William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Deitch’

Street Art After Deitch

What is the place of street art in museums, post-Jeffrey Deitch MOCA? Anyone interested in that conversation will want to see “Scratch” at the El Segundo Museum of Art. (Above, a wall by Eyeone, Gorgs, Kozem, Swank, Tanner, and Tempt.)

ESMoA calls itself as an art laboratory, a place where nutty professor-curators mix unstable reagents to see what happens. “Scratch” realizes that pitch more completely than any previous effort has.

The backstory is that street art collector Ed Sweeney approached the Getty Research Institute with the idea of assembling an album of L.A. street art. The result was the LA Liber Amicorum (the “Getty Black Book”). Completed in 2013, it garnered tons of publicity (much of it “news of the weird,” spanning written-from-press-release praise to conservative trolling.) “Scratch” gives the public its first opportunity to judge the LA Liber Amicorum on its own.

A fairly big asterisk: It’s a book. Only one page spread can be shown at a time. Galley iPads let you swipe though the whole book, but that has been possible for some time on the GRI site.

In “Scratch” the Black Book is really a pretext for six of its artists—Axis, Cre8, Defer, Eyeone, Fishe, and Miner—to co-curate (along with the GRI’s David Brafman) a collaborative installation. About 50 street and tattoo artists have inscribed, transformed, and annotated five of the six faces of ESMoA’s white cube. It’s billed as a “cathedral of urban art” although, to cover all bets, one wall has a mihrab.

The Donatello among the taggers is a mini-exhibition of European Renaissance books and manuscripts, plus a few ancient scarabs, cuneiform tablets, and cylinder seals. Some books are Renaissance “books of friