Monthly Archives: October 2012

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.

On Making Studio Visits

Scheherazade is Leaving the Building

Alex C Moore, Scheherazade, 2012

Alex C Moore, Scheherazade, 2012

I have been working on the same painting for all of 2012.

For some artists a slow birthing period is standard, but I usually move rapidly through canvases. The large amount of empty space in my paintings, though it had a concrete reason to begin with, is probably a symptom of my devolving attention span nuzzling up against my desires for silence and speed.

I named the painting Scheherazade before it was complete, which should have alerted me to the fact that it would drag on for a thousand and one painful days. Considered in a certain light, this unfinished/finished painting might be my most successful piece to date: it feels unresolved, yet it somehow holds together; I have only a tentative idea of why I made it but it continues to intrigue me. Like Scheherazade herself, it tantalizingly keeps my attention, without letting me kill it and move on.

In another light it is just plain confused.

But I can’t completely blame Scheherazade. During the 9 months that I have spent not painting this painting, life has gotten in the way and painting has felt less important. A couple of days into the piece, I received an email that my grandfather was sick. A week later he died and I headed to England for his funeral. That was February.

Two months later, I became a U.S. citizen. Rather than joining my fellow Americans in joyful plastic flag waving, I not-so-quietly sobbed through the ceremony. Most people looked somewhere between thrilled and bored.  I probably looked like I did at Grandpa’s funeral. After the ceremony, my fellow Americans swarmed out into the sun, to be greeted by proud family members with flowers in their arms. Feeling ungrateful and alone, I biked home.

In June I managed to come into the studio and worked on this piece for a number of hours. But what happened in July, August and September? In July I visited New York and talked a lot about both portraiture and painting, but returned to L.A. and didn’t do much of either. In August a lovely muse of mine posed patiently for photographs meant to inform a new piece, but I can’t quite get excited about editing them. In September….nothing much.

Pinned to my studio wall during my long absence was a piece of paper with two typed quotes:

Dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom.–Lorrie Moore, Dance in America

Art is a method of opening up areas of feeling…A picture should be a recreation of an event rather than an illustration of an object.–Francis Bacon

At a time when some people would have found refuge in the studio, I am avoiding it. I am aware that if art making is my “job”, I should just be showing up every day and making it happen. But as much as artists like to emphasize that our job is very serious and real, I am going to publicly admit that it isn’t the same as showing up at the office. Art practices come in all shapes and sizes, varying from the traditional solitary figure in the messy attic  to the “post-studio” network of collaborators, with an array of hybrids in between. My focus has tended towards painting alone, with occasional forays into collaboration. Most of my paintings are personal and they are at their best when they are honest.

Maybe I’ve just had enough of honest alone time.

Scheharazade is a confused painting. If one thing is certain, it is that I am confused. So the painting that looks like a nice young lady doing yoga got stuck in a tumble drier and then hung from the ceiling, is probably the most honest painting I could make right now.

Perhaps I will stride my way back into an active relationship with my paint brushes, but I’m also ok if I don’t–if it turns out that other methods and mediums are a better way to get at the world beyond my own boundaries and feed my curiosity. Either way, this painting needs to get out of my studio, so i’m sending her off into cyberspace.

Hopefully  that will open up the space I need for something new to happen.