Category Archives: Los Angeles

Art Books Los Angeles

My Fantasy Fair

Jeremy Deller, I'd rather be reading.

Jeremy Deller, I’d rather be reading.

The L.A. Art Book Fair would have been a lot more enjoyable if I had the money to purchase the objects I desired. In case you were wondering, here’s what I would have purchased:

Jeremy Deller, “I’d rather be reading,” fundraising edition: $200
Dave Eggers’ shower curtain, produced by The Thing: $65
Who Told You So?! The Collective Story v The Individual Narrative produced by Onomatopeia: $30
Bough Down by Karen Green, published by Siglio Press: $27
Local Edition by Louise Menzies, available at DDMMYY’s : $20
Emily Dickenson: The Gorgeous Nothings, published by Christine Burgin: $35
Llana Del Rio Collective‘s A Map for An Other L.A.: $8

Price of my fantasy L.A. Art Book Fair: $384

Being part of an absurdly hip, semi-intellectual, global network of over-educated and under earning liberals: priceless.

Los Angeles

Tête à Tête: A Visual Conversation About Feminism

Installation shot of Tête à Tête

Installation shot of Tête à Tête, showing Marisa Williamson’s Quilt and Carmen Argote’s Mascara

During September, RAID projects in Los Angeles hosted Tête à Tête, an exhibition that re-examined the 1969 feminist assertion that “the personal is political.” The show of work by all female-identified artists ranged from video to painting, and included two series of performances.

The Critical Feminist Theory seminar I took in college was carefully organized to diffuse power and encourage conversation—we met in a sitting room rather than a classroom, discussion was led by a different individual each week, and we discussed the curriculum collectively at the beginning of the semester to ensure inclusion. Artist Michelle Carla Handel’s curation of Tête à Tête worked in a similarly decentered mode as she invited a broad selection of artists and gave each the leeway to include the work that she found most appropriate to the subject matter. It was thus not so much one woman’s vision of contemporary feminism as a loosely orchestrated conversation—a dinner party with Handel as the host.

The show created a space in which female artists raised a spectrum of concerns related to, but not bounded by, their femaleness. It provided a snapshot of a group of women’s concerns, interests and experiences inviting the viewer to draw connections. Among the many threads of conversation were sex, power, control of the body, communication, motherhood, and re-examining history.

Danielle McCullough, Anthropometries Series, 2013, Cyanotypes on archival watercolor paper

Danielle McCullough, Anthropometries Series, 2013, Cyanotypes on archival watercolor paper

One of the quieter and more enigmatic pieces were Danielle McCullough’s small cyanotypes that depicted average measurements of the human body according to the American government. The government uses these figures to establish safety regulations and provide ergonomic standards, but taken out of context the diagrams remind the viewer of a capitalist’s society’s need to control and police the body, and the high value of conformity.   One of the pieces in the show (not pictured here) depicted the average distance from fist to crotch, slyly suggesting the regulation of not just bodies, but sexual practices.

Gala Porras-Kim, an artist whose elegant conceptual work often involves language, chose to exhibit a drawing executed by the daughter of her partner. By presenting this piece, Porras-Kim generously and bravely revealed not only an element of her personal life, but her own trepidation and learning process in a semi-maternal role—admitting to doubts and ambivalence that it is still culturally inappropriate for women to voice. Also on the theme of motherhood, artist Jay Erker provided free childcare during the show’s opening reception, practically addressing the continued lack of support provided to working mothers.

Rachel Hecker, Marina, Business Card, 2006, Acrylic on canvas

Rachel Hecker, Marina, Business Card, 2006, Acrylic on canvas

Rachel Hecker’s  painting of her enlarged business card tells the story of the interaction between herself and the woman she eventually hired to clean her house. In the biographical information provided in the gallery, Hecker elaborated on how the woman, the wife of a man she had hired to do work in her attic, came to solicit employment:

We spoke for a while and I explained that I did not need help, but that we should keep in touch. I handed her my business card, and asked her for her contact info. She took a pen out of her purse, began writing her info on my card, then handed it back to me — effectively turning my card into hers.

