Microclimates: Made in L.A. 2014June 2014
Made in L.A. 2014
Los Angeles: Hammer Museum
Tucked away at the end of a long driveway along a bland stretch of Eagle Rock Boulevard, with a Filipino restaurant next door serving as the only helpful landmark, one finds the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Founded by German born artist Alice Könitz in 2012 and situated just outside her Eagle Rock studio, LAMOA is, at thirteen feet in length, undoubtedly the smallest museum in the city for which it is named. If the open pavilion structure, sheltered by corrugated roofing, recalls the legacy of modernist architecture that takes advantage of the region’s famously mild climate, it also recalls the artist’s sculptures that frequently draw upon the city’s vernacular structures—from its taco stands to its corporate towers. Acting as the museum’s designer, director, and chief curator, Könitz has, to date, organized a series of solo shows for her artist peers willing and eager to work within the tiny institution’s considerable constraints. LAMOA is emblematic of a number of recent artist-run spaces— including other self-styled museums—to appear in the Southern California landscape. Driven by a desire for more flexible and, presumably, more casual platforms for exhibition making, microinstitutions such as LAMOA have emerged at an anxious economic moment in which, for most artists— let’s face it—the gap between the auction floor and the studio space grows exponentially wider. Still, it should be stated that such venues are not necessarily in opposition to the larger gallery and museum structure, but rather coexist along a broad spectrum of possible points of contact between artists and audiences. In the case of small-scale institutions, including LAMOA and Public Fiction (also represented in Made in L.A.), which operate in working-class neighborhoods littered with mostly anonymous studios, that audience is primarily made up of artists.
A few blocks south of LAMOA, in an upstairs studio that formerly served as a storage facility for police evidence, Tala Madani paints tableaux that are abject and funny in roughly equal measure. Her images of bald, bearded, beleaguered men and, more recently, of cheerfully innocent children playing in a literal world of shit intersect painterly virtuosity and crude approximation, as well as social anxiety and art-historical savvy. Madani’s work has received considerable attention in recent years as well as critical acclaim, but curiously it has gone mostly unseen in her adopted city of Los Angeles.
Some twenty-three miles westward, on an eclectic street in Venice a few blocks from the beach, Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess maintain and are gradually expanding one of the city’s most significant holdings of ceramic production, representing some four decades of collaborative work. While each Frimkess has honed a completely unique style—Michael mastered throwing pots from clay without the aid of water; Magdalena builds her pots into distinctively lumpy shapes before decorating them—the two have also pioneered a remarkable partnership in their shared medium. Though Michael is quick to deem many of his vessels “tests” or “experiments,” he is just as eager to define Magdalena’s redemptive ornamentation of these so-called castoffs as “masterpieces.” Drawing upon a wide range of historical and contemporary design motifs—from pop and cartoon imagery, including Popeye, Minnie Mouse, and Chile’s Condorito, to family members and bicycling Venice denizens—such ornamentation is unabashedly nonhierarchical and global in its outlook, even though it is immediately clear that these pots could have been made only in the Frimkesses’ studio.
By comparison, the collaborative studio of Gerard & Kelly, in a Lincoln Heights complex full of artists, seems provisionally situated. Moving to Los Angeles for graduate studies, the two had already developed their collaborative project in New York. Both trained and worked in dance before becoming artists—and many of their works in video, installation, and performance explicitly draw upon their backgrounds in movement while bringing critical scrutiny to art-historical and social concerns. Like Gerard & Kelly, many (though certainly not all) Los Angeles artists relocate because of school; upon arrival and after graduation, they find their adopted home a fecund environment for working, alone or in collaboration.
Born in Pomona, California, Marcia Hafif splits her time between her native state and New York, with a pleasantly spare house in Laguna Beach and a loft in Manhattan. For many years, Hafif has painted square monochromes, a format seemingly indifferent to geographic or cultural context. Still, a visit or two with the artist reveals her keen understanding of light and color (see, for example, the incredibly varied effects of adding a tiny drop of black paint to a given hue in her Shade paintings) and her diverse explorations, from photographing weeds on her Laguna property to writing about memorable meals—see her “Appendix A: Radical Cooking (for J-C)” in this volume—all evidence a deep-rooted investment in localized knowledge.
