City Among Nations: Los Angeles at the Venice Biennale
What’s notable about “We Must Risk Delight” is precisely that none of the artists included are international luminaries, of which Los Angeles undoubtedly has its share. Rather, the exhibition presents the city’s immeasurably talented working-artists, ranging in age from 30-70 and representing a broad range of ethnicities, as well as a slight majority of female artists. “Our participation in art conversations on an international level can not be reserved only for superstar names: not if our interests as a community are to keep growing and keep relevant,” curator Elizabeta Betinski explains. “Too few of us get the kind of opportunity we just experienced at the Venice Biennale and I truly hope to see that change for Los Angeles artists within my lifetime. ‘We Must Risk Delight’ was created in an effort to affect that change.” The exhibition has been a labor of love for the curator and the artists, who continue to seek financial support for their endeavor. “Democratization is, to me, an issue that needs to be addressed,” says Betinski. “We can either complain about — and thus contend with — the ‘art market’ and its inherent elitism, or we can give effort to expanding the playing field and creating opportunities for more than just a select few.” She continues, “L.A. has one of the most vibrant and exciting contemporary art scenes in the world — yet, our perspective on being a part of a larger world is still very myopic and out-of-sync with the amount of creative talent and diversity L.A. has to offer.” Such diversity, while not the cause of the show’s success, is important because it reflects the progressive values of a city that is increasingly hailed as a crucible for working artists, as well as being notable for its multicultural and gender-balanced community and presence of multiple generations of artists all supporting one another.
Thematically, the exhibition’s focus is transcendence of real-world limitations, and the art on view speaks to the possibilities of fantasy and imagination to lift us above our daily challenges. That utopian spirit is also typical of Los Angeles, a city that is in many ways an impossibility, wrested from the desert that perpetually threatens to reclaim it. The artworks on view take a variety of forms, from Tanya Batura’s surreal ceramics suggesting organic growths made of eyes, to Robbie Conal‘s nostalgic portraits of 1960s pop icons Bob Marley, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix. Kenturah Davis’ contribution, four large-scale drawings depicting African-American subjects whose images are comprised of written text describing their aspirations, speaks to both the challenges and the ambitions of L.A.’s creative class.
Painting is everywhere, most of it boldly colorful. Amir H. Fallah exhibits two paintings from a recent series in which he reconstructed the lives of a married couple based on diaries and objects procured from an estate sale in East Los Angeles. Alexandra Grant and Sherin Gurguis, two artists currently featured in the COLA award exhibition at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, are represented with exuberant works on paper that dazzle against the brick walls of the magazzini space. Grant shows two works from her “Century of the Self”series, proclaiming “I was born to love not to hate,” and Gurguis contributes intricately patterned cut-paper works that riff on traditional Islamic screen work. Gurguis also contributes a large, ornamental cut-out sculpture alongside sculptural works by Ben Jackel, Margaret Griffith, Rebecca Niederlander, and Jamison Carter. Carole Silverstein, Mark Licari, and Shizu Saldamando also dazzle with color, though on a smaller scale. These three artists each embody a distinct Los Angeles vernacular in their very different bodies of work: Silverstein working with pattern and landscape, Saldamando in figuration to describe local archetypes, and Licari bringing the psychedelic perspective.
Despite L.A.’s international stature as a film capital, the moving image is less prominent in the show, although animations by Stas Orlovski and Carolyn Castaño, and Natasha Prosenc Stearns’ sculpture and video installation, ensure it is not left out of the discussion. Photography is also less visible, though well-represented by Brandy Eve Allen’s intimate portraits. Alexis Zoto is the only artist to respond directly to Venice as a site, creating an installation in dazzling gold around a large chandelier that evokes the ersatz Baroque aesthetic of Venice’s many palazzos, while incorporating pre-Columbian geometries that speak to the contemporary hybridization of culture across place.
