By Miles, Christopher
Artforum International , Vol. 42, No. 10
How did Los Angeles come to host what amounted to a Terry Allen festival? The Lubbock-raised, LA-schooled, and Santa Fe-based visual artist, musician, and writer was the subject of simultaneous solo exhibitions at LA Louver and the Santa Monica Museum of Art; the Skirball Cultural Center produced his new play; and LACMA organized a conversation between Allen and art criticism's great Texan Dave Hickey. Perhaps Allen's completion of a multimedia opus several years in the making converged with a broadly felt need for a practice that, though inconsistent, is also genuinely unpredictable; maybe LA was finally ready for some hot and bothered grit with hints of Ed Kienholz's and Wallace Berman's complicated humanity and politics. And perhaps at a time when insidious federal policies are masked by talk of patriotism and traditional values, we can really use a storyteller like Allen, who knows from good old boys and the good old days.
At its best, Allen's work is like a collection of great country tunes--able, in a way that feels both familiar and mysterious, to tell about what could be specific torn hearts, dashed dreams, or troubled times, while situating these tales within broader human themes. At LA Louver, a hodgepodge of small stage set-like tableaux suggesting the actual sites or psychological spaces of stories passed on to the artist by his parents, along with drawings that resonated with this material, came together under the title of Dugout I (all works 1994-2004), a reference to where Allen's baseball-player father spent countless hours and to the dirt-floor house in which Allen's mother was born. Tales of the wonders, confusions, and disappointments of an emerging modern nation are heard in what sound like radio plays, intercut with Allen's own country/ragtime blues; their texts are scrawled across drawings, illuminated in neon, and stamped into sheet metal. …