Life & Decay; Hirokazu Kosaka’s Kalpa at the Getty

Forgive me for going back in time briefly with this post to the Friday before the last event I discussed, to discuss Kalpa, the exquisite performance constructed by Hirokazu Kosaka at the Getty Museum. The night was cold but the buzz of the first grand performance marking the kick-off of the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival was enough to keep the large (and growing) crowd in good spirits (never mind the addition of some after hours libations!). As people mingled and meandered around the large open entrance courtyard two parts of the performance were immediately noticed, the glaring spotlight directed upward to the cloudy sky above Los Angeles and the eerie spring-like sounds seeming to emanate from the central trees in the space.  Like clockwork, at 7pm sharp I noticed the last tram descend the hill and realized that in the fluorescent glow of the compartments stood figures dressed all in white and that a crowd had begun to amass around the platform.

I quickly cut through the crowds to see the beginning of the performance before most of the thousand-or-so spectators had even realized the show had begun and was delighted to have a clear view of Butoh choreographer Oguri laying still on the cold marble clutching his legs in a fetal ball. He slowly began to move, impossibly slow his movements were considered and delicate. He emerged and entranced us all with his meditative balance and control but by this point the crowd had realized (whether through twitter or in-person buzz) that there was something to see and I was quickly shoved out of the way as people jostled for position. Between Oguri’s movements through the crowd, his spot-light holder, and the licensed photographers and videographers for the event, we spectators began a unique dance of our own, scurrying out of the way while maintaining visual contact and attempting to hold our relative positions to the assembly. The spotlight highlighted Oguri’s movements and bounced off his loose white clothes combating the glow in the crowd of a thousand glowing screens and flashes.

The dancer began his movement around the courtyard and was soon joined by four additional similarly-dressed performers who made their way to the far wall only to be completely engulfed by the crowds. Soon the dancers fell one by one back across the court toward the ascending stairs, their movements intertwined and inward at times and at times aggressive and outward, attempting to cut through the crowds in their quest. At the beginning of the performance guards attempted to lead the crowds to one part of the courtyard, clearing out this central space, but those of us who followed the direction where immediately replaced in our earlier positions by the masses that continued to arrive, so I think they gave up the attempt. So, I’m not sure whether it was Kosaka’s intention to have the performers completely surrounded by spectators or whether the original concept would have kept distance and space. These choices certainly affect the reading of the movements, I must admit.

As the dancers began to emerge from the crowd and make their way up the Getty’s shallow steps, we could see more clearly their interactions and peaceful concentration. As the spotlight illuminated the grand stairway and upper platform, a grid of 400 spools of colored thread came into view. Soon, the performers had placed threads in each of their mouths and synchronously began to descend the steep central passage trailing the gracefully draping thread through sculptures and finally over and through the assembled crowd.  We stood mesmerized by the play of light and shadow through the thread overhead as well as the staunch expressions on the performer’s contorted faces as they struggled to drag the threads hundreds of yards using only their mouths. Once the thread had cast a beautiful net over the entire performance space, Oguri once again took center stage, standing outside of the crowd and below the thread, holding his bent arms up to the sky as if in petulant prayer, his illuminated body a question mark to the heavens as fibers from the thread above floated quietly through the air. The massive audience was still for just a moment before the flashes and movement began again, or maybe the stillness was just in my mind.

Kosaka’s Kalpa fits squarely into the Pacific Standard Time initiative. The artist was educated at the renown Chouianard Art Institute in the 1970s and worked in Los Angeles throughout the essential PST period, and the performer, Oguri, a transplant to LA, incorporates so much of Los Angeles’ performance history into his work today. These kinds of collaborations and inspirations are where PST functions best, to show how LA art has changed  the greater trajectory of art history. This collaboration between Kosaka, Oguri, and the aural sculptor, Yuval Ron, to create a work inspired by sources as wide-ranging as the performance legacy of Ruppersberg and Burden, the spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, and the artistic innovations of the Gutai group and Butoh dance, represents what Los Angeles art does best, innovation based on evolution. Artists take bits and pieces, materials and ideas, and bring them together to create something completely novel.

The definition of Kalpa used by Kosaka in Hindi means something akin to aeon, a measure of long expanses of time. Another definition however, is as ritual, one of the disciplines of Vedanga Hinduism. I think really both are applicable to this performance. Kosaka, a Buddhist priest, also engages imagery from his own tradition, he says, ““It is believed in the Buddhist faith that once every hundred years, an angel comes down from heaven and swipes the surface of a stone with her silk sleeves until the rock disappears. This idea comes into play in my performance, as it demonstrates the deliberate, unseen passage of time, and the tangible objects that we use to measure it.” The idea of measuring time is one familiar in art and religion, and lends itself to representation in literary and visual forms, such as the oft-depicted Moirai (Fates) of Greek mythology. These three female figures, Clotho who spun the thread of life from her spindle, Lachesis who measured the allotments, and Atropos who cut the thread of life, are frequently mentioned in poetry and visually conjured by sculptors and painters. In Kosaka’s case, his measurements are made by the performers themselves, winding and pulling the thread of life through their own great efforts. Ayu-Kalpa is the term used within Hinduism for the life expectancy of a human, said to correspond to the virtue of the people during that time period. This performance seems to place that determination squarely on the back of the people themselves, they establish virtue through determination, strength, and will.

