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Frieze Week Los Angeles 2024

For Frieze Projects Los Angeles, Pippa Garner Fakes It and Makes It

Three of the artist’s projects are presented at Santa Monica Airport—including a little-seen ’zine—exploring physical appearance, gender-hacking and consumer culture

BY Matthew McLean in Frieze Los Angeles , Frieze Week Magazine | 26 FEB 24

“We took a tour of Universal Studios in Los Angeles and, inside and outside the place, it was very difficult to tell what was real.” So Andy Warhol recounted to a Vogue interviewer in 1970. The work of Chicago-born, Long Beach-based Pippa Garner, who began her art career in Los Angeles in the 1970s, has constantly toyed with the way the real and unreal are embedded in one another. In the photograph Un(tit)led (Room Corner) (1986–88), a fragment of an interior wall, its falsity exposed, invites the question of whether its backdrop might, in turn, be fake.

More spectacularly, for her iconic Backwards Car (1974), Garner rotated a Chevrolet’s bodywork so that it appeared to be traveling in reverse, then drove it across the Golden Gate Bridge. Haulin’ Ass! (2023) revives the piece in the form of a Ford Ranger. Originally commissioned for Garner’s first New York museum solo show last year at Art Omi—following her inclusion in 2023’s “Made in LA” at the Hammer Museum and the traveling retrospective “Act Like You Know Me”—the work will be displayed at the fair this year, as part of the newest iteration of Frieze Projects, curated by Art Production Fund. It will be exhibited alongside ART-IN-THE- BOX (2024), a new commission realizing a concept Garner sketched in 1995.

There’s a possible parallel between Garner’s automobile treatments and the transformation of her own body—including gender-affirming surgery and illusionistic tattoos, noted by Thara Parambi in her essay on this year’s Frieze Projects—which is perhaps underscored by the artist’s inclusion of a pair of giant, dangling testicles, or “truck nuts,” on the front/back of Haulin’ Ass! As a student at Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design, Garner made a sculpture of a Volkswagen with human hind parts in 1969; in the series of absurdist slogan T-shirts she regularly issues, one marries a picture of a Buick with the words: “Born in the wrong body.” Garner seems to eschew telos for tinkering: body and car alike not so much perfected toward a specific paradigm but perpetually and ingeniously retooled for the hell of it. “I remember looking in the mirror one day,” she told the writer Fiona Alison Duncan in a recent interview, “and I thought, Hey, I’m an object, too. I’m just another appliance.”

Originally penned in 1992, Garner’s ’zine Beauty 2000 is like a cyberpunk rewrite of Diana Vreeland’s “Why Don’t You?” column (1936–62), guiding the reader through “personal-image management” with techniques and devices ranging from “WIG-IN-A-CAN” spray-on hair, “accent moss” patches, nuts and bolts applied like beauty spots for an “iron-rich” complexion, and a portable, blow-up picture frame to surround the face. Only published in a limited quantity once before (for Garner’s 2021 survey at JOAN in Los Angeles), the ’zine will be reissued and distributed across Frieze Los Angeles as part of Frieze Projects 2024.

However delirious and deliciously arch Beauty 2000 can be (the ’zine’s introduction boasts of an automated beauty production line, “inspired by the 3-minute car wash”), the passionate affair between biology, technology, beauty and consumerism it proposes does not, in 2024, feel entirely speculative. What makes Garner’s art so necessary is not some blind techno-futurism (of which the world today probably has enough), but its wryness: the way its ambitious fantasy is undergirded by a bitter awareness of how much effort that creativity requires, and how fragile its effects remain. It’s as if reality is a giant Rube Goldberg machine, whose handle needs to be continually cranked to keep it stuttering along. As Joan Didion wrote of the California life in The White Album (1979), its seeming ease is “an illusion, and those who believe the illusion real live here in only the most temporary way.” Or, as one of Garner’s recent T-shirts declares: “I’d be more beautiful but I ran out of money.”

This article first appeared in Frieze Week Los Angeles 2024 under the headline “Doll Parts.”

Further information 

Frieze Los Angeles returns to Santa Monica Airport from February 29–March 3, 2024.

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Main image: Pippa Garner, cover of Beauty 2000, 1992. Republished for Frieze Los Angeles 2024

Matthew McLean is creative director at Frieze Studios. He lives in London, UK.