Often hiding in plain sight, most of the artists in Made in L.A. 2014 are known to one audience—be it enthusiastic peers or jet-setting art-world cognoscenti—but completely unknown to many others. The context of such an exhibition—that is, a regional biennial in a city of global cultural significance—provides an opportunity to overlay circles large and small, like a cluster of Venn diagrams.
Sales pitches about “the climate” repeat more often than any other in early brochures about Los Angeles. The boosterism continues in articles into the forties and fifties, and is well remembered in novels, films, critical essays into the present. As Aldous Huxley writes in 1939, the sunshine in Los Angeles worked on tourists like a spotlight, “as though on purpose to show the new arrival all the sights.”
One of the first facts I remember learning about Southern California, immediately upon moving here from southern Wisconsin, is that its geography comprises a constellation of discrete microclimates. I remember this information was followed with a specific number of microclimates—maybe it was eleven, or perhaps seventeen—but nearly two decades later, my memory of this geography lesson is as hazy as the morning fog in Santa Monica. The exact number is, finally, less important than one’s acute awareness of varied climatic zones, engendered by the distinctive regional intersection of deserts, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean, if not by more individualized atmospheric conditions.
In Reyner Banham’s influential study of Southern California, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), the British author categorizes this notoriously sprawling megalopolis according to a quartet of (mostly invented) designations that are, at once, geographic, climatic, and psychological: Surfurbia, Foothills, the Plains of Id, and Autopia—the last of these referring to the city’s expansive freeway system. Notably, Banham actually learned to drive so he could experience this “uniquely mobile metropolis” as a native would: “So, like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original.” Seemingly, there are endless numbers of ways to read Los Angeles in the original, just as there is an infinite number of microclimates one might perceive—the smallest of these, perhaps, being the interior of one’s car.
Researching an exhibition such as Made in L.A. is hardly a globetrotting affair; no frequent-flyer miles were accrued in its making. However, the odometer of my car provides evidence of quality time clocked in Autopia, with a far-flung itinerary of studio visits and meetings from Arcadia to Laguna, Inglewood to Eagle Rock, Pasadena to Koreatown, Boyle Heights to Venice, each destination representing a specific geocultural atmosphere. It’s a map that would be familiar to the Hollywood location-scout character in Lake Overturn (2013), a multichannel video installation by Jibade-Khalil Huffman. The location scout, played by an actress, seems to lose her grip on the difference between fact and fiction while driving around the city, confusing movie locations with sites of personal significance. Or it might be the difference between “Los Angeles” in all its complexity and the more readily exportable construct—the imago—of “L.A.” For artists in Los Angeles, microclimates are as likely to be defined by psychological or political conditions as much as spatial or atmospheric ones. In No Lye (2012), a video by Danielle Dean, a group of young women gather in the steamy microclimate of a bathroom with the apparent purpose of building a bomb. Extreme artifice circumscribes their dialogue, which consists entirely of fragments from political speeches by Barack Obama, David Cameron, George W. Bush, and others—primarily addressing terrorism and radicalization—mixed with text excerpts from magazines such as Ebony, Essence, and Vogue. Dean’s new project for Made in L.A. similarly deploys slogans and other signifiers from influential athletic shoe advertising campaigns, suggesting that successful branding strategies become internalized and embodied by consumers, including the artist’s family.
Marina Pinsky constructs photographs that conflate space and time into complex images dense with information. Her research-driven approach sometimes parallels detective work, with the artist investigating safecracking in the Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles County or idlers at the upscale Grove shopping center. She often works from arrangements on the tabletop—echoing a photographic tradition that extends to the medium’s origins with Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot—but also the desktop, with its set of digital tools, and her midcity studio acts as a filter for data and cultural products she accumulates from the larger world. Kim Fisher similarly evokes a variety of trades in her Cypress Park studio— dyeing linen black for her paintings in large vats like an expert couturier and airbrushing her taped canvases like an auto detailer. Her canvases are constructed as much as painted, assembled, collage-like, with images (and an occasional snippet of text) torn from sun-faded fashion and lifestyle magazines. Working in a charming Atwater Village studio, Channing Hansen knits elaborate multicolored constructions based on scientific theories drawing upon quantum mechanics and hypothetical models such as black holes. A member of the Greater Los Angeles Spinning Guild, he often makes his own yarn and has even shorn sheep as part of his laborious process. With the resulting textiles stretched like paintings, his works are held in tension between a multiplicity of dimensions and the flatness of the picture plane.
Several artists in Made in L.A. treat memory as a kind of microclimatic condition. While My Getty Center, made by Judy Fiskin in 1999, is set against the atmospheric backdrop of El Niño—a storm system that wreaked havoc on the city in 1997 and received Hollywood-worthy attention—her video for the biennial, I’ll Remember Mama (2013), is largely set in the hermetic confines of a West L.A. condo and, in parallel, a dollhouse. Combining found footage and personal narration, the project distills potent emotional content from small quarters. In her video Full Burn (2014), Mariah Garnett situates her camera on a veteran of the US military’s Special Ops who saw combat and now works as a stunt actor. His calling card in Hollywood—another kind of business full of specialists—is getting set on fire. Garnett records an instance of this intense feat and plays it in slow motion, with a compelling soundtrack of the artist interviewing several other veterans about harrowing near-death experiences. Almost inevitably, the stunt becomes a “safe” opportunity to act out and repeat such traumatic moments in a ritualistic manner. On a related note, Emily Mast is utilizing the Hammer Museum as a site to reenact performed moments and gestures that have been “preordained” for the viewer with a video located near the entrance to the exhibition. The artist will stage each performance twice—once for the camera before the show opens, and again for an unwitting audience—approximating, according to the artist, the flash of life events in the moments before one’s death. Unannounced, such seemingly random actions will activate discrete and perhaps marginal zones of the museum’s architecture, otherwise indifferent to the people passing through each eerie microclimate of déjà vu.
Situated above a popular Vietnamese noodle restaurant on the corner of Broadway and Cottage Home, in a warren of herb dealers and artists’ studios at the northern edge of Chinatown, is the KCHUNG radio station. Broadcasting to listeners within the rather limited range of the station’s antenna who are tuned in to 1630 AM—or to those following the live stream online—KCHUNG exemplifies another microclimate of sorts, one that overlaps with a surprisingly vast network of the Los Angeles art world. A recent three-month public engagement at the Hammer only added to the station’s visibility. Still, its mission statement appears to favor democratic process over entrepreneurial ambition, declaring, “Anyone can participate.” The growing number of shows broadcast from KCHUNG indeed represents a pluralistic set of interests and concerns, ranging from music (whether selected by DJs or performed live in the studio) to conversation or hybridized forms of content. As visitors to the Chinatown station will attest, show hosts are largely left to their own devices.
Yet, despite the modesty of its means, KCHUNG manages to support and give coherence to a diverse array of special interests while simultaneously representing a model of inclusivity. Also important, the station is a flexible collective platform that emphasizes—or at least accounts for—individual aspirations. In addition to KCHUNG’s participation in Made in L.A. 2014, several individual artists in this exhibition host shows on a regular basis or have contributed in other ways. Harsh Patel, for example, designed the station’s emphatic white-on-red logo and related brand identity.
Max Maslansky, whose near-psychedelic paintings of sexual encounters derived from images found in outdated men’s magazines, is also host of the KCHUNG show Riffin’, in which he discusses a range of topics with an invited guest. As the title suggests, the show is loose and improvised; its tone is frequently goofy, in seeming contrast to the darker psychological content and masterful command of materials revealed in the artist’s paintings. Yet, both formats serve as vehicles for Maslansky’s considerable id, connecting an extroverted radio personality with the painter in private, sifting through vintage porn. Barry Johnston’s program, Final Party, mixes hardcore music and in-studio performance, sometimes overlapped. The phrase “final party” serves as a moniker for Johnston’s live performances and, more generally, as a kind of motto for a variety of his activities, including the making of sculptures and banners. A visit to Johnston’s live-work studio in an industrial area of Northeast Los Angeles suggests a solitary existence, but the Final Party motto (and radio show) poses a counterargument: the artist—particularly the performer—demands an audience.
A show hosted by Jennifer Moon presents a similar paradox. As its name hints, Adventures Within provides the artist a weekly opportunity for radical self-interrogation performed for a public audience. For much of her career, Moon has explored the topics of revolution and love—and the intersection of these concerns—as embodied by the individual. Several years ago, Moon served time for attempted robbery in the California Institution for Women, a correctional facility in Chino, and her project continued and even intensified in this context. (See her text “Assignment #1” in this volume.) Moon’s work operates at the juncture of art and life, with such categorical distinctions losing rigid definition. While her “adventures within” test the limits of the individual— physically or psychologically or both—they also challenge the coherence of the social body.
