Art & Development, Research, Travelogue

notes from the southland


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:


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!



wanted: machine to clone and transport

First Stop: London

I’d love to skip back over the pond to attend the Frieze Art Fair next week in London. Yes, it is a marriage of art and commerce, but it’s also more than that — newly commissioned art projects, featuring the fabulous Stephanie Syjuco, the delightfully perplexing Ryan Gander, and a fellow named Mike Bouchet, whose project involves hiring a motivational speaker to address an audience at the Frieze Talkslove it! There’s also a programme of killer talks, including a Q&A with John Baldessari, a lecture by James Elkins (the esteemed author from Art Institute of Chicago, who I’ve posted about before) as well as a timely talk on the role of state funding for the arts in a recession.

I’d leave my Clone in San Francisco

Of course, I’d have to clone myself first, so I could also be here in San Francisco for Southern Exposure‘s Grand Opening and the opening of the exhibition, Bellwether. The exhibition is shaping up really nicely, with a huge site-specific balsa wood installation by Reneé Gertler, a DIY survivalist’s shed by Whitney Lynn, an outpost for Lordy Rodriguez’ First Colony, among others. I’m also really looking forward to Liz Glynn‘s Banner Year project, which sweetly reminds me of Jeremy Deller’s Procession in Manchester this summer. Don’t miss the festivities October 16 and 17, at 20th and Alabama Streets.

Next Stop: New York

Then, after that, I’d attend Three Pieces, a one-night multidisciplinary event at PPOW Gallery in Chelsea, where Color&Color, a new publication by Amanda Curreri and Erik Scollon, will be unveiled (along with a work of sound and a work of language/performance. I submitted two images to the inaugural publication — can’t wait to see it.

I’d stick around in NYC for another night to attend The Creative Time Summit at the NY Public Library, which is kind of like a TED Talk for contemporary art. There are so many huge names on the roster, like Alfredo Jaar, Mel Chin, Liam Gillick, Julieta Aranda, the list goes on and on…

A recommended virtual stop: Los Angeles Times art review


Of course, if I had a transporter, I could save myself a lot of staring at the I-5. Since we haven’t got one — yet! — we could have a look at Leah Ollman’s L.A. Times review of Palimpsests, a three-person exhibition I’m in at Tarryn Teresa Gallery through October 29th.

Research, Travelogue

L.A. Looks

Between installing recent works at Tarryn Teresa Gallery and being stuck in traffic, I got to have some fun art-life in Los Angeles last weekend…

–Peeked behind the scenes of a down-low James Turrell light installation. Don’t ask where, because I won’t say!

–Experienced Richard Serra’s monumental Band and Sequence steel sculptures at LACMA for the first time, and in near solitude, to boot. I was really grateful to get them both to myself, as the experience was sensory and meditative. I was baffled, though, when I encountered an LED light piece in the corner. It was completely lacking wall text. I knew it was a work because its perimeter was demarcated with vinyl commanding, “Please do not touch,” and when I entered the throw of light, I set off a high-pitched alarm. Yet I’d never known Serra to do light-based work, and I’m sort of keen on these things. A new museum mystery remains unsolved.

–Upstairs at LACMA were a massive Barbara Kruger vinyl installation and a Koons, Warhol and Baldessari group show. The dude show was great, if not especially urgent (in fact, it was scheduled to close a year ago). Still, I hadn’t seen one of Koons’ balloon animals in the flesh in a while, and it was totally and surprisingly effective, accomplishing what I think the provocateur meant to do. That taut, shiny sculpture sort of turned me on. Awkward!

–In the other huge wing was a large survey of Beuys’ multiples. Shows of multiples, esp those tangential to Fluxus, can be wonderfully curio-esque or miserably archival and academic. I’ll admit, my art stamina was no match for the massive scope of this survey. I also had a hard time turning off my preparator brain, noticing the grey-vinyl-on-grey-paint instead of synthesizing the text, and being bothered by the lack of didactic texts in the vitrines. Still, it was cute to see Beuys’ famous sled sculpture, which Stephanie Syjuco is re-creating for 1969, a show at PS1 this fall.

–When you like a gallery, and their shows keep exceeding your expectations, you start to worry about becoming biased. This is what happens to me at Marc Foxx Gallery. I loved the Anne Collier show the last time I was in town, and I loved the group show with Jim Hodges and Frances Stark the preceding visit. This time round, I was slowly but surely impressed with a solo show by Matthew Ronay, who crafts fictionalized juju capes, hoods, staffs and other ritual objects. They’re completely engrossing.

Joel Kyack’s Knife Shop at Francios Ghebaly’s Kunsthalle LA in Chinatown was pretty great too. It’s a theatrical installation in the vein of low-brow, folky, male juvenile art, but it worked for me because it was hokey but believably dangerous. I mean, there’s a table of dozens of hand-made shanks. Anger at the world seems less pathetic (even if the work is in a ‘pathetic aesthetic’) when the artist has ground metal license plate holder and other bits of metal into long blades. These aren’t Nut N Fancy tactical knives; they’re fetishes of obsession and rage.

–The recession seems to hit Chinatown galleries especially hard, with many shops folding or moving, so it’s fantastic to see an example of rigor over sell-ability in this ‘hood. Rachel Khedoori’s installation at The Box is timely and political, and its visual interest is minimalist but nightmarish. It’s a museum-quality show at a small commercial gallery. Not sure how that happened, but it’s cool.


Palimpsests at Tarryn Teresa Gallery (LA)

Artist's Reception for Palimpsests, Tarryn Teresa Gallery, LA

Artist's Reception for Palimpsests, Tarryn Teresa Gallery, LA

Just got back from Los Angeles, where I installed recent text-based works, including the kinetic light sculpture Binary Pair, in Palimpsests, a show featuring the work of three artists using text. Curated by Elizabeth Williams, Palimpsests runs at Tarryn Teresa Gallery through October 29.

The other artists in the show are Cara Barer and recent Mills MFA grad, Annie Vought. Houston-based Barer contributed dramatic photos of books, pages sculpturally splayed. Vought is exhibiting her meticulous papercuts of found letters. I think the show hangs together really well, and I’m very pleased to be part of a strong showing completely authored and presented by women (artists, curator, gallery owner and preparator too!). I’m also very appreciative of the opportunity to share my work, and especially my kinetic sculpture, with the Los Angeles art audience.

If you’re in LA in the next few weeks, try to check it out. The gallery is located in a rather industrial part of downtown, but I think you’ll find the space to be worth the visit. Don’t forget to nip in the project space/installation gallery, where you’ll find Binary Pair.

Tarryn Teresa Gallery is pleased to present Palimpsests, an exhibit from guest curator Elizabeth Williams featuring work by Cara Barer, Annie Vought and Christine Wong Yap. Whether done playfully or poignantly, the artists in Palimpsests pay tribute to the associations and meanings we bring to the written word. Collections of words can differ extraordinarily, as can the reader’s response to them. Letters, books, newspapers, magazines or small one-page notes all offer the ability to inspire feelings of attachment or even aversion. An audience’s perception is mainly influenced by the meaning of the words themselves, but the manner of delivery can create an air of legitimacy, sentimentality or stronger emotions. With these visual works, the artists address the continuum of the written word.

September 26–October 29, 2009
Artist’s Reception: September 26, 6–8 pm
Tarryn Teresa Gallery
1820 Industrial St. #230
Los Angeles, CA
hours: Mon.–Fri., 11 am–5 pm, Sat. 11 am–4 pm