Spoiler alert: If you have time to make it to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla, Calif., building before Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface closes on Jan. 22, don’t read past this text I immediately sent the first woman who almost married me about the exhibition’s ultimate crescendo: “So worth hauling ass cross-country to experience.”
(Feeling a bit guilty, I immediately followed suit with a similarly worded text to the filmmaker, who happens to be the second woman who almost married me and now refers to me as “that married gay whore I almost married,” hilariously feigning a tone of aggrieved Midwestern sensibilities. I’ll get around to texting or Tweeting the woman who actually did marry me later today, or perhaps tomorrow; it’s that kind of marriage.)
Of course, both texts were misleading, since hauling ass cross-country is well worth experiencing in and of itself. But I might not have hauled my ass all the way from Boston to San Diego if not for Phenomenal, and certainly not at as brisk a clip if not for its looming closing deadline. (It had taken me from Nov. 28 to Jan. 5 to get from Houston to Boston, where I then spent five nights; by contrast, I left Boston on Jan. 10 and arrived in La Jolla Jan. 19.)
Then again, the experience of squeezing your way through Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor (1970) — a 10-foot-tall, 1-foot-wide, 40-foot passageway lit by green fluorescent bulbs — seems like a strangely perfect distillation of that leg of my journey.
What it’s like to skedaddle from Boston to La Jolla with deliberate speed as a married gay whore, undergoing as many climate shifts as museum visits and alternating lonely moments with one of blissful solititude — all of which in turn are sandwiched between probing interviews with the filmmaker; a dreaded encounter with your Santorum-caucusing parents, who feigned ignorance of your new/old career while knowing everything, that turns out to be as anticlimactic as experience should have taught you to expect; the realization that the cantankerous Clyfford Still was right to hold out more than 30 years after his death, because my god is immersing yourself in those paintings in that museum sublime; snapped photos of the high-altitude landscapes out the window without looking through the viewfinder as you pray you don’t hit an ice patch; one-night stays in one-star dives you prefer to the Chicago boutique where you saw just enough clients to break even; the unexpected email apology received at your whoring address from a high-school crush who outed you after you told him how you felt and has felt guilty about it for years and finally couldn’t take it anymore because he read one gay-teen suicide story too many — all while trying not to read or think about the very show you are rushing to see before it closes?
Sidle your way through Green Light Corridor, looking, as the friendly guard suggests, only straight ahead at the wall or up at the green light, and not — NOT! — at the piece’s entrance or exit, even though you know that on the other side you’ll emerge into Robert Irwin’s legendary 1° 2° 3° 4° (1997), and you’ll kind of, sort of know.
And even though you know sidling through the green corridor is worth it in and of itself, emerging into Irwin’s environment — which is created by three rectangular apertures cut into the oceanview gallery’s tinted windows, effectively framing parts of the Pacific Ocean and the palm trees outside and is a masterpiece in and of itself that you’ve always wanted to see — to experience it bathed in a magenta afterimage thanks to the Nauman is like arriving in improbably balmy La Jolla on Jan. 19, nine days after you scraped snow off your windshield in Boston and hit the road.