Hecker’s piece subtly points out the complex social, economic, and political issues that are woven into our domestic space–the reliance of our economy on immigrant and under the table labor; the reliance of many working women on other women to clean their houses;  the personal branding and status manufacturing captured in a business card–and the shifting layers of power within which we operate–it is, after all, Marina who controls this interchange, not her future employer. That this whole story is captured within a small scrap of paper serves to enhance the sense that these complexities are often overlooked.

I regret that I did not see any of the performances, which included Marissa Williamson’s performance as Sally Hemings –Thomas Jefferson’s biracial slave and mistress of thirty years, Kim Ye & Veronique D’entremont ‘s question and answer podcast, and Molly Shea’s bra burning as a cave woman.

Susan Mogul, Novella Excerpts: Confessions of a…, 2013, Color digital print

Susan Mogul, Novella Excerpts: Confessions of a…, 2013, Color digital print

Bridging the gap between the contemporary look at feminism and the seventies feminism that provided Handel’s jumping off point, was Susan Mogul’s  Novella Excerpts: Confessions of a… This piece humorously responds to the increased interest in Mogul’s work thanks to Pacific Standard Time (PST) but cleverly points out the different cultural attitude to nudity and the perceived inappropriateness of a middle aged woman performing nude, as well as the persistent cultural attitude that feminism and feminist art are in the past. The exhibition also included a photograph of Mogul’s guerilla PST poster. This poster pointed to the gender imbalance of the Getty’s advertising campaign that used contemporary male media icons to draw attention to older male art stars. This piece also nudged at what made Tête à Tête unique and important: despite progress, gender disparity persists in the art world.

Walking through Tête à Tête was like witnessing the kind of conversation I might have with a group of my friends—intimate, using self-deprecating humor to mask complex emotions, seeking advice on an uncomfortable situation, admitting our failings and anxieties, sharing hair care advice.  Plenty of work by women would not fit this description and even the work within this show would not function quite the same in another context–but the whole point of this show was to look at that shared space and see if it still felt relevant. Answer: it does. Possibly uncomfortably so.

Los Angeles

Lost in the Work: Drafting Universes by Sara Schnadt

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

On Sunday night, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, a small group of believers gathered to witness the creation (and subsequent destruction) of the universe. After two cycles of the cosmos returning to nothingness (which took approximately 45 minutes) the crowd chatted and dispersed. Some visitors gently walked on the remaining (though temporary) universe, the silver “stars” hard underfoot.

Drafting Universes is a performance piece created by artist Sara Schnadt. The performance was the inaugural show of Adjunct Positions, an artist space housed inside a residential garage, in collaboration with Craftswomen House Temporary Residence, a project which organizes feminist, site-specific installations in domestic settings.

In our cultural imagination, the garage (and before it the garden shed, the attic, or the basement) is the home of inventors and eccentrics, tinkering away on something obsessively and repetitively, often at the expense of family obligations. Though the home laboratory is the location of the amateur, it is also the incubator of potential innovation (think Jobs and Wozniak circa 1976). Like the artist who is considered a feckless dreamer until she writes a bestseller, the inventor may go from crazy to brilliant in one ecstatic moment of discovery.

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installationa and performance, Adjunct Positions

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

Schnadt’s performance explores this space where repetitive action and unsophisticated equipment may lead to revelation. Here, the earnest explorer is a woman with a broom, a measuring cup, some shiny pieces of metal, and a knack for installing mirrors. She creates her universes through a tedious and simple process: standing on a black floor surrounded on three sides by mirrors, she picks up a cup of metal nuts, walks to a spot on the floor and tosses the nuts into the air. She repeats this activity until the universe feels complete—about 10 to 15 times—at which point she puts down the measuring cup and gently perfects areas with her hands. Once completed, Schnadt documents the universe from a number of different angles, then sweeps it clean and starts over.

As a spectator, it is a pleasure to watch the artist in action: Schnadt’s sense of timing, control, and composure all reveal her early training in dance, and the mirrored walls heighten the sense of choreography as the artist sweeps in sync with her own personal team of cosmic cleaners. Within the limiting boundaries that the artist has created for herself there is still chance and freedom as the nuts fall differently each time. Transforming from dancer to painter, Schnadt carefully examines the end product and makes slight adjustments of density and composition to the swirling galaxies at her feet. The resulting installations are visually simple but compelling.