Reflecting that hybrid reality and the broadest possible scope of geographies, the 2015 Biennale encompasses pavilions from 87 countries as well as 42 collateral exhibitions. Still, no other city occupies a footprint comparable to L.A.’s this time around. In addition to “We Must Risk Delight,” L.A. artists figure prominently in Okwui Enwezor’s main exhibition. The Giardini’s Central Pavilion features legendary Angeleno artist and CalArts faculty mainstay, Charles Gaines, with an installation of his recent “Notes on Social Justice” and plexiglas ‘Librettos’ works (the latter also on view at Leimert Park’s Art + Practice until May 30). The Biennale’s live program – one of three key thematic areas or “filters” – also features monthly live performances of Gaines’ master composition based on five “Notes on Social Justice” texts. The first of these featured a male and female vocalist in duet, accompanied by a string quartet. Future performances over the course of the exhibition will layer and multiply texts and compositions from the five source texts. Both the installation and the live performance use canonical documents from the history of social justice movements as their basis, building on a body of work that has incorporated the words of Susan B. Anthony, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X. By appropriating these texts whole and treating them with visual and auditory lyricism, Gaines defuses the oft-leveled criticism of political art as aggressive or alienating, instead drawing viewers in with beauty and warmth while allowing the eloquence and commitment of the original speakers to come through with clarity.
Adjacent to the Gaines installation is a gallery of recent works by L.A.-based Walead Beshty, whose works include a number of “Aggregate” sculptures (2013) constructed from production discards from Guadalajara’s Cerámica Suro, a long-established industrial ceramics producer and exporter. The sculptures, covered in thick, drippy paint, are as vulgar and chaotic as Cerámica Suro’s wares are precise. These works, accompanied by collaged sculptures made from cut-up Guadalajara tabloid newspapers draped over metal poles, respond to the official and unofficial economies of globalization by foregrounding the commoditization of human bodies and folk cultural traditions for casual consumption by Mexico’s elites and their wealthier neighbors to the north.
Additionally, CalArts graduates Matt Lucero and Tuan Andrew Nguyen are included at the Arsenale with their collective, The Propeller Group, whom Angelenos may remember from their humorous video installation commenting on global corporate culture at 2012’s Made in L.A. Biennial at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. In Venice, they are represented by a block of ballistic gel containing an AK-47 bullet and an M-16 bullet shot at one another, which upon fusing come to represent a merger of American and Soviet military histories in the aftermath of the Cold War — think Afghanistan or Syria for some real-world examples of how this plays out. The AK-47 vs M16 (2015) also includes a slow-motion animation of the bullets passing through the gel, which creates an abstracted forensic map of contemporary global conflict.
Another notable Angeleno at the Biennale is Vanessa Beecroft, an Italian-born artist whose installation “phantom limb stone garden” at the Italian Pavilion made up of figurative sculptures in bronze and shades of stone reminiscent of the range of human skin tones. One of her most ambitious and successful sculptural installations, the work cannot be viewed in its entirety as it is intentionally blockaded by large, rough-sided marble slabs. The fragmented viewpoint of the observer and the truncated female bodies within make reference to Marcel Duchamp’s final work, Étant Donnés (1946-66), a Surrealist-inspired tableau referencing both theater and early cinema, which prefigures Beecroft’s more than twenty years of work responding to the tropes of contemporary high fashion.
Los Angeles’ emergence within the international contemporary art landscape speaks to the city’s position at the forefront of worldwide trends. While the Biennale’s pavilions appear to celebrate nationalism, increasingly one finds within them artists from many countries (Spain and Belgium being notable examples this time). Los Angeles exemplifies a future in which metropolitan areas are in direct dialogue with one another, around the globe, through cultural as well as commercial exchange. Comprised of residents from all parts of the planet, Los Angeles boasts a majority-minority demographic that other European and American cities are destined to share. The city is shaped by its national context, but also shapes it, and acts as a hub for international cultural exchange. L.A. is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for the world’s cities going forward, being already invested in seeking ways to develop more equitable, sustainable, and liveable conditions for its citizens. Given how the city’s contemporary artists reflect and promote those concerns, it’s no surprise that they are so prominently represented at a global exhibition focused on the future.
Top Image: Walead Beshty, 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures. | Photo: Alessandra Chemollo.
