A New Show Brings to Life the Psychedelic World of Nest’s Joseph Holtzman
Immersive experiences are Joseph Holtzman’s forte. Just ask anyone who was a fan of Nest, the subversive interiors magazine that he founded and published from 1997 until 2004. Nest was a visual triumph of special effects, its photographs framed by exciting patterns and motifs and occasionally perforated with amoebic shapes or coated with glitter, less about a room than about a mood, an escape. The otherworldly assemblage strangely never fought with the images that were the ostensible focus of the stories but only enhanced them, as The Best of Nest (Phaidon), bears colorful witness. Holtzman’s apartment, just down the hall from Nest’s office, was a three-dimension evocation of the magazine that he edited, its walls and ceilings striped with intersections of paint and pattern, resulting in a sublimely helter-skelter euphoria filled with treasures, rarities, and one-offs.
“There is this overall feeling of being suspended in time,” says Los Angeles gallerist Sam Parker of Holtzman’s personal aesthetic, which he experienced firsthand at Camp Nest, Holtzman’s phantasmagorical retreat in upstate New York. Parker, however, didn’t realize that Holtzman is an artist as well, but it took no time for an idea to ferment: An exhibition of Holtzman’s latest works set within a room that would embody his personal and editorial style. “I was thrilled to see his paintings for the first time, especially with my understanding of what Nest was all about: They are by a very different sort of hand,” Parker continues of the works, large sheets of white marble that have been brushed with thin washes of oil paint which are then scratched, etched, and otherwise scarified to create a ghostly, hypnotic sense of depth to the expressionistic scenes they depict. “The more time I spent with them, the more I was surprised to see how many historical references were embedded in them, references to the entire Western canon of painting as well as decorative arts.” And, he continues, “Seen in a room with natural light, they almost appear to be backlit.”
On view by appointment through December 20 at Parker Gallery’s location in Los Angeles’s Los Feliz neighborhood, “Joseph Holtzman: Six Recent Paintings” is displayed in a room that has been outfitted in evocative Nest style. Given COVID-19, the installation was a logistical challenge, designed by Holtzman and created with a socially distanced contractor and workman over a five-month period. “Everything that you see in the room was brought in and designed very specifically for the space,” Parker explains of the exhibition, which celebrates new Holtzman works that were inspired by a trip to Hydra and “can be read as turbulent seascapes, however abstracted.”
The swirling seascapes may have an organic sense of movement but the room in which they are contained is mathematically graphic. Kvadrat felt in shades of mint green, yellow, purple, blue, and black have been sliced, diced, and reconfigured into fuzzy inlaid boiserie à la Piet Mondrian. More Kvadrat felt, this time red, joins vintage silver wallpaper to create a faux-coffered ceiling. Flowered-chintz seating with ruffled skirts is positioned on colorful 1940s linoleum carpets, while the articulated lights that illuminate Holtzman’s paintings are dental lamps from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all of them made by the same manufacturer. “They’re an ode to Joe’s genius obsessiveness,” Parker observes, adding that the patterned fabric that lines the gallery’s entrance is Herb, an elegant and infamous marijuana-leaf chintz that Holtzman designed during the Nest years.
Though Parker Gallery’s temporary new decor recalls Holtzman’s gloriously idiosyncratic Madison Avenue apartment, it is not a simulacrum by any means. Still, the visual and spiritual connections between the two make an important statement. “It’s a nice parallel relationship to our space, which was also a domestic environment from the same period,” Parker says, alluding to the 1920s Tudor Revival house turned gallery. “Joe has an encyclopedic knowledge of art, architecture, and design, so being in the gallery now is almost like experiencing him think, which is unique for any environment or interior in general to do.”