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

In this installation, science is handled crudely, aiming not to increase our knowledge about the actual rate of expansion of the universe or the number of stars in the Milky Way, but to give us a chance to contemplate the limits of our knowledge, the process of discovery, and the pleasure of looking at the night sky. The stars (when one can actually see them, a rarity in Los Angeles) are a reminder of our own smallness. To take on the creation of the universe in a garage is a gesture towards our self-importance but also an activity in perspective. To then sweep that universe away is a nod to our impermanence…and a reminder that one is definitely not supposed to sit around making universes all day long.

Schnadt’s piece is both gently laughing at our grandiose ambitions and quite seriously considering the potential for something moving and marvelous to take place in a studio, a laboratory, or wherever focused and curious individuals chose to get lost in their work.

Los Angeles

Arts Matter: The best of the rest from 2012

To wrap up 2012 and bound into 2013 without any baggage, here, in mostly chronological order, are the interesting images I have collected over the year, of art works that I experienced but didn’t end up writing about at the time.

I attended a heartening number of solid shows at artist-run spaces. Among the highlights were Liz Nurenberg‘s wearable sculptures and MUC‘s Carnival of Insecurities. Both these art events grabbed me with their honest embrace of dysfunction and their humorous yet earnest solutions.

THEEVERYMANY (Marc Fornes) Y/Struc/Surf 2010

THEEVERYMANY (Marc Fornes) Y/Struc/Surf 2010

This piece in the Centre Pompiduo represents a growing field of applying computer programming and generative processes to art and design. Flashy design technology probably won’t remain that interesting or cutting edge for long, but Everymany is leading the field in visually impressive directions.
Ahmed Mater, Magnetism. (c) Ahmed Mater and the Trustees of the British Museum

Ahmed Mater, Magnetism.
(c) Ahmed Mater and the Trustees of the British Museum

Part of the British Museum’s Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, an exhibition which explored the history of the pilgrimage to Mecca, Ahmed Mater’s striking sculpture of iron filings surrounding a small magnet, eloquently captured the collective energy and awe of not only the hajj, but of belonging to the Islamic faith.
Exploring Liz Glynn's "Anonymous Needs and Desires," part of her installation at the Hammer Biennial.

Exploring Liz Glynn’s “Anonymous Needs and Desires,” part of her installation at the Hammer Biennial.

Liz Glynn’s installation at the Hammer’s Made in LA biennial, balanced visual pleasure with a science museum’s hands-on exploration. It was smart but approachable, grounded in current events but nuanced and open ended, without the unpleasant aftertaste of a political diatribe.


The LA public bus emblazoned with Barbara Kruger’s words makes me happy every time I see it; not only is it a splash of visual excitement when stuck in traffic, but it also proclaims loudly the importance of education in eradicating prejudice, encouraging empathy, developing self-confidence and building a healthy society. This is the first bus in the LA Fund’s year-long Arts Matter campaign, hoping to raise $1.5 million for arts education.  Yes, apparently the greater metropolis and our city’s politicians need reminding that the arts matter, as absurd as that may seem to me.

In addition to the success of Arts Matter, I have some other art related wishes for 2013, just in case the universe is listening.

To interview Wangechi Mutu. Her December show at Susan Vielmetter Gallery used collage to powerful effect. One piece very specifically referred to traditional African masks and rituals, and I hesitate to interpret the piece myself–a conversation with the artist is the obvious solution.

To see a really great painting show. One that delights, inspires and moves me, or stirs something that I don’t understand. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

A trip to either Amsterdam or Accra. I’m always itching to travel and see new work, but there are particularly exciting things happening in these cities. On a more achievable scale, while on the east coast this spring I hope to visit Amalia Pica’s show in Boston, this exhibition at Princeton and squeeze in the current Picasso exhibition at the Guggenheim.

A Fantastic Heliotherapy logo. Any graphic designers looking to trade skills?

Some clarity. I started this blog at the beginning of 2012 with the tentative sense that I had some things to say and didn’t want to wait until someone asked my opinion. I am still figuring out if this counts as criticism, what is interesting to readers and where to point my nose. Your feedback is truly appreciated.

With that, into 2013 we go!


Los Angeles Studio Visits

Some Say Ice

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

What can one artist do, in one day, to save the planet?

For Dai Toyofuku’s performance piece Glacier, which took place at the Eagle Rock Recreation Center during the height of the summer heat wave, the artist temporarily turned himself and his car into “glaciers”—structures draped with tarps that were then painted white. Over the course of the five hour performance/experiment, Toyofuku stayed inside his “human glacier,” and carefully recorded the temperatures inside the human glacier, the car glacierist, a control car and outside. At the peak of the day it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler inside the human glacier than outside, and 30 degrees cooler in the car glacier than the control car.

For five hours, Dai Toyofuku successfully contributed to the cooling of the earth. It was an absurd yet earnest act.

The absurdity was inspired by the very real claim of Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu that painting roofs white and manufacturing “cooler” colored cars could dramatically reduce global warming. Within this context, Toyofuku’s gesture becomes a way to raise awareness, make scientific theory approachable and render the specter of climate change less abstract and overwhelming.

The execution of the glaciers was quick and dirty, more a child’s sketch of a glacier (a big white triangle) than something scientifically or visually accurate. Placing these homemade glaciers in the Southern California landscape, Dai drew attention to their foreignness. Though they hold a strong role in our cultural story, glaciers remain unreal, almost mythological, to most people–especially on a hot summer day. However, we have to be able to hold multiple landscapes in our minds simultaneously, imagining the totality of our planet and the long term consequences of seemingly harmless choices, if we are going to start really digesting what climate change does and could mean.

This cognitive collapse of space and experience also happens in the Parts (un)known collage works of Sara Schnadt. She created these collages for an installation and performance work that tracked her personal travel history through found images, but now Schnadt is beginning to explore the collages as works in their own right.

One that caught my eye, and acts as a nice visual accompaniment to Dai’s performance, is a juxtaposition of a glacial landscape with what looks to be a piece of farm equipment, obscured by a tarp, sitting in a hot dry landscape.  My focus is magnetically drawn to the single tentative point of contact—the impossible space which connects hot with cold, the untouchable arctic and some obscure, unreachable past.

This flattening of the world is not a new concept, but Schnadt’s personal approach creates compelling fictive spaces from the fragments of experience.  I am a fellow nomad–someone who’s friends and family are regularly stretched over the globe and who’s working life happens in the intangible data-space between L.A. and Cameroon–so this bittersweet work hits home.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

A particularly haunting collage in the series connects together Berlin, Inverness, Afghanistan and Jerusalem. The way the spaces transition into each other is artfully done–the experience of viewing recedes into mist just as memory allows places and experiences to blend and soften. There are very specific and painful histories lying just below the surface, but these snapshots and postcards see the world through a tourist’s idealized and apolitical lens, speaking not to specific places but to the melding of longing and familiarity that permeates the experience of ex-pats and wanderers.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Though with very different agendas, these two artists are addressing the ways we conceptualize and understand our relationship to the globe in its entirety. I want to be optimistic and claim that as we become more familiar with far away lands and people, we become more empathetic and have a larger sense of responsibility. But on the converse, the more information we have, the more overwhelming and hopeless things seem to feel. It is at the nexus of global responsibility, frustrated activism and instant gratification that Toyofuku’s performance makes sense.

So, just what can one person do, in one day, to have a positive impact on the planet?

Los Angeles

We Were Here

The first time I remember imbuing a rock with personal meaning, I was twelve or thirteen. The stone was grey-pink and diamond shaped and came from beside a stile in the Lake District. It was picked up and handed unceremoniously to me by the boy I was hiking with. Though an almost invisible gesture–and one that thoroughly confused me at the time–six months later we built up the courage to hold hands. As often happens, life got in the way of that romance, but I think I still have the rock somewhere.

Behind the adverts commanding heterosexual men to formalize their feelings with sparkly stones that are really labor intensive (and probably morally problematic) to procure, I think there is a long held instinct to give another person a little piece of the Earth. That rock is a reminder that we were here, together, for one tiny chip out of eternity.


Carmine Iannoccone's GravitySurfer Number 1. Found rock, paper and paint.

Carmine Iannoccone’s GravitySurfer Number 1. Found rock, paper and paint.

During the summer, a giant rock rolled into LA and took up its post at LACMA. Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass is intended to last for 30,000 years, standing to remind the post-apocalyptic residents of Southern California (which could one day be an island–just read the zine) of the larger forces, the expanse of art history, human mortality, and Michael Heizer’s genius.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, a much smaller rock arrived at a bookstore in LA’s Atwater village, in a gallery about twice the size of a shoe box.

Showbox LA exhibitions are small in scale, and last only a matter of hours. The organizers, artists Sophia Allison and Paul W. Evans, have created a venue which provides an alternative space and unique audience, but demands that artists address scale–not by making a miniature of what they would normally do, but thinking specifically about what they can accomplish in a table top setting. As no one can be inside the gallery itself, the crowd clusters around the edges and is forced into close proximity with each other and the artist. The exhibitions are almost performance pieces the artist is so much a part of the experience.


For I am the Gravity Surfer artist Carmine Iannaccone exhibited a rock and a portrait of that rock, separated by an abstract undulation of paper and paint. The  first person stance of the title lets you know right away that this show is intimate in its intentions. The objects in the exhibition used the microscope of Carmine’s process–scale shifts, layer building and careful observation–to draw the viewer’s attention to the forces of physics and geology.


I am The Gravity Surfer, a one day installation organized by Shoebox LA

Carmine’s portrait of the rock does what any good portrait does—renders that individual unique and reminds us to look more carefully at the real thing when we see it. Carmine clearly spent hours observing the original and lovingly paint-sculpting a representation—a fresh view of something so ubiquitous that I normally forget to notice it. Like a shell picked off the beach, it is transformed into a particular and given momentary meaning.

The accompanying Accordion Fold zine meticulously renders the data and design of the universe personal and intriguing; the earth moves, experience accumulates and trees tell tales. What does that mean? I encourage you to email Carmine at with your mailing address for a free copy, and all will become clear.


Heizer’s big rock struck me as out of sync with the contemporary moment: though aesthetically appealing and thrilling for little kids (I watched a four-year-old girl run back and forth exclaiming “it’s just so big!”), the moment for machismo monuments came and went long before 2008’s financial collapse or 2012’s record high temperatures. I don’t think that I am alone in appreciating small scale art which gets me into conversation with my neighbors and asks me to think of myself as a surfer–someone momentarily riding the larger forces, completely present and listening, for just one small swell out of eternity.

The next Shoebox LA installation takes place on Saturday, December 15, from 4-7pm at Half Off Clothing Store in Los Feliz. I hope to see you there.

Los Angeles Short & Sweet

Forms & Flavors of Love

It is time for the obligatory post of thankfulness. So who better to talk about than Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin? These two artists may not be the first who come to mind when you gather around the table and think about your blessings—hopefully some combination of love, good health and family—but if I move deeper, towards the central theme of those blessings, I think that an open eyed appreciation of the physical body, the pleasures and pains it can bring and the connection it affords us, are actually the perfect themes for a thanksgiving. Today, I am thankful for daring artists, for troublemakers, for people who refused shame or false piety and intertwined visual and physical pleasure. This is art that makes me thankful to be alive, in all my flawed and messy glory.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Rose, NYC (Y Portfolio), 1977, Gelatin Silver Print. (c) The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Rose, NYC (Y Portfolio), 1977, Gelatin Silver Print. (c) The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Currently on display at LACMA are Mapplehorpe’s X,Y and Z Portfolios, hung staggered above one another, like lines of free verse. Augmenting the literary sense of the work, the photographs are displayed with their portfolio cases and the original writings that were published with them: poems by Patti Smith and Paul Schmidt, and an essay by Edmund White. In this installation, beyond marveling at his formal skills, I understood the depth of Mapplethorpe’s classicism and the continuity between his darkly sexual still lives, the fragility of the body engaged in S&M rituals and the well-loved surface and forms of the black male nudes. Each portfolio tells a compelling story of it’s own, but together they are a  revelation.


Robert Mapplethorpe, Jim, Sausilito. X Portfolio, 1977. Gelatin Silver Print. (c) The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

I am in Seattle for Thanksgiving, and have had the chance to visit the Seattle Art Museum’s survey show Elles:Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris which is accompanied by Elles:SAM, a major reinstallation of the museum’s own collections of modern and contemporary art that highlights the work of women artists. I’m going to save the feminist polemic for another day, but LA take note: your REI wearing sister to the north is ahead of you on this one.