Perhaps that is not it at all, and instead the thread wipes clean the modern era, we fall below the new surface, encapsulated as something new begins. Our own time is instead the soil that will fertilize what comes next, a beauty can be found in the end as well as the beginning. This idea resonates with the works Kosaka cites as formative. In an interview with Glenn Phillips from June of 2010, the artist talks about his introduction to the idea of performance, “I think when I came to Chouinard, Allan Kaprow’s book on Happenings had already been printed. There were Gutai photographs in that book. That was very surprising. The word “Happening” was a kind of fashion for that period, not so much the word “performance.” I don’t think Gutai group called them happenings or performances. The word Gutai means concrete forms. That’s what’s Mr. [Jiro] Yoshihara, the leader of the group, was concentrating on. He painted circles all his life. The circle connotes Zen ensō, meaning empty. I think that’s the word Gutai was trying to say something about, this Buddhist notion of emptiness. I don’t think Allan Kaprow knew that. I talked to him a couple of times about that, and he just said, “I don’t understand.” But John Cage was profoundly moved by ensō. He did a lot of pieces about that.” The Gutai group that was so important to Kosaka’s early period as an artist emphasizes the idea of material and destruction, allowing the material itself the freedom to express its reality without bowing to the soul and that expression often is clearest upon the disintegration of its man-made form. In their manifesto they write, “The novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture ofhte past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters… This is described as the beauty of decay, but is it not perhaps that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics?” Although not a part of Gutai, Kosaka is clearly considering these concepts in his work. In another part of the manifesto they state their mission, “We have decided to pursue the possibilities of pure and creative ability with the characteristics of the material in order to concretize the abstract space.” In this way Oguri and Kosaka take over the space of the museum, the space of the spectator, and allow the material to float over us, to take on and yet rise above the symbolism so entrenched in our psyche to become material once again. Part of their ability to do this comes from the use of Butoh which itself began as an intervention in the established form of Japanese contemporary dance.

Butoh began around the time of Gutai’s establishment and Kosaka’s own beginning, after World War II. The dance is mostly defined by what it is not, what it breaks away from, from the contemporary dance tradition that relied on western forms mixed with traditional Japanese theater like Noh. Tatsumi Hijikata, said to have performed the first butoh piece, utilized notions of the grotesque, of darkness and decay, similar to the elements of material that preoccupies the Gutai group. These connections were explored more deeply in the 2007 Getty exhibition, Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan, 1950-1970.

Oguri says about Butoh, “Today the world is top-heavy with information. Humans are losing instinct and are like domestic animals without masters. Dance is the only way to restore the senses to a body in crisis.” By incorporating a dance that restores the senses to the body, and a visual tradition that restores the authenticity to the material, the performance, Kalpa, was able to restore a sense of presence to the spectator.

 

 

 

This video shows the dancers preparing for the performance, and how it might have looked without the crowds.

Performance in Pomona

This has been a busy week for the arts in Los Angeles! This past weekend marked the kick-off of Pacific Standard Time’s public art and performance festival which will continue through next weekend. Too much is going on to talk about it all, but I think the trifecta of performances by John White, Judy Chicago, and James Turrell at Pomona this past Saturday offer much to think about in terms of performance, observation, re-creation, and audience participation.

Performance at Pomona was produced as part of “It Happened At Pomona,” a three-part series of gallery installations exploring important voices in the history of the arts in Pomona including students, curators, museum directors, professors, and guest artists. Earlier this year, as a part of the first section concerning Hal Glicksman, the museum hosted a conversation between art historian and former student, Tom Crow, curator Hal Glicksman, and artist/faculty member, Mowry Baden. During this presentation the three talked quite a bit about the importance of performative happenings around Pomona including the original incarnation of Turrell’s piece mimicking a full blaze engulfing Bridges Auditorium that even drew the fire department in its realism. Needless to say, having heard so much enthusiasm from the three about these works and Pomona’s embrace of large-scale performance and public art during the 1970s, I was eager to see what the school’s museum would contribute to the PST festival. I was not disappointed, but what I experienced what also a far cry from what I was expecting.

These three artists, Turrell, Chicago, and White, are very different in their work and I had the expectation that the performances would engage three unique sensibilities.

John M. White's original Preparation F performance at Pomona

The first performance in the series was Preparation F, an immersive spectacle conceived by White allowing the viewer a rare peek into process, in this case the process of equipping and readying the Pomona football team for their sport. Originally enacted in a gallery with around 30 audience members, the re-creation involved nearly a thousand viewers packed into a Pomona college gym, most already laden with the expectation of the original piece. At 5pm sharp, the darkened gym suddenly echoed with the sound of a whistle and we were bathed in the strong florescent light so ubiquitous on college campuses. A storm of footsteps accompanied the horde of bulky young athletes who meandered into the gym, quickly grabbed a stool from the 20 or so stacked in the center of the space and, finding places among and in front of the

John M. White, restaging of Preparation F, January 21, 2012

audience, proceeded to undress while engaging the unsuspecting onlookers in trifle conversation about football and college life. From pitch black to bright light, from fully clothed to completely nude, from passive audience to engaged conversationalists, we viewers were startled on many levels just within the first 5 minutes of White’s work. Once dressed, the players gathered in the center of the space to stretch and scrimmage then followed the modern dance moves of a perceived “coach” as the repetition of sneaker to floor pounding was only broken by the jarring effect of 20-some rugged footballers throwing their own mighty bodies full-force to the ground in perfect synchronicity.