An Excursion Into LA’s Mojave Hinterland at the CLUI Desert Research Station
The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) has always occupied a somewhat paradoxical space–one that is informatively neutral but at the same time also subtly provocative. This aspect allows its organizers to penetrate often, impenetrable places such as the Nevada Test Site. Indeed, the CLUI is as well known inside the art world as it is outside of it. It is in fact one of the more internationally well-known and respected interdisciplinary entities in contemporary art that often does not appear as an arts organization at all but instead as a highly creative interpretive center for some institutional-like agency.
Founded in 1994 by the Center’s director, Matthew Coolidge along with various CLUI associates as a research and educational organization whose mission is “dedicated to the increase and diffusion of information about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived.” The CLUI stipulate that “the manmade landscape is a cultural inscription, that can be read to better understand who we are, and what we are doing.” The Center is interested in multiple interpretations of landscape from a variety of perspectives and points of view.
The Center supports and presents a variety of exhibition programs at its main exhibition and office location in Culver City, CA adjacent to another SoCal gem of hard-to-classify arts practice–The Museum of Jurassic Technology. The Culver City location also features a bookstore where one may sign up for the Center’s newsletter, The Lay of the Land and purchase various Center produced publications. The CLUI also organizes highly popular bus tour trips. Its years of research have been organized into a publicly accessible online Land Use Database. On occasion, the Center hosts outside researchers though its Independent Interpreter Series.
The Center’s American Land Museum is a group of associated satellite locations including the Wendover facility located deep within the Great Basin at the Nevada/Utah border adjacent to Utah’s Great Salt Lake–home of land speed records and Robert Smithson’sSpiral Jetty. Here resides the Center’s Wendover artist residency program at a former WWII training airbase whose claim to fame is its role supporting the first atomic bombing missions dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Wendover visitors may casually visit the Enola Gay hanger that housed the B-29 bomber that forever sealed Hiroshima’s nuclear fate, later immortalized in early Richard Misrach photographs.
Other field office locations and facilities include the Gulf States Field Office in Houston, TX; the Northeast Field Office in Troy, NY; the New Mexico Field Site outside of Albuquerque, NM; the Central States Exhibit Unit in Lebanon, KS and the Desert Research Station located in Hinkley, CA.
Opened in 2000 as part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition Flight Patterns, the Desert Research Station (DRS) focuses on the California Desert region, specifically the Mojave Desert extending from Los Angeles outward fringes within the Antelope Valley eastward into Las Vegas, Death Valley, and the Mojave National Preserve–essentially “the desert beltway around the hinterlands of Los Angeles.” Exhibits are open year-round to the public and are accessible as self-guided gallery walk-throughs (visitors must access the facility through the combination keypad after phoning the CLUI during regular business hours for the access code; call-in information is located at the door). The DRS grounds include interpretive walking trails with signage exhibits. Additional facilities on site are available for researchers conducting operations with the CLUI.
Recent projects include several sound installations “related to spatial dynamics of the ground.” Steve Badgett and artist and interdisciplinary artist, Deborah Stratman produced the Desert Resonator, a 75-foot long aeolian harp which reacts and interprets the wind movement’s over the ground into sound, using a spherical acoustic resonator. This permanently installed sonic sculpture’s “six 75′ long strings pass over dual bridges and produce multi-harmonic drones contingent upon the force and consistency of the air currents”–effectively translating the wind.
CLUI associate, Steve Rowell explores the phenomenology of sonic booms linking sky, sound, and ground in unexpected ways. Due to the DRS’s proximity to Edwards Air Force Base and Naval Air Weapons China Lake Facility makes it a perfect location to research and collection of such sonic phenomena.
Wendover artist residency program participant William Lamson ended up staging his Line Describing the Sun project in the winter months of 2011 on nearby Harper Dry Lake when the originally intended site conditions at the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover proved inadequate. Using a Fresnel lens apparatus mounted onto a mobile unit Lamson inscribed a 366-foot burn arc other the course of one day onto the lakebed. The concentrated intensity of the 1,600-degree point of light melted the lakebed’s dry surface, “transforming it into a black glassy substance.” When the project was later exhibited in NYC the project prompted the NY Times to comment, “Mr. Lamson can’t go back in time, but he can still go to the desert.”