Still from Heartbeat, 2000-2001 by Nan Goldin. Projection of 245 color slides in sequences of 4 plates accompanied by soundtrack of “Prayer of the Heart” by John Tavener, played by Björk and the Brodsky Quartet; duration 15’08″. Image courtesy of Seattle Art Museum and Centre Georges Pompidou.

Still from Heartbeat, 2000-2001 by Nan Goldin. Projection of 245 color slides in sequences of 4 plates accompanied by soundtrack of “Prayer of the Heart” by John Tavener, played by Björk and the Brodsky Quartet; duration 15’08″. Image courtesy of Seattle Art Museum and Centre Georges Pompidou.

Nan Goldin’s Heartbeat installation took me by surprise, not so much because it contains daringly explicit images of sex and nudity, but because I was so enraptured by a subject that, in the hands of a less sensitive photographer, could easily have been sleazy or dull. Bjork’s soundtrack seduced me into sitting down, but the unfolding stories of different couples kept me engaged. Without idealizing, air-brushing or simplifying, she shows the viewer the casual choreography of intimacy and the way people’s bodies and lives interlock. Yes, there is an aspect of voyeurism, but Goldin’s photos are a lesson in the forms and flavors of love–a lesson at least as old as Plato’s Symposium and still a relevant one. Especially at Thanksgiving.

Art Books Los Angeles

Join The Art Nerds, We Have Cookies

Hello Victims: Ad Reinhardt by Brian Kennon, 2005, edition of 100

Hello Victims: Ad Reinhardt by Brian Kennon, 2005, edition of 100

My ideal Saturday afternoon might involve unending cups of tea, a rotating selection of simple but gourmet cookies, interesting art, beautiful books and stimulating conversation. This weekend, For Your Art, the hole in the wall art gallery/project space that sits across the street from LACMA supplied all of these except the tea—though coffee and tequila were reasonable substitutes.

From 11am until 8pm the space hosted a series of presentations by artists, designers and curators on the topic of art books. For the three hours that I was present, the vibe was relaxed, with presentations lasting between 15 and 45 minutes. The arrival of a new type of cookie every hour—a premise which could have been overly twee or cloying–conjured the indulgence and intimacy of artists books while conveniently keeping the audience engaged through the constant injection of sugar.

Though a cousin of the zine movement, the artist book tends to be a labored, almost fetish level product and FYA’s event highlighted the attentiveness and commitment (dare I say obsession?) that fuels this particular brand of art practice. Having collaborated on a limited edition book last year, I was just as interested to learn more about the nuts and bolts of collaborative efforts, book design and distribution as I was to explore the content of the pieces presented.

Brian Kennon, the artist behind 2nd Cannons Publications, talked about a number of his own works as well as the books by others that he has produced. I appreciated his hijacking of the catalog format to make a case for Ad Reinhardt as a herald of the zombie apocalypse, and was intrigued by the mixture of scrapbooked history and art world memoir that he created with New York based curator Bob Nickas. The pages of Bob’s anecdotes range from an artist’s advice that “people in the art world are basically sociopaths” to his own description of a Robert Smithson collage: “the earthwork as sci-fi monster movie.”

Spread from Heliogabalus by William E. Jones. Published by 2nd Cannons in 2009, edition of 500.

Spread from Heliogabalus by William E. Jones. Published by 2nd Cannons in 2009, edition of 500.

Following Kennon, came a conversation between artist William E Jones and LACMA curator Rita Gonzalez. This was my first in-depth introduction to Jones who’s conceptual and experimental work explores marginalization, often specifically in reference to American gay subculture. He discussed his Tearoom project–a film and accompanying book that re-purposes footage of men having sex in a public toilet, that was shot surreptitiously by Ohio police in 1962—as well as his book of censored WPA negatives, his tribute to decadent Roman Emperor Heliogabalus which intersperses official portraits with adverts from 70s magazine After Dark, and his footnoted parody of academic writing. I plan to consume them all.

Among others, I missed Lisa Anne Auerbach’s talk, but I was happy to discover that her project Bookshelf–a meander of a book, dedicated to the personal relationships that book lovers build with their collections–is available for download on her website.

