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Arnold's Beaux Gestures

Lecture: The performance artist, who was once a nude gargoyle, lays out how he uses his body to get across his message: 'Skip is the artwork.'

April 10, 1998|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — Skip Arnold has turned himself into a hood ornament on an 18-wheeler in Sun Valley and a nude gargoyle on the facade of Otis School of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

He once had himself shipped in a crate from Linz, Austria--where he was on display in a glass case at a public art gallery--to Cologne, Germany, a 14-hour trip by truck.

In Basel, Switzerland, he taped his (nude, of course) body six inches off the ground in a glass entryway, where he remained for 7 1/2 hours a day.

With his body shrouded, he temporarily became a seemingly inanimate appendage of a Manhattan telephone pole. (When he performed this piece in Los Angeles, Arnold had the bizarre experience of being leaned on by a guy making a crack deal.)

The lanky artist discussed some of his recent adventures Tuesday at the Orange County Museum of Art, which owns copies of two Arnold videos, "Dizzy" and "Punch" (last exhibited in 1992).

A sheet of paper attached to his resume laconically summarizes the main elements of his approach: "Skip is the artwork. The act of doing, my actions, my choices."

Arnold initially trained as a painter at State University College in Buffalo, N.Y. Continuing his performance-art studies as a graduate student at UCLA, he began presenting body-oriented activities at punk clubs in the early '80s.

"I live my life as art," he said, "and I decide to frame it when I want to."

Arnold described "Spin"--a 1994 piece in which he stood in a corner and spun all day without stopping--as "a piece of living art. You could walk in any time of the day and see me as you could see a painting."

He has racked up such art world honors as a 1996 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship and inclusion in "Sunshine & Noir: Art From L.A., 1960-1997," an exhibition circulated internationally by the Louisiana Museum of Art in Humlebaek, Denmark.

*

But the unusual requirements of what Arnold calls "simple gestures" raise the most basic kinds of questions. Laughing indulgently at Arnold's art escapades, the small but inquisitive audience at the museum was eager for answers:

* Yep, he does have to stay limber, and he's really good at stuff like jumping off roofs and remaining motionless in small spaces. ("The incentive is never destruction of the body.")

* That glass case in which he displayed himself wasn't airtight; it had tiny holes and a tiny fan.

* Being naked is no big deal. ("Basically, I'm just trying to be part of the environment I'm in.")

* To prevent unwanted bodily reactions, he doesn't eat for 18 hours before a performance.

When he described a piece that had him piloting--and smashing--a couple of speedboats in the Bermuda Triangle ("the idea was to go very fast"), someone asked, "Is getting out a part of your concept?"

"No," he deadpanned. "It's part of life, I think."

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