John M. White, re-staging of Preparation F, January 21, 2012

Following White’s work, we audience members shuffled through the doors and around the building in our herd to Merritt field, some standing on the sidelines while other luckier viewers were able to perch atop the bleachers for a more aerial view of Judy Chicago’s outline of A Butterfly for Pomona.  In the middle of the field we could see in sharp perspective the shape of a butterfly made of flares, how I wished that I could have been stationed one story further up to further make sense

Judy Chicago, A Butterfly for Pomona

of the shape! In fact, had I not known the name of the piece, I likely would not have identified the shape as that of a butterfly at all, but perhaps the reference to the butterfly is more about the colorful forms that emerge and float up to the sky as the smoke billows once the piece is ignited or the subtle hum of the flares like so many gently flapping butterfly wings. The work inspired oohs and aahs from the audience, but in today’s spectacle culture I was left wondering what really was the difference between this scene and the common, albeit beautiful, fireworks display we are treated to every fourth of July? Chicago’s early atmosphere works were about introducing a feminine mystique to the masculine art world and in theory they focus the mind on the impermanence of beauty as well, forcing the viewer to be fully present because the work will never exist in the same way again.

Judy Chicago, A Butterfly for Pomona

Today, however, the work was document one-thousand-times over by the multiple iphones, video cameras, and gadgets in the hands of officials and audience members alike. On Friday night, at Hirokazu Kosaka’s performance Kalpa, at the Getty, I heard an onlooker say (as we jockeyed for position to see the white-clad Butoh dancers), “I feel like I’m experiencing this through other people’s iphones!.” That was true for Chicago’s performance at Pomona as well, in my line of site the butterfly itself was only one source of illumination as my vision was also repeatedly drawn to the bright lights and flashes of phones around me (full disclosure, that noise included my own!). A photography teacher once told me, if you want to truly experience something, don’t photograph it.

As the butterfly dwindled, the lights came up and people began to leave the stands blinking their eyes and again shuffling slowly in procession. We made our way again around the building and to the cordoned-off facade of Bridges auditorium for one of the most anticipated performances by James Turrell. Turrell’s original piece, done while he was a student at Pomona, is described as spontaneous and so realistic that it summoned the quick response of the local fire department who told Turrell, if you ever do this again, just let us know ahead of time! This time the artist did just that, incorporating the timely response into the work in such a way that in the audience we all were left mumbling, “was that planned?,” “is this part of the piece?,” “are they coming here?.”

James Turrell, Burning Bridges, January 21, 2012

As opposed to the other works, Burning Bridges had no real end point, and the audience eventually dispersed after we witnessed the artist and museum officials heading away from the area, asking each other, “was that it?” And that is the way to describe the piece, was that really it? A few flares were placed behind the columns of the building emitting a vague smoky haze that dissipated within a few moments and a red glow in the corridors. The building

James Turrell, Burning Bridges, January 21, 2012

looked more like it was decorated lightly for Halloween than it looked like it was on fire, and the direct comparison to Chicago’s piece that utilized the same media of flares but to much more spectacular ends, made the quiet piece seem stationary and uninteresting. The addition of the fire truck sirens did little to liven the work as the whole thing just seemed stagy and forced. This is the kind of effect you fear when talking about re-creating performance art. In some ways I feel like the more spontaneous the original, the more ridiculous the work seems upon re-creation!

Ultimately the performances were all worth seeing, and viewing three such different artists working on the same night in the same space was an opportunity not to be missed. Pomona is doing a great job of engaging their own history through multiple trajectories, with happenings, lectures, conversations, and object displays all happening concurrently and overlapping in theme and content. What is unfortunate is that through this wonderful display of history it brings to light the difference between an emerging and experimental college and gallery during the 1970s and the far more staid and academic museum in existence today.

 

#the solitary artist

Time is a buzzword lately, it seems. From Art Journal to PST, from the New York Times to my very own blog, everyone in the art world seems to be talking about time. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am an advocate, and a constant seeker of, free time to think and experiment outside of the confines of our culture’s obsession with “productivity.” Joe Scanlan, in “Free Time: An Introduction,” in last summer’s Art Journal, defines free time as “a strangely private, fiercely guarded realm for artists, a state of mind quite different from leisure… much of our best work would not get made without the vague, inexplicable, sideways approach to working that free time affords.” Including time spent among colleagues, seeing shows, at lectures, and reading or thinking, Scanlan’s explanation of free time is the best I’ve seen and certainly encompasses the kind of think-space I’ve talked about previously. A point that I would never have thought to consider, however, despite my near-obsession with the idea of viewership, is Scanlon’s point of free time’s usual association with viewers rather than makers of art works.

Despite the inherent latency in the idea of viewership, much recent scholarship as been devoted to the activation of the viewer as co-participant in meaning formation. A dialectic approach has not only been a part of much modern theory, but is also considered in so much recent art making. Scanlon points out that we are more comfortable with the idea of our own productivity in either role, “Even in their free time and with no obvious material benefit, viewers of art, like artists, would seem to prefer nebulous effort–productivity–over obvious leisure.” An active society, we are constantly seeking and expounding our own influence upon the world, even in would-be passive roles. “The audience” for the movie-maker, “the consumer” for the industrialist, “the viewer” for the artist. So, what becomes of non-productive time–how can we redefine free time and protect it from being re-figured as part of productivity and therefor encumbered with a use-value, and instead allowing it to be completely without use or value notwithstanding the value of free time to the artistic process?

In the same vein, but referring more to the process of product development and corporate culture, Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” recently asserted the need for solitude in an op-ed column of the New York Times. Citing the examples of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Cain hypothesizes, “the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted… [yet] culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process.” In terms of the art world, we often expect creatives to function in solitude but the market really doesn’t support the very same process it romanticizes. Most artists I know have taken to prioritizing their creative endeavors in spurts between moments of having to market and make commercially viable their work. Especially for photographers, the process of being creative is eclipsed by the need to capture, to make, and to sell. Like Howard Roark, the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, some of us would prefer to work completely outside of the creative realm if we can’t have creative control over what we produce. Does it taint the process of thinking about art, to create work that is so wholly divorced from one’s own creative process, so devoid of the element of think-space that makes art… art?

As much as I would love to become recognized for my work, I also feel for artists who achieve mild success and can’t rise above the new expectations placed on their time to continue their process. Instead, the expectation for what will be produced, based on what has been economically successful, sullies their creativity and makes machines out of artists. Some artists have incorporated successfully this mechanization of the artistic process into the output both conceptually and physically, Damien Hirst is an considered an

One of Hirst's spot paintings (now on display at a gagosian... any gagosian near you!)

example of just such complexity, but most lose their voice to the market. The demand for what is already recognized to be art outweighs the process that makes it art in the first place, and many artists are now functioning as part of the system rather than independent producers within a greater field. Perhaps we should expect artists to have more questions than answers, not to necessarily know where their work is coming from or where it is going, rather than having complete provenance papers and a concrete artist statement that commits them to both process and product…

Just remember, as our world weights more on the side of connectivity, not to lose the individuality that makes true connection possible. Without singular thoughts, and confidence in one’s own process, the idea of coming together to produce will not end in ingenuity but rather complacency.

 

something funny in the art world

just a little levity – funny commentary on Hirst’s mega-opening and just general mega-ness…

 

Ethics in the art world

LA Times just published this article by Mike Boehm today “Code Breaker for a Scripps College Museum Exhibition.”In it he talks about the ethical conflict for the museum in hiring an active art dealer and gallery owner as co-curator of their “Clay’s Tectonic Shift” exhibition, a part of PST in Los Angeles. Having received hundreds of thousands from the Getty, it is interesting that neither the Getty nor the academic museum found Frank Lloyd’s role to contain a conflict of interest.

Clay's Tectonic Shift @ Scripps, Williamson Gallery

John Mason, Untitled (Monolith), 1964

While helping to organize and co-curating the retrospective on the work of Mason, Price, and Voulkos, Lloyd’s own gallery was also planning its own exhibition highlighting the three key figures from LA’s heyday of sculptural infamy. Boehm’s article states clearly the reasons why the AAM frowns on this kind of conflict and encourages museums to seek independent curatorial voices rather than those with financial interests, but I may ask, if we dismiss art experts who have a financial stake in the work they support, who is left to speak for the audience in the museum?

Christopher Knight’s quote at the end of the Boehm piece is especially poignant, he says, “Ultimately, the museum’s interest is scholarly, and the dealer’s interest is mercantile… Those interests might both be honorable, but they’re not the same, and sometimes they even clash. That’s why the AAM has a code of ethics that forbids it. Scripps and the Getty made a mistake by not honoring that.” Of course, he is right, and the academic aspect of the case is why it is most surprising to me. That a college art museum would choose a gallery owner to co-curate, when their interests are toward educating the public and students about an art historical period and their own art history department, and the resources at Claremont’s 5Cs are so great, is frankly shocking. That said, when we speak of public museums, who is better to represent the public than those whose financial interests are dependent on knowing and pandering to the public eye? I wonder if gallery owners and dealers have an astute viewpoint that should be incorporated into the museum culture. We like to think that museums are independent spaces of scholarly interest, but really they aren’t, half of the shows, especially in Los Angeles, explicitly seek blockbuster status, attempting to engage a dialogue outside of the art historical (Tim Burton, anyone?).

I have to say, so many museums are stuck in the old ways of doing things, are weighed down by their collections and issues of preservation and the veneer of ivory on their towers, that they can’t see beyond to the public they are attempting to service, a public who have changed drastically in the hundred or so years since museums last experienced a true overhaul in practice. I love that these questions are coming up, that the rules that govern museum practice are being tested and, although they may turn out in the end to be supported as BEST practice, are being challenged and debated in a public forum. These days art experts are not limited to museums and academic institutions, many have roles in the real world and to dismiss their information and abilities because of their outside financial interests MAY be an oversight.

What do you think?

Lip Syncing and the Arts

Does anyone remember Milli Vanilli? The pop group consisted of two gorgeous dread-locked singer/dancers who earned a Grammy Award for their debut album in 1990. The immense popularity of their music did them no good, however, when it was discovered that the front men were actually lip syncing to the music of several other singers who were deemed unmarketable by the developer of the group, Frank Farian. When the boys were outted, their Grammy was taken away and all their platinum records were for naught- they became a joke and their music, once deemed better than Mick Jagger’s, was condemned. Being fairly young, I never really understood why the backlash was so fierce. The music hadn’t changed, and, really, weren’t the awards, and wasn’t their popularity, about the music? No one likes to feel duped, we all want to be in on the joke, be in the know, and that is why Mr. Brainwash is such an interesting figure in the art scene today.

Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, has been in the news again recently due to his massive “Art Show 2011” which opened on Christmas day 2011 after months of planning for only a few days (the show was extended by about a week, but the original intention was to close before the new year). Ever since Guetta was thrust into the public consciousness as the central figure in Banksy’s Academy Award nominated ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ more questions than answers have surrounded his personality and his artistic accomplishments. Controversy over his authenticity as an artist and as a character have consumed most writers covering his shows and his story, but what is the question? Here is a man, and all investigations have shown him to be pretty much who he claims to be, who creates visual materials. The visual constructions are influenced (VERY clearly) but are original and are well received by massive audiences who find connections to the works and connections between his works and a genre of art that while still considered ‘outsider’ is gradually receiving more and more institutional support and validation. Clearly he is making art.

So, the questions: is someone else making the works for him? Is he really an artist? Is he working with a group? Is this all a hoax? Are pretty much moot, because, in the end, art is being made under his name, that art is being viewed and has an effect on those viewers, on the market, and on the genre. I posit that who he is doesn’t really matter because who he is (and pretty much who any artist is) becomes who the audience wants him to be.

Charles Horton Cooley’s famous postulation of the looking glass self, although a sociological theory, is something I find very useful when thinking about the roles of artist and viewer. Cooley finds that the personality is in part structured through the individual’s interaction with others, that we structure ourselves around the person we see reflected by the people we meet. Therein, if I meet a man on the street who immediately treats me with suspicion and malice, I imagine his view of me as someone who is threatening and thereafter take a piece of that impression with me as a part of my own personality. We unconsciously construct our own personalities out of what we imagine others to perceive us to be. Artist and viewer affect each other in much the same way, the art is determined in part by the viewer, the artist’s intentions with her work mingling with the perceived intentions that the viewer imposes on his imagination of the artist as a personality and those together and multiplied by the tens, hundreds, thousands of viewers of the work, create the message and meaning of the work of art.

So, what does this have to do with Mr. Brainwash? My point is just to say that the artist and who he “really” is has very little bearing on the art work and its reception, it is the idea of the artist (and the controversy surrounding his personal voracity is a part of that, I suppose) and the impression of the art work by the viewer that determine the usefulness and artistry of the works he creates. Judging by the massive appeal of his work, the huge audiences, community of artists, and sales, I would say that ultimately there is no question. Personally I love to see the enthusiasm Guetta brings to the arts, the enjoyment and freedom he embodies and the sense of community he encourages in his shows. Those traits are worth finding a place for him in the canon.

 

PST in the new year

As we entered the new year a lot of locals put up their own best-of lists for 2011, because I missed that boat in December, I’d like to look forward to what I hope will be the great shows of 2012! Back in October we were treated to an opening weekend for PST that provided behind the scenes glimpses and exclusive tours to shed light on the arts in Los Angeles. Most of the big shows opened and concurrent gallery shows and events illuminated the work and timeline. Amazingly, that was three months ago and we are now on to the next segment in our year of celebration, the performance and public art focus of PST. Throughout January, shows are closing and opening, there will be lectures, films, performances, and lots of receptions… not to be missed! So, first, what should you see IMMEDIATELY, before it is gone… (I just checked out the Hammer’s Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 which did a wonderful job of taking the viewer on a cohesive journey through the developments and associations of this group of artists working concurrently in LA – unfortunately it closed yesterday but left behind a comprehensive catalogue that covers much of the material and enhances the theoretical and art historical component with essays from Hazel Carby, Kellie Jones (the curator), Jacqueline Steward, Karin Higa, Franklin Sirmans, Roberto Tejada, Naima J. Keith, and Daniel Widener – dig it!).

January Closures:

LACMA – check out Keinholz’s 5 car stud before it is gone January 15th – this viewer-incorporating piece was both controversial in its time and today, today for the lack of power in the work outside of its own context. I think it is still worth seeing to understand how audience and artist interact and how that interaction is affected by time and context.

MCA San Diego – Phenomenal: CA Light, Space, Surface closes on January 22nd. With the news of Hastings Plastics closing down, you may be interested in seeing some of the work that came out of the collaboration between art and industry through the 1960s and 1970s. I’m thinking a little day trip is in order!

Orange County Museum of Art – on our way down to San Diego, lets take a quick trip to see State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970! This show also closes the 22nd with closing events from 1-5pm on closing day. Billed as a comprehensive view of conceptual art in Northern and Southern CA, the show includes some of LA’s most lauded outliers, Chris Burden, Allen Ruppersberg, Gary Beydler, Nancy Buchanan, Susan Mogul, Ilene Segalove, and many others. Events on closing day include a 1pm public tour, and a 2pm film screening of the documentary, Here is Always Somewhere Else.

Laguna Art Museum – our trip south wouldn’t be complete without a sideline to see Best Kept Secret: UCI & the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964-1971, also closing on January 22nd. PST has provided a platform for several local schools to assert their positions in the cultivation of Los Angeles’ art community. Promising to remedy the dirth of information in official texts, this show asserts UC Irvine as formative in the early years of contemporary art practice in Los Angeles. With past faculty including Larry Bell, Ed Bereal, Philip Leider, Ed Moses, and Barbara Rose, and students such as Nancy Buchanan, Marcia Hafif, Jay McCafferty, Barbara T. Smith, and James Turrell (did he spend time at every school in LA?), I’m inclined to agree with them. Plus, I have a soft spot for shows that position mentors next to students to see the overlap in theoretical and technical elements through the educational process.

January 15th – Conversation between Peter Frank and Cecile Whiting moderated by Best Kept Secret curator Grace Kook-Anderson. 1pm at the Laguna Art Museum

Armory Center for the Arts – One of my favorite shows, Speaking in Tongues: Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken, 1961-1976, is closing January 22nd and is definitely worth a quick trip eastward to Pasadena. Like the single-artist retrospectives (ie SMMOA’s Beatrice Wood show), these smaller and more focused exhibitions are an important addition to PST’s larger multi-artists expansive and extensive overviews.

February Closures:

Getty Museum – The seminal show, Crosscurrents, which provides a lovely overview of Los Angeles art workers throughout the focus period of PST is closing on February 5th. Definitely check it out as it gives a pretty clear timeline and background for many other PST shows around town. Also Greetings from LA: Artists & Publics at the Getty Research Center will be closing on the 5th, although a small and dense show, it also provides a timeline that will be helpful as we enter the performance and public art segment of PST.

Fowler Museum at UCLA – Like UCLA’s Hammer, their Fowler has followed suit in exploring the underrepresented voices in LA’s art history. Mapping Another LA: The Chicano Art Movement closes on February 26th.

January 25th – 12-1pm – Judith Hernandez talks about the role of women in the Chicano Art Movement, should be really interesting to hear how a masculinist culture incorporates the feminine spirit. Takes place at UCLA’s Fowler Museum

MOCA Geffen – Another MUST SEE of PST, Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981, is closing February 13th. This show focuses on the bleak-ish undercurrents that were a counter-point to the airy fetishism of light and space, often politically and personally motivated, the work is deeply affecting. The show is extremely ambitious and having spent probably 10+ hours in the space total over the span I am still finding new pieces and formulating new thoughts in the space.

 

Other shows and events to check out in the coming months:

18th Street Arts Center has the well-reviewed Collaboration Labs: Southern California and the Artist Space Movement until March 16th.

Getty is showing In Focus: LA 1945-1980 until May 6th.

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives is displaying Cruising the Archive: Queer Art and Culture in Los Angeles 1945-1980 until May 31st. I am especially interested in the performances they are presenting on March 1st under the title “Transactivation: Revealing Queer Histories in the Archive” with Heather Cassils, Zackary Drucker, Wu Tsang, and Chris Vargas. The event will run from 6pm to 9pm at 909 W. Adams Blvd. 90007.

USC Fisher Museum of Art presents Sight Specific: LACPS and the Politics of Community from January 11th through April 7th. The show documents the existence and importance of the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies to the arts community in LA. Curated by Tim Wride (formerly of LACMA and too many other accomplishments to mention) it is sure to be an interesting retrospective.

Museum of Latin American Art is presenting the discussion, “Interlogues: Mex/LA: Photography and Film 1930-1985” on Thursday, January 12 from 7:30 to 9pm. This lecture is free and covers a fascinating time period and cultural collision.

PST performance art & public art festival: over the weekends of January 21st and January 27th, many local organizations will be supporting public and performance artists in re-creations, lectures, and inspired works throughout LA. Here are a few interesting things:

Otis – Feminist Art Workers – January 14th from 11-12pm – hear about one of the key collaborative art groups of the time period straight from their own recollections.

Pomona College – January 21st from 5-7pm – Performance @ Pomona – a part of the exhibition It Happened At Pomona, at 5pm John White will perform Preparation F (from 1971), with the Pomona College football team at Memorial Gymnasium, Rains Center. At 6pm, Judy Chicago will present A Butterly for Pomona, a new work based on her Atmosphere performances from the 70s at the Merritt Football Field, and at 6:45pm, James Turrell will recreate Burning Bridges, originally shown in 1971, at the Bridges Auditorium.

LA><Art – Warren Neidlich & Elena Bajo: Art in the Parking Space, January 24th from 7pm to 9pm at the Standard Hotel – including performances by Ron Cooper, Sydney Cooper, Krysten Cunningham, Untitled Collective, Mathilde ter Heine and Mathilde Rosier, Theo Ligthart, Societe Realiste, and others.

SASSAS: Welcome Inn Time Machine – January 29th the Welcome Inn Eagle Rock will be transformed into a venue for live performances from 4pm to 10pm by the Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound. Should be quite an intriguing experiment!

Pomona College, February 19th from 3 to 4:30pm at the Rose Hills Theater – Artist Conversation hosted by Helene Winer presenting John Baldessari, William Leavitt, Allen Ruppersberg – seeing these four together on stage, I might just burst. Baldessari is an amazing speaker as is Winer… definitely NOT to be missed! This is also the last day of the Winer part of It Happened At Pomona before we move on to Part 3 in March.

Scripps – February 22nd, 7-9pm – Mr. Baldessari is making his rounds out east as he shows up again for a roundtable discussion with John Mason and Billy Al Bengston moderated by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery in Claremont.

 

So much to see and do in LA these next few months – hopefully I’ll be giving you updates on these shows and more on this blog. What happenings are YOU looking forward to??

 

 

 

In Praise of the Kunsthalle/ pt. 3

In the last two parts of this series on technology in the museum and the role of the Kunsthalle, we talked about the issues facing museums today as art and audiences both change to incorporate new media and a greater interest in interactive experience. Today I’d like to talk specifically about the Kunsthalle. As I mentioned in the first post on this topic, we are lucky in Los Angeles to have a lovely example of this non-collecting type of museum, the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Although it is not a perfect solution, the non-collecting museum model is ideally suited for today’s interdisciplinary, multi-sensory, interactive art world.