An excerpt (K after the description refers to her decision to keep the book):

City of Quartz by Mike Davis
This seminal book about Los Angeles came out just before I moved here. Dan gave me this hardcover copy on my birthday in 1991. The inscription reads, “Happy Birthday and thank you for coming with me.” This is the first book I’d ever read about Los Angeles, and a great introduction to the area. I’ve re-read various chapters since I’ve been here, and always find something new and amazing out about the city. K

The Cyclist’s Manifesto by Robert Hurst
My father got me this book, which is really sweet. I haven’t read it. The book is subtitled “The Case for Riding on Two Wheels instead of Four” and I’m not sure I need to read that case. I’m pretty much convinced already. K

The Business of Charity: The Woman’s Exchange Movement 1832-1900 by Kathleen Waters Sander
I had never heard about this chapter of women’s labor history until I found this book. I bought it somewhere east, either Baltimore or Philadelphia, I don’t remember which. Women’s exchanges were a venue for selling hand-crafted goods on consignment. K

I found myself reading through almost all 21 pages of book descriptions and ephemera collected from within their pages, compelled by curiosity and voyeurism to hear her thoughts, see what she has read, and compare my own mental notes. I don’t know Lisa Anne well, but I admire her work and I adopted my cat from her, so I am probably at just the right distance to devour her bite-size reviews. I don’t know if a complete stranger would be interested.

This event at FYA was a town hall meeting of the local art world nerds: people who slave away on books that will have tiny audiences and make negligible profits, at best.  So what is the appeal? As Lisa Anne’s book demonstrates, one strength of the artist’s book is that a limited edition or cheaply produced object only needs to appeal to an enthusiastic niche audience. I am drawn to the medium because art books are handheld art objects that get multiple private viewings. Making a book can enable an artist to write their own version of history or to engage in a form of institutional critique. To create and distribute a book doesn’t need approval from any higher power so the work can be irreverent, playful, pornographic, confusing, extremely personal–anything goes. The artist can have complete control.

I hope we see more events like this and that more artists explore the medium; it is fertile ground and there is plenty of room for newcomers.  Join the art nerds! We have cookies.

Los Angeles

Are you in the loop?

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Googy (Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery), 2012. Photo by Kohl King.

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Googy (Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery), 2012. Photo by Kohl King.

I’m not usually one for superlatives, but the first incarnation of The Loop Show, which took place at the Beacon Arts Building last fall, was one of the most exciting group shows I saw in 2011. Carefully thought out, the show not only had a strong conceptual through line, but also addressed the particularities of the space—women dressed in curator China Adams’ Trash Garments guided viewers up and down the stairs; a large collage of cigarette packets by Robert Larson reflected the stained concrete of the warehouse space; an undulating installation by Anne Heironymous flowed seamlessly into the warehouse architecture —and brought together a group of artists with unique and divergent aesthetics.

Having been rejuvenated and inspired by the first installment, I was truly excited to hear that the show was being re-staged, on a smaller scale, in Chinatown. The Small Loop Show features works by a selection of the same artists, but where the last show highlighted excess and had a freewheeling sense of possibility—the art pieces seemed as if they could actively climb the walls, consume the furniture and possess the whole space—this show addresses material waste in a more personal and introspective manner.

The Small Loop Show, Installation View. Photo by Kohl King

The Small Loop Show, Installation View. Photo by Kohl King

Before visiting the show I had dinner with a friend who is a recent transplant to LA. She summarized her initial impression of Angelino art as “rigorous decorative,” and I can’t think of a better starting place to describe this show. Like last time, the pieces were carefully chosen and create a satisfying flow of material, form, texture and color, allowing the eye to easily move between pieces and make immediate visual comparisons. Though all the pieces use recycled materials (hence the loop of the title) their approaches and internal logic vary widely. From the simple gesture of William Ransom’s wooden sculptures, to Nuttaphol Ma‘s subtly politicized spool, and the large friendly creature created by Elizabeth Higgins O’Connor, the show weaves effortlessly between playful and serious, elegant and goofy.

Neither my eye, nor my mind could settle for too long on any specific piece, but this is the nature of a group show; it is not about the individual pieces, but about building a conversation and, in this case, making critical and cultural space for hand crafted, carefully conceptualized, small foot-print work. Unlike the work from the New Museum’s influential Unmonumental Show, the work does not look like piles of junk, even on first glance, and transcends its “recycled materials” premise. These are beautiful  objects that just happen to be “ sustainable.”