Other current projects include a collaboration with University of Southern California art curatorial graduate students that is studying and documenting experimental aircraft crash sites found throughout the region.
Future research projects include those supported by independent/autonomous solar power systems, an underground bunker space, additional sound/space projects, and one concerning DIY low altitude aerial photography. The walking trail is scheduled for completion by January 2013 with a combination gate to allow public access.
For more information visit the Center’s website.
The street address for the DRS is 40083 Hinkley Road, Hinkley, CA 92347.
Directions to CLUI’s Desert Research Station: From downtown Los Angeles, take I-10 east, to I-15 north towards Las Vegas/Barstow. Just before Barstow, take Highway 58 west. Proceed approximately 9 miles to Hinkley Road, which is sometimes indicated with a “Hinkley 1 Mile” sign. Turn right on Hinkley Road and drive north 4 miles to the DRS, located on the east side of the road. Phone the CLUI at (310) 839-5722 for combination access code during normal business hours.
Top Image: Using the horns at the DRS, acoustic “binoculars” on the walking trail. | Photo: Courtesy of CLUI
This Place Is Nowhere
This Saturday is the opening of the “This Place Is Nowhere” at the Paul Loya Gallery in Los Angles. The first art show curated by my good friend Gus Cawley this show will feature the work of Corey Smith, Gordon Holden, and Scoph. If you are in the Los Angeles area you should definitely stop by… with this combination of guys it is guaranteed to be a good time. Check out the Facebook event page here. And the full press release after the jump.
This Place Is Nowhere
December 14th – January 4th, 2013
Opening Reception: December 14th, 6-10 pm
Paul Loya Gallery is proud to present a group exhibition, This Place Is Nowhere.
This Place Is Nowhere, which features the works of artists Gordon Holden, Schoph and Corey Smith, brings together three artists who take a serious (or not so serious) look at the society that surrounds us. In a “selfie”-saturated world, these artists create works that are provocative and often satirical or
sarcastic remarks on pop-culture and the masses. There is a synthesis of playful curiosity and critique of the contemporary culture which calls the viewer to both internal and external discernment and reflection. Each artist works with mixed media, composing images and materials into a thoughtful perspective.
Corey Smith is a multi-media visual artist who currently resides between Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe and Portland, OR. He has been exhibiting his work in galleries throughout the US for over a decade. Smith has been featured in countless print magazines and online sources.
Gordon Holden was born in 1985 in suburban United States of America. After graduating from the University of Vermont, never having studied fine arts, he soon discovered that the only way to live in a world that strives for perfection is to do just the opposite. He describes his creations as a collection of things to like and things to
Originally from Yorkshire in the North of England, Scophe is currently living out of a bag in his studio, travelling and showing his art at successful group and collaborative shows from the UK, throughout Europe and the US.
For more information or images, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org
I keep returning to Beshty’s work as a form of grounding as I research more and contemplate my current and future thoughts I find his work a great reassurance. I am not sure as to why I feel this way as even though I am an artist there are only a few works that give me this sense. At present I see this as healthy so until otherwise I will use it as so.
The floor within this exhibition was also covered in strengthened glass similar to the glass used in Beshty’s FedEx boxes. However here the viewer leaves their mark whilst viewing the work. The cracks and traces left on the glass change and add to the exhibition over the course of the show.
In the ‘Passages’ (2009) series, nebulous large-scale colour prints confess their trajectory through an airport X-ray machine in the form of blurred lines and hazy irregularities. Echoing the processes of fingerprinting and body scans used in the increasingly politicized zone of the airport, the images are an appreciable evocation of the legislative and ideological transformations of a post- 9/11 world, as felt by every traveller. (The project is an intentional exercise stemming from an earlier accident, when film Beshty had taken of the deserted Iraqi Diplomatic Mission in Berlin was run through X-ray machines during his journey, and later shown at the 2008 Whitney Biennial.) They are also thoroughly charming abstract fields of fading colour: the new systems of corporeal degradation exercized in airports since September 2001, which establish a state of exception as a civic norm, are rendered oddly palatable.