The difficulties of being a non-collecting museum are several. First, it can be difficult to get funding, and to amass a following with no reciprocal benefit to loans. On teh other hand, not being tied to a collection means not spending a huge part of your budget on preservation and freedom from the rigorous and often controversial deaccession/acquisition process. Small non-collecting museums are free to mix periods and foci and to engage new and unknown curators and artists. The small size of most Kunsthalles also means they have the ability to engage with a more diverse community and offer exhibition specific programming more readily. The size also allows viewers to create a connection between specific pieces as active participants. Rather than conflating periods and styles, viewers are able to focus on one area or aspect of art. Also, the small and dedicated space allows for greater customization of the environment to the exhibition such as in the case of Michael Asher’s installation that encompassed the Santa Monica Museum in theory and physically by literally re-installing every wall ever used in exhibition. In the catalogue for this exhibit, the director of SMMOA, Elsa Longhauser, expressed the, quite correct, insight, “the Kunsthalle collects ideas, not objects.”

Michael Asher at SMMOA

There are some wonderful books out there that express ideas on how to change the museum model itself, such as The Participatory Museum, they lay out plans to incorporate evolving ideas of audience participation. Here, though, I am focused not on changing the museum model itself, but rather on adding another kind of institution to the conversation. Rather than attempting to be all for all, museums should focus on collaboration and support of alternative spaces like Kunsthalles, for and not-for profit galleries, and university museums, as well as public and web-based projects.

Collaborations between small and large institutions allow for an escape from the bureaucracy while encouraging access to a larger maintained collection and ability to collect important works. Also, it gives greater exposure to both institutions and pools advertising expenses to boot. Artists, lay critics, and burgeoning collectors would have greater opportunities to contribute to a dialogue that has a further-reaching impact. The collecting museum has an opportunity to hear back from their consumers and to access new ideas and works as they emerge.

So, why not just introduce, or further finance and support, a participatory element to the traditional fine art museum? After all, they already are encouraging certain amounts of audience participation as we discussed in part one of this series, through web programming, family and on-site programming, tours, and events. The art museum is not really equipped to change exhibitions and gather information quickly enough to stay on top of trends in the art world. Events and workshops tend to either be outside of the collection and exhibitions themselves or to be weighed down by the historical canon imposed by most institutional curators. The fact of the museum’s existence as an art museum with the background and intimidation that entails makes it very difficult for viewers to change their mode of reaction from receivership to one of participatory practice. This is especially true if one expects a viewer to take on a certain role within certain areas of the museum and another in different rooms and halls. For example, a child given free reign in the “Children’s gallery,” allowed to manipulate and engage play objects, will have a hard time keeping their hands quiet when they are abruptly thrown into a typical gallery. Even as an adult, I have been extremely hesitant to touch computers or interactive displays in the museum space, such as currently accompanies the lovely display of Carrie Mae Weems’ work in the Getty’s photography galleries, because I have been so trained toward passive viewership.

Carrie Mae Weems, From Here I Watched the World Go By and I Cried, 1995

Museums have an important role as keepers of our cultural history. The need for participatory experiences and accessible spaces to show and engage with current trends and new works does not negate the need for access to traditional works with historical foci. Rather than try to expand to both ends of the spectrum, traditional fine art museums would be better served trying to expand their ability to offer public access to their collections. The role, expertise, and value of a traditional cultural institution is in its collection and its ability to preserve the objects it owns. Educating the public and offering access in innovative ways might be a better focus for museum administrators than trying to be both a depository and a harbinger.

 

In Praise of the Kunsthalle/ pt. 2

In my last blog post I talked about the issues facing museums in the digital age and began to bring up the possibilities of the Kunsthalle as part of the solution. I first started thinking about these possibilities a while ago, and we are so lucky here in LA to see this happening already in the form of Pacific Standard Time. Art institutions are coming together to address the facets of a period of art production in a specific time and place, and we see through this collaboration the possibilities of utilizing the different museums and galleries and their individual qualities (some large, some small, some collecting institutions, some not, some offering products for sale, some non-profit, etc.) to fully engage the topic and to  meet the needs of a diverse viewership. In today’s follow-up, we’ll talk more about the specific topic of art experience and technology.

Several questions plague museums whose focus is not period specific but rather are trying to incorporate a wide variety of modern and old-master works. For instance, how do we display art that is theoretical and not object-focused, and how can we do this alongside and in-comparison-to object oriented works? The exhibitions space needs to be flexible and smaller with greater engagement of educators, and the ability to include text and other materials suitable to specifics objects while not imposing too much textuality on the inherent visuality of the works. Also, how can we allow art of the moment to interact with the great works? The need for engagement and knowledge of contemporary and living artists, art communication and conversations is imperative. At the same time, museums must have the ability and environment to preserve great works, and the financial and institutional wherewithal to borrow historic pieces. These two qualities are extremely difficult to bring together in one institution, some might say impossible, and really, were a single institution to attempt both, they most likely would be unable to maintain both missions simultaneously. Hence the need for collaboration between art spaces large and small with a variety of missions, I believe Los Angeles, especially with PST, is at the forefront of this kind of collaborative effort.

Additionally, how do we allow viewers greater control and the ability to interact with their environment while still emphasizing the object-hood of art works? Smaller and more exhibition-focused spaces can be manipulated and maneuvered in different ways by different viewers. The ability to converse and educate within the space is aided by fewer visitors as a time. Many large museums have established web interfaces to encourage individualized exploration of the collection, but relying solely on a web-presence diminishes the object-hood of the works. Institutions must allow the exhibition to be the focus, rather than the individual works, allowing the viewer to navigate based on a conceptual focus rather than on the traditional flow imposed by Cartesian works would encourage an individualized experience within the space itself. Unfortunately smaller exhibition spaces are often more focused on the commodification of the works, galleries, etc. and can’t have the same breadth of focus as traditional museums, therein lies the need for the Kunsthalle.