Stephen McCabe, Long Horn Beetle, 2012 and Soft Wing Flower Beetle, 2012. Photo by Kohl King

Stephen McCabe, Long Horn Beetle, 2012 and Soft Wing Flower Beetle, 2012. Photo by Kohl King

The Loop Show does not for a second feel like a lecture or even a call to action—unless you count joyfully pondering as an action–but it surreptitiously criticizes the art world’s excesses. Adams has been working with found materials and confronting our culture’s materialism head on for a number of years. Was it a coincidence that this show opened the same weekend as the Art Platform Los Angeles art fair? Whether purposeful or not, viewing the two events on the same day certainly created a juxtaposition between the mostly slick and commercially viable work of the fair, and the pieces in this exhibition.  It is an irony of the art world that though many artists make do with less in the way of material goods, we actively create more stuff for other people to consume and may admire artwork that adds toxins to the air and junk to the landfills. I choose my toothbrush, shampoo, milk, and t-shirts based on how and where they are made–so why not ask that my art be eco-friendly also?

The artists that are in The Loop, casually capture this contemporary trend, and knowingly suggest that, far from being a limiting responsibility, using recycled materials is a creative opportunity and a possible pathway towards rigorously decorative work that is also socially relevant.

The Small Loop Show
The Fellows of Contemporary Arts
970 North Broadway Suite 208 . Los Angeles CA 90012
29 Sep 2012 – 24 Nov 2012.
Call (213) 808 1008 to inquire for gallery hours.

Los Angeles

California Dreamin’

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous Los Angeles, 2009/printed 2011 (c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous Los Angeles, 2009/printed 2011
(c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

If this blog was started to dispel the myth of the Angelino artist as a bright, breezy, color-driven painter, then LACMA’s The Sun and Other Stars is the perfect show for me to discuss. The unsettling exhibition brings together the work of Katy Grannan and Charlie White, two California based artists who explore the often conflicting desires for individuality, conformity, and celebrity in American identity.

In Katy Grannan’s photographs, the harsh sun and white stucco walls illuminate drifters lurking in back lots and on city sidewalks.  A woman holding a plastic lunchbox snaps a photo on her iphone as her black hoody and skirt (seemingly out of place in this stark light) whip in the wind. A Marilyn Monroe lookalike grimaces with fatigue and regret–a companion image to Richard Avedon’s mesmerizing photograph of the original.

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous San Francisco, 2009/printed 2011 (c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous San Francisco, 2009/printed 2011
(c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

This is the dark side of Hollywood and west coast pioneering, away from the beach, the billboards and the success stories. But the photographs are classically composed and richly detailed, giving weight and reverence to the figures, and allowing the images to avoid being grotesque. The repeated title of Anonymous, drives home the obscurity of these individuals in relationship to the world of glamour and fame that they shadow, but it also draws attention to their refusal to be easily understood or encapsulated.

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print. LACMA, (c) Charlie White

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print.
LACMA, (c) Charlie White

In contrast to Grinnan’s ragtag group, the adolescent girls in Charlie White’s series of casting call photographs passively fulfill the photographer’s request for white, blonde, and slender blandness. Through these photos, White powerfully critiques America’s tyrannical lust for an empty ideal, and the resulting images are profoundly bleak. I wholeheartedly agree with White’s disgust at “all-American” or “valley girl” culture, but his cold and calculating use of these young women leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Also included in the exhibition is a television showing White’s animated series A Life in BTween. The series satirizes “tween” culture –texting, malls and gossiping—to such an extent that the combination of the animation and the photos feels cruel and reductive. At what point does this go too far? By creating these images is White participating and further trivializing teen girls?

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print. LACMA, (c) Charlie White

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print.
LACMA, (c) Charlie White

This vision of adolescence was particularly striking considering my recent encounter with Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs, and one of Dijkstra’s young bathers, Hel, is currently installed at LACMA just around the corner from White’s “tweens.” Unlike the tweens, Hel is photographed with tender respect and treated as an agent in her own right. It is hard to envision a photographer in Los Angeles making similarly earnest images.

In contrast to the world White captures, Grinnan’s harsh reality seems almost liberating–better to flounder towards the unconventional than to accept life as a cardboard cutout.