Tag Archives: LACMA

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 iannacco@usc.edu with your mailing address for a free copy, and all will become clear.

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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.

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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.

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.