Art & Development, Research, Travelogue

notes from the southland

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LA. Traffic.

Just got back from Los Angeles, where I de-installed my work at Tarryn Teresa Gallery. A few notes from my mental scrapbook:

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Packing up mailinvoicegetcarsmogged, 2006, plastic and ink on paper, 48 x 66 x 12 inches

Packing tools? I’ll never doubt you again, needle-nose pliers and extension cords! I should expect map pin heads to come clean off by now. I should know better than to rely on the palm sander’s cord. Thankfully, I erred on the side of caution, and it paid off.

NPR and classic rock. Apparently there’s no public radio along the I-5 in Fresno and Merced Counties, or they’re all run by evangelicals. Sans audio books, my substitute of choice was a Bakersfield-based classic rock station. If you could forgive the gratuitous misogyny, you’d discover a playlist spanning Zep, GNR, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Metallica, and Journey. Those bands once inspired repulsion in me, but I think we can all agree now that hair bands made some pretty great pop music. Last week, I heard Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” on an early morning grocery run, and it instilled a good mood that lasted hours. So I’m reclaiming this music from the heshers/burnouts/metalheads/bullies who gave it a bad name in high school, and you’re welcome to join me. For those about to rock…

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring, 1950, Watercolor on paper. Collection Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark, 1959.6.6. Photo by Gary Mamay. Image source: Hammer Museum


Charles Burchfield at the Hammer Museum. I couldn’t see what Robert Gober, the contemporary hyper-realist sculptor, would see in a mid-century painter of landscapes. The Hammer exhibition, however, is fantastic. It makes clear that Burchfield was vastly under-recognized and portentious. His interest in abstraction, background in Asian-influenced Art Nouveau wallpaper design, experience with social realist pictorialism, and probable mental illness (see Dave Harvey’s great write-up in the LA Weekly) led to an innovative body of paintings that manages to embody countless references (to traditional Chinese scroll painting, Japanese woodcuts, OCD doodling, Cubism, and modern-day fantasy art) while forging a distinct visual language — psychedelic, immersive. I also admire his sheer conviction — after a successful stint as a Regionalist painter, Burchfield wrote in his journal,

“It seems to me, more than ever, imperative that I somehow get these fantasies into finished concrete form even tho there is not sale for them. How we will live, I do not know.”

Burchfield’s final paintings are really tremendous pictures. Some of them are breathtaking. The show is accompanied by extensive notes which provide welcome keys to the artist’s process, thoughts, doubts and motivations.

Nic Hess’ Hammer Project. Pretty great too. Masking tape drawings, a ton of vinyl decals. The placement of imagery in the space was cheeky and unexpected.

Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis at the Hammer. I always feel the same way after viewing Crumb’s drawings: slightly dirty and tawdry, like I’d stayed at a cheap motel and watched Entertainment Weekly. More of my base self and less of my ideal self. It’s brilliant for Crumb to do a literal interpretation of the first book of the Bible in all its wretched, meaty drama. Of course Crumb can draw like no other, and there’s something vaguely appropriate, like Chick Tracts, to visualize this content in a sensational manner. The curators took pains to point out Crumb’s attempts at historical accuracy in regards to robes and architecture, but his comically zaftig female figures seem excepted from revision.

The historical exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum. I went for the Giant Robot Biennale, but two items from the historical exhibit were like punches to the stomach. First: a small girl’s cape. An internee mother modified a disused Navy peacoat for her daughter. It makes tangible the completely deranged skewing of context (where giving old military coats to forcibly-relocated families is like compassion; where modifying said coat is an act of love and resilience). Second, a massive diorama reified the scope of the internment camp at Manzanar. It was conceived and created by Robert Hasuike, a Mattel Toys model maker. It was effective and, by extrapolation, nightmarish.

Exhibition in Pasadena featuring some high-profile artists from the past 20 years of the institution’s programming. Ambitious show, disappointing reality. Only a few works emerged unscathed from the poor presentation and compromised spaces. I think the less said about this exhibition, the better. So I’ll pose, then, a series of questions:

1. When you’re an artist, and have identified artists you admire who embody rigor, quality, thoughtfulness and professionalism, and you see their work suffer due to poor presentation, how does that make you feel? Do you have similar experiences in your own history so that you can relate to these established artist’s possible regrets? And does this make you hopeful (that you’re not alone) or sad (that even established artists can’t avoid partnerships with presenters who don’t deliver)?

2. Is it the artist’s burden to accept the limitations of a non-commercial presenter? Or is it the artist’s responsibility to push them to expand their capacity and raise the level of exhibition installation and management towards professionalism?

3. When you’re a viewer and your expectations of an exhibition are raised by professionally-produced promotional collateral, who is at fault when the actual show’s installation reads on a lower level of quality, like student-grade?


On Whinging. This post is a bit more critical than usual, but I do grapple with these questions and criticisms wholly. I’m invested—I drove all over LA on a beautiful holiday afternoon and selected a a few shows to focus my attention on. I don’t set out to be critical of these shows—I try to keep an open mind and hope to be surprised for the positive.

Happy Halloween!

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