An artist such as Moon embodies this potential contradiction as a dialectic of solitary pursuit and collective longing. Similarly, a remarkable number of artists in Made in L.A. 2014 participate in some collective or collaborative endeavor, or once did. Sarah Rara, along with collaborators including her partner, Luke Fischbeck, is a member of the music group Lucky Dragons and the drawing collective Sumi Ink Club, projects that frequently stress audience participation. In recent years, Rara also has produced numerous striking video works of methodically composed vignettes coupled with hypnotic soundtracks (often composed and performed with Fischbeck). Her video The Pollinators (2014) frames various species of bees against what the artist describes as “wild color spaces” that both attract and repel these hive-minded creatures.
A. L. Steiner moves fluidly among various group efforts, having collaborated with artists such as Zackary Drucker, Suzanne Wright, and Narcissister, as well as the collective Chicks on Speed, and she is a cofounder of the organization Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.). Steiner’s solo works often take shape as massive photo installations—albeit constellations of images taken by the artist that represent a community grouping to which she belongs. Harry Dodge produced a substantial number of acclaimed collaborative videos and, in the early 1990s, was a founder of the San Francisco-based performance space the Bearded Lady, which, according to the artist, “served as a gathering point for a pioneering, polysexual, queer literary and arts scene.” Dodge’s recent mixed-media solo work— with drawings littered with ghosts, talking glue bottles, and various single-celled organisms—mordantly alludes to isolation and fragmentation of the social order, among other concerns. Dodge’s video Fred Can Never Be Called Bald (2011), included in Made in L.A. 2014, mines the vast collective unconscious of YouTube and similar media sites yet locates the fleeting and often disturbing images found there as part of an intensely personal narrative: the video coincides with the death of the artist’s mother.
While collectivity and collaboration represent increasingly popular modes of operation for many L.A. artists, it should be noted that such endeavors are just as often—or inevitably— contentious or tentative. Artists in Los Angeles or elsewhere typically maintain some distance between their studio work and participation in the social network. Most artists make their work first, if not foremost, for an audience of one. In an essay written for this volume, Jarett Kobek considers what he refers to as the “virtue” of alienation:
If no one is paying attention, then you have the space to do what you want. Which is how I think of Los Angeles. As a place that gave me room. I lived for years without speaking to another person who thought of himself as a writer. A gift. The worst thing for anyone who hasn’t figured it out, who hasn’t given himself over to his own internal weirdness and deciphered a way to translate that weirdness to the exterior world, is exposure.
Though Kobek celebrates the notion that “Los Angeles grants this incredible gift of leaving you alone to develop your own praxis,” it seems inevitable that many artists arrive in Southern California to meet a community of like-minded artists—or at least worthwhile discursive adversaries—in addition to the possibility of inventing or reinventing their praxes.
Made in L.A. 2014 identifies a diverse set of artists positioned between the often idealized space of the individual and the often tenuous space of the collective. For example, Juan Capistrán deploys familiar emblems of collective resistance—bricks, Molotov cocktails, protest signs, and so on—but situates these in the evacuated space of the isolated individual. In ...when darkness has swallowed the reality…there is a light that never goes out… (2012), a neatly folded flag has been dyed and bleached so that it is neither black nor white, which is to say it is rendered illegible as a sign of resistance or of defeat. Such sustained tension might shade the virtue of alienation as Kobek defines it. In the photograph Still I Rise Above (2013), the artist grips onto a flagpole with both hands, body tautly extended. Wearing black, he seems to embody resistance, but at the same time he persists anxiously outside the group context, hung out to dry, with the pole bending ever so slightly toward collapse: one person’s praxis is another person’s predicament.
Against the Grain
What became increasingly clear, however, as the impact of [Mike Kelley’s] death rippled progressively outward, was the extent of his importance—personally, artistically, culturally— to a sprawling community that cared not only about him, but each other as well. Here, it is important to stress that a community is not simply a loose collection of well-meaning individuals. Rather, it is something with a discrete structure and a logic.
Artist John Miller’s obituary for his friend, CalArts classmate, and sometime collaborator Mike Kelley, who committed suicide in 2012, rubbed a still-raw wound, but his definition of community might have described a younger generation of Los Angeles artists—Kelley’s “kids,” Oedipally speaking, and I’m one of them—even better than he knew. Creative communities, collectives, and partnerships are often fragile mergers, but it seems clear that many Los Angeles artists are attracted to the logic and “discrete structure” of these plural efforts for a variety of reasons. And, as noted above, they are not necessarily undertaken at the expense of a singular studio practice.
“Community,” to some ears, might sound like a hokey contrivance, a leftover utopian aspiration of failed avant-gardes and, inevitably, the hippie generation Kelley frequently lashed out at. But some notion of community remains central to many artists in Los Angeles, whether as a provisional alliance or a dedicated membership. Wu Tsang has staked out a complex territory among several groups, including the art world and the transgender community, the latter represented by the denizens of Wildness, a weekly pop-up cabaret at the Silver Platter club in the Westlake neighborhood. Relentless in exploring interstitial spaces, Tsang’s film about that scene, Wildness (2012), hovers between the genres of documentary and magic realism, and his new film, A day in the life of bliss (2014), further conflates categorical expectations, this time moving closer to science fiction. Shot in and around Mexico City, this video, in its subjects and crew, represents another set of overlapped circles.
Entry into any community, especially the art-world version, can be a complex task—especially without the benefit of an MFA peer group, a tribe largely born of contingency. Samara Golden arrived in Los Angeles after receiving her degree in New York, and her eventual sense of inclusion was hard-won and not without awkward moments. Golden’s installation Busts (2011– ), initially exhibited at the artist-run Workspace, in Boyle Heights, and reconfigured for Made in L.A. 2014, ambitiously includes a more or less recognizable sculptural representation of everyone she encountered in Los Angeles while making the work, primarily consisting of a tight-knit caste of artists fresh out of school.
The preponderance of these communities—surely an intersection of small cliques and expansive networks—is noteworthy in the context of the present exhibition, but it is also worth considering the history of such groupings. Organized by David Frantz, curator of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, and presented within Made in L.A. 2014 as its own exhibition, Tony Greene: Amid Voluptuous Calm provides historical evidence of an artistic circle around and including Greene—who died of AIDS-related illness in 1990 at the age of thirty-four—and serves as a significant precedent for other circles represented in the larger exhibition. A graduate of CalArts, Greene was part of a group that included many of his classmates, such as Catherine Opie and Richard Hawkins—the latter a frequent collaborator—as well as faculty member Millie Wilson. Frantz’s exhibition also considers the work of performance artists Ron Athey and partners Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose, as well as archival materials from the height of the AIDS epidemic, and suggests a tight overlapping of circles during that time linking the art world, the literary community (centered at Beyond Baroque, in Venice), and the gay and lesbian communities. While Greene is now receiving belated attention, including this exhibition, his absence from the spotlight for more than two decades attests to the continuing trauma of the AIDS crisis—what Hawkins has referred to as a “black hole”—and the fragility of communities over time. And Greene’s peers are largely responsible for the renewed focus on his brief career and life.
Worth remembering is that there was not one singular response to the AIDS crisis within the gay and lesbian communities but many responses, and the response of the Los Angeles artists Frantz includes in Amid Voluptuous Calm was deemed inappropriate by many critics and activists. Organized by Hawkins and Dennis Cooper at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) in 1989, the exhibition Against Nature: A Show by Homosexual Men— with a catalogue cover designed by Greene—received a furious storm of criticism for its emphasis on decadence (in the tradition of J. K. Huysmans, whose fin-de-siècle novel À rebours  provided the show’s title) and bodily desire in the face of mass casualties. The gradual slackening of the circle of artists represented here owes less to this moment of crisis than to the exigencies of time: an important reminder that any group is the result of proximity, concerted effort, and shared agendas—and is, ultimately, a tenuous construct.
Exiles and Émigrés, or the Regional Global Biennial
In the complex process of organizing a biennial, I have often faced a litany of pesky questions—including a number of my own. In June 2012, I reviewed the first edition of Made in L.A. for Artforum. Then, in the months between my writing this review, which included some less-than-positive comments, and its being published, the Hammer asked me to co-curate the exhibition’s sequel. My candor provided for an awkward moment when this invitation arrived. “Overall,” I wrote, “one was left wondering what, exactly, made this exhibition ‘LA’ beyond the mailing addresses of its artists. Would the stamp of the region be so readily visible on these works if they were shown elsewhere?”
And then, more pointedly: “The first edition of Made in L.A. left open the question of whether the city really needs such a determinedly local biennial.” This question will undoubtedly remain open for others, but it bears mentioning that Los Angeles occupies a significant if unique place in the biennial circuit—one that is not exactly the center, especially if commerce is the measure, but hardly a marginal node either. It is also worth noting (as I did in my review) that the first incarnation of Made in L.A. featured artists from Angola, Botswana, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Scotland, Spain, and Vietnam, among other countries; the present edition, while smaller than the first, includes artists born or raised in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, and Venezuela. In other words, despite its decidedly boosterish title and emphasis on local production, Made in L.A. is a biennial exhibition that embraces the global and eclectic purview of its artists—much like the city these exiles embrace in reciprocity.
It’s hardly news that many artists arrive in Southern California to attend one of the region’s influential MFA programs, and perhaps it’s also no surprise that many of those artists choose to live and work in Los Angeles after graduation: the considerable price of that terminal degree includes a built-in audience of one’s peers, and the preponderance of emergent collectives, artist-run spaces, and even KCHUNG provides evidence of the groundswell. (So, too, my swollen inbox, indexing all these networked strategies.)
What’s also worth acknowledging is the number of talented artists who move to Los Angeles after graduating elsewhere, even if many of them have had little or no presence in the city’s commercial galleries or museums; instead, they work largely “undercover” in Southern California while exhibiting in New York, Europe, or other locales. How many times have I visited a Los Angeles studio to see work destined to leave town? It’s not a new condition, but an exhibition such as Made in L.A. surely provides a platform for unveiling any number of the city’s most prolific artists hiding in plain sight.
Gabriel Kuri, who was born in Mexico and worked in Brussels for a decade, is a recent transplant to Los Angeles. It would be hard (and perhaps foolhardy) to argue that his work connotes “Los Angeles” in any specific sense, yet one could just as easily argue that his sculpture fits comfortably in a regional historical context driven by the collision of the found object (a tradition including George Herms, Noah Purifoy, and many others) and hallucinatory-level, scaleshifting fabrication (Charles Ray and Robert Therrien come to mind). Ricky Swallow, an Australian who emigrated in 2002, draws upon much of the same sculptural legacy. His decade-plus in Southern California (almost long enough to qualify him as “native,” though he represented Australia in the Venice Biennale in 2005) has included many quality hours in flea markets and made him a devoted autodidact of regional art and design. In 2013, he organized Grapevine-, a significant exhibition of living California ceramicists, including Made in L.A. artists Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess. And over the years, his own work has moved from the more familiar, spectacular concerns of “Los Angeles sculpture” toward a more idiosyncratic approach, one arguably richer in its proximity to localized concerns.
Brian O’Connell recently returned to Los Angeles after working in New York, where he participated in Greater New York at MoMA PS1 in 2010. A CalArts graduate, O’Connell was born in Belgium and has lived in Germany and Amsterdam; his move back to the West Coast inspired him to investigate a collection of L.A. vacation slides taken in the 1950s by his architect grandfather while traveling from Germany, including many images of the city’s international style buildings. The artist’s current research into geoinformatics, coupled with his reading of Thomas Mann’s diary entries about arriving in Los Angeles, isolates highly specific vantages, geographic and historical, into the city. A native of Brasília, Clarissa Tossin has made a substantial body of work about that utopian modernist capital, designed by celebrated architect Oscar Niemeyer, and her Made in L.A. installation features the Volkswagen named for the city. Splitting her time between Brazil and Los Angeles, Tossin extended her research to include Niemeyer’s Strick House, the only example of the architect’s residential work in the United States. Such connections, whether serendipitous or not, point to Los Angeles as a localized microcosm of a larger globalized network importing and exporting utopian aspirations. For Tossin, this network is embedded in the transnational movement of an old VW Brasilia—a hatchback originally marketed to a burgeoning middle class but now, decades later, favored by Brazilian handymen—from its native city to Los Angeles.
Born in Naples, Piero Golia did not move to Los Angeles to attend school; rather, he started one upon arriving here. Along with artist Eric Wesley, Golia founded the Mountain School of Arts in 2005, a nonaccredited, itinerant institution initially headquartered in the now defunct Mountain Bar in Chinatown. The one-year program boasts an international cast of visiting artists and an eclectic faculty (Made in L.A. 2014 artist Channing Hansen teaches the program’s science class, focusing on the history of women scientists) and has served as a gateway to Los Angeles for many artists—though not necessarily as an alternative to the region’s graduate programs: some artists transition from the Mountain School to pursue their MFAs. Perhaps due to the surprising longevity of his curriculum, Golia is acknowledged locally as both an impresario and an artist. Yet he exhibits frequently outside his chosen base of operation, and his signature work in Los Angeles is, arguably, a light atop the Standard Hotel in Hollywood that glows when he is in town and is dark when he is away; it’s a fitting symbol of the global Los Angeles artist and his (or her) often elusive audience.
