Photo by Jack GouldChris Burden might have turned a lot of heads in the art world when he let his friends shoot a .22 into his arm, but at Anaheim's AAA Electra 99 gallery, hijinks like that wouldn't impress anyone. Gallery overlord Richard Johnson—taxi driver by day, art anti-hero by night—has put six years and three different locations into housing the creative output no one else will touch. And so far, shooting yourself isn't even against the rules.
OC Weekly: Tell me the rules for putting up an exhibit at Electra. Richard Johnson: Can't be on fire, no overpowering odors, no live animals—and you can't make a mess. What exactly is "make a mess"?
That came up because of me. Actually, two of those rules are mine. The fire rule was me—I had this thing that had a candle in it that almost set the first gallery on fire. And make a mess was me—I had to write a note to myself saying I might have to kick me out. I found all these Christmas lights in the trash, all tangled together, so I put them in a wax frame, and we left them on too long, and it dripped all over the floor and ruined the carpet. So I was like, "No making a mess." But overpowering odor wasn't me.
Who was that? And who was live animals?
Live animals was the guy who did the Chicken Baby, a half-chicken/half-baby on a landscape of fur and silverware. Anyway, he made this thing that had a bird and a hamster and a goldfish in it, and the bird died. We don't know why, but it did. And everybody got bitched out by the vegan, Food Not Bombs hippies, so we had to implement that rule. You can have dead animals if they're already dead, but they can't die at Electra. We have a guy who does dead animals all the time. We have lots of dead animals.
And overpowering odors?
That actually was kind of me. But it wasn't a bad thing. I had another wax frame that was scented. Smelled like grapes. It wasn't bad, but it did overpower everyone else's shit. So three out of four rules are because of me.
You must be proud.
I'm the worst one—that's why I'm in charge. That's why I had to have my own place. I'm not allowed anywhere else. I've been kicked out of galleries all my life for one reason or another. Either they didn't like my art, or too many people came, or somebody's grandma came in and didn't wanna see Jesus' dick on the wall.
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What do you think of people who are scared to come to Electra?
That's just bullshit. No one's scared.
You don't think there are people who are scared?
Ah, fuck 'em.