Alongside the object nature of works of art, ideally the museum supports a community of creators (of meaning as well as visual material) rather than purely imposing meaning on objects. The best museums encourage a community around the museum space. Events focused not only on the works and the exhibit, but also on aspects of the exhibit that will draw a diverse and engaged audience that will be able to and encouraged to share their varied expertise. Where are the limits and boundaries of art works? Can we engage science, anthropology, literature, film, cultural or linguistic theory? Viewers should be addressed as active participants in meaning rather than empty vials to be filled with knowledge from the all-hallowed canon of art history. This is a major break with the tradition of the museum but it is essential in today’s world. Meaning negotiation is a far more effective tool for community engagement than lay viewership. This is aided by exposure to works produced in a period of interactivity and extreme shared experience alongside works produced within an era of Cartesian perspective.

Can we do all of this in a way that is not overwhelming to the viewer and to the individual works? Again, the key here is to work on a smaller scale. The fewer objects that are directly in contact with one another, the more easily the viewer can make connections and meaning and the less likely it is that the works will conflict with one another as we move beyond the purely visual into areas of multi-sensory experience. This luxury of experience is only available when the museum’s mission moves beyond the collection and toward the community, and that can only be done in collaboration with smaller and less object-stagnated exhibitions spaces such as Kunsthalles. In our next installment we’ll discuss the Kunsthalle and it’s place in today’s interdisciplinary and interactive art world.

 

In Praise of the Kunsthalle/ pt. 1

These are a few random thoughts I’ve had in thinking about the role of the museum, and especially the Kunsthalle, the non-collecting museum, in the United States, but Los Angeles more specifically. Our city is lucky to claim a wonderful Kunsthalle in the Santa Monica Museum of Art located at Bergamot Station. The museum is at the forefront of experimentation with viewer engagement in part because they have the flexibility to incorporate and encourage new ideas/artists/curators/media/concepts given their freedom from the collection and all the maintenance, preservation, and display obligations that go along with that archival mission.

The history of the museum is essentially object-focused. In today’s world much has been written on museum engagement and the need for further interactivity between viewer and object. Some proposed solutions to the problem of lay viewers that have been used in traditional museum settings include digital methodologies through interactive web sites, computerized aspects of exhibitions, digital collection archives, and computer rooms within the space of the museum and exhibition. Another method of engagement has been the use of docents, tours, and family days as well as other activity focused events in the museum space. Some museums are also experimenting with mixing media and discipline by adding music tot he gallery, video, or sculpture to the exhibition space. This is usually done by creating art for the space rather than figuring the space around art, an initiative that is being heavily considered right now with the resurgence of conceptual and installation art from the 1960s and 70s with Pacific Standard Time event here in Los Angeles.

The underlying issue that has not been addressed is the problem of the work (mostly traditional art works) being created within a Cartesian tradition – meant to be simply viewed. This does not work in today’s society where, although the visual is still our primary mode of information acquisition, we are use to a greater interactivity with the media. In the age of technology, reproduction, internet usage, and international access, we are accustomed to forming our own experience. This is in direct opposition to the function of the art museum that is focused on object permanence, appreciation of an intended experience, and education about the intended experience.

Museums today have to contend with the fact that we have access to most of the great works in our very homes. How to establish the importance of the physical experience of a work is an essential question for museum’s especially as it becomes more and more expensive and time-consuming to visit these ever-expanding cultural ivory-towers. Within the museum walls, works created by artists that were meant to be engaged by the viewer physically are presented in such a way that viewers cannot be close to them and are not encouraged to interact in ways that will change or alter the work, despite this being the intention of the artist. Is the museum’s function that of preservation or of exposure? The museum needs to be able to collect, preserve, and display our past but what if their ability to preserve the object is at odds with the ability to preserve the intention of the artist and the piece? What is the art object without the context and artists’ impulse?

When we look at modern art, often people assert, I could have done that! The value of much modern and contemporary art is not in the physical form but rather in the intention of the artist, the impulse of creation. This is destroyed sometimes in teh need to maintain the object itself. I have written about this specific piece in previous blog posts especially having to do with Duchamp’s work but want to also consider the several installation works of Felix Gonzalez-Toerres, asking visitors to take a piece of his stack of paper (or candy), in essence, destroying the work as they experience the work. Duchamp is quotes as saying, “too great an importance [has been] given tot he retinal. Since Courbet, it’s been believed that painting is addressed to the retina. That was everyone’s error. The retinal shudder! Before, painting had other functions: it could be religious, philosophical moral.” In the end, the modern museum has to lump all these functions in together, to allow solely visual access to works and limited access even at that. So, how does the slow-moving institutional machine of the art museum re-center their mission of being a conduit to art for the general public and reconcile that with their concurrent mission of collections and preservation – in the end, they must turn to a collaboration with the Kunsthalle. In the next part, we will see how the issue of technology functions within the museum and finally consider the benefits and limitations of the Kunsthalle itself.

For an interesting blog on Gonzalez-Torres from a viewership point of view, check out http://momentc.blogspot.com/2011/01/felix-gonzalez-torres.html

If you are interested in Santa Monica Museum of Art – www.smmoa.org

Felix Gonzalez Torres - Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Passport), 1991

 

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Passport), 1991