Studio Remix: Tangled Chains, Closed Circuits
If, throughout this text, I have insinuated that the studio is a compelling environment to view art (and the artist at work), I should also acknowledge that one (meaning “I”) should not idealize the studio as a site of reception. Nor should one idealize the museum (or gallery) either. There is an important legacy of critical considerations of such idealizing—from the writings of Brian O’Doherty and Daniel Buren to the work of influential Los Angeles artists Michael Asher and Andrea Fraser—that is, even in summary, beyond my scope here. Yet, despite a significant tradition of “poststudio” practice, the vast majority of artists I have encountered in Los Angeles continue to maintain studios of some kind, and the studio remains a significant site of encounter—surely just as anxious as ideal—for a small but enthusiastic audience of one’s peers (not to mention curators, teachers, and other viewers). When there is a dearth of formal exhibition opportunities, the studio might also operate as the only venue for the work in question.
As varied as they may look or operate, such privatized and intensely localized spaces can provide important insights. For example, in the work of Lecia Dole-Recio, a thick paper surface used to protect the studio floor—upon which most of her work is made—gradually becomes covered with a palimpsest of errant paint marks, footprints, and abrasions, and is then frequently repurposed as collage material. Such circulation becomes apparent in the proximity of studio and end product, but one can just as easily detect evidence of discrete elements—scraps of colored paper, cardboard, painted fragments, typically in geometric shapes—migrating from one hybridized construction of painting and collage to another, much like genetic information. The studio of Caitlin Lonegan offers similar kinds of clues— some found on the artist’s bookshelves. A solo exhibition in 2012 was titled The Mark on the Wall, a fitting name for a show of ostensibly abstract paintings and drawings, but the phrase is a direct allusion to Virginia Woolf’s story of the same name. Lonegan titled another body of paintings White Page, possibly another writerly reference. However, her works display little or no overt literary content, and she has declared her distance from any autobiographical or psychoanalytic reading of her work, stating bluntly, “It’s not interesting if you know where the artist is.”
In the case of a dancer, however, it is entirely necessary to know where the artist is. Jmy James Kidd, a recent transplant to Los Angeles from New York, does business as James Kidd Studio. Within a month of arriving, Kidd founded Pieter, a dance and exhibition space used for private rehearsal and public performance. Kidd often works in collaboration, in various group formations, at Pieter and other venues, as well as in the urban landscape; she also makes costumes, which frequently feature in performances by her and others. Pieter operates primarily through a barter system that includes the FREE Boutique, which constituents take from or add to, in a kind of casual homeostasis. While such a localized microeconomy is hardly specific to Los Angeles, it seems like a particularly viable option here and one growing in popularity. Whether rebuffed by the larger economy or indifferent to it, the city’s art community—traced, in part, by Made in L.A. 2014—is rich with inventive self-starters eager to try new models or reconfigure old ones.
In 2014, a work of art may circulate in many forms—in the context of an exhibition, inevitably, but also as a JPEG or Vimeo link or an old-fashioned book. Despite a prophecy of the end of publishing, artists remain stubbornly committed to printed matter as a form and mode of transmission and not necessarily to the exclusion of digital platforms. Devin Kenny is an artist who takes an all-of-the-above approach to dissemination, compiling mix-tapes that may circulate in real life or as digital files, producing videos—often remakes of hip-hop originals—that can be viewed online or, in the context of a gallery setting, on a vintage monitor with headphones. He might refer you to one of his websites, or he might give you a book representing his work. Such a promiscuous approach to media undoubtedly points to important generational shifts but also signals a complex circuit from the site of the production to the site of reception— in Kenny’s case, these sites could be one and the same.
Like Kenny, Harsh Patel moves fluidly among media formats, working as both designer and artist while maintaining a densely layered website with a tangled chain of links to design commissions, found images, logos, and symbols, often without annotation or attribution. While belonging to a generation that has consistently pushed the limits of “too much information,” often in the very public arena of the social network, Patel remains outwardly elusive—and intentionally so. Deeply invested in subcultural codes—a tote bag produced by Patel reads “Westside Suede Fan Club,” possibly a club with only one member—he deliberately uses design to frustrate circulation rather than ensure that field’s traditional expectations of effective communication. He favors typefaces that threaten illegibility to a wide audience, and sometimes uses silkscreen printing and various forms of mechanical reproduction to produce artist’s books in tiny editions that are distributed by him personally, if they are distributed at all.
Drawing such microscopic circles, Patel’s interpersonal distribution system recalls the work of Los Angeles- and San Francisco-based artist Wallace Berman (1926–1976), now a thoroughly historicized figure associated with the Beat movement but at the time known mostly to an energetic group of his peers. In the late 1950s, Berman began work on Semina, a series of publications that included poetry, photography, and letterpress by Berman and his small circle. Hand assembled, each issue was distributed entirely at the whim of the artist, diagramming a closed circuit. Public Fiction, founded by Lauren Mackler, echoes aspects of Berman’s Semina approach, fostering community through stunningly designed publications, as well as three-month exhibitions organized in a Highland Park storefront named the Museum of Public Fiction. Importantly, Mackler provides little evidence of a hierarchical relationship between exhibition and publication; rather, the two formats represent different facets of the same project, which might also manifest as performance or another form of live event. Like the Los Angeles Museum of Art, Public Fiction is a platform for a small, mostly localized constituency of artists, though it occasionally casts a wider net. (Mackler has organized shows under this banner elsewhere, including in Turin, Italy, and presently at the Hammer, in the context of this biennial.) Mackler is a recent arrival in Los Angeles, and Public Fiction provided her a context in which to work in her adopted city. In turn, this endeavor also established a coherent circle around an otherwise scattered network of artists, writers, and other public intellectuals who have appeared in shows at the Museum of Public Fiction or in Public Fiction publications— including, perhaps not surprisingly, a number of the artists in Made in L.A. 2014.
Organizing a biennial is a complex business, one inevitably delimited by the time and place of its making. Contingency is a guiding principle of the research, and the findings are necessarily partial, if not occasionally contradictory. One hope is that Made in L.A. 2014—an exhibition intended for a relatively broad audience—can describe the larger atmospheric condition of the city’s art world by spotlighting the number of diverse idiosyncratic microclimates that define it. As the sales pitch goes, it’s a climate that could exist only in Los Angeles.
1. Michael Frimkess in conversation with the author, Los Angeles, November 25, 2013.
2. Norman M. Klein, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory (London: Verso, 1997), 31.
3. Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (London and New York: Penguin, 1971).
4. Lake Overturn was initially a live performance on July 7, 2013, with the actress set against a backdrop of footage from apocalyptic blockbusters and footage shot by Hu!man. The performance took place in a small, private Santa Monica screening room and was included in The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture, coinciding with the Getty Center’s initiative Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.
5. See http://www.kchungradio.org/ participate.html, accessed December 1, 2013.
6. See http://harrydodge.com, accessed December 18, 2013.
7. See Jarett Kobek, “Dit is Inden Hert,” this volume.
8. Kobek in e-mail to the author, May 30, 2013.
9. John Miller, “From My Institution to Yours: A Personal Remembrance,” Art Agenda, February 6, 2012, http:// www.art-agenda.com/reviews/mikekelley-1954-2012/.
10. Richard Hawkins in conversation with the author, Los Angeles, May 11, 2013.
11. See Matias Viegener’s account of this acrimony in his “Protective Forgetting: The Short Life and Urgent Work of Tony Greene,” this volume.
12. Michael Ned Holte, “Made in L.A., Hammer Museum,” Artforum, October 2012, p. 259.
13. “Working within the scale that I have the past few years is also a type of reaction . . . almost consciously, to distance the work from L.A. bigboy sculpture—where surface and decisions can seem overlooked or allowed to become more generalized.” Ricky Swallow in e-mail to the author, September 10, 2012.
14. See, for example, Andrea Fraser, “From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique,” Artforum, September 2005, pp. 278–283, 332, which provides a cogent history of practices most closely associated with “institutional critique” while also considering the complications of that legacy as invoked or recuperated in a variety of contemporary practices.
15. Caitlin Lonegan artist entry, Made in L.A. 2014.
16. The bibliography on Wallace Berman and Semina is increasingly expansive, but the definitive resource remains Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna, Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle (New York: D.A.P., 2005). The well-received exhibition of the same title debuted at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2005 before traveling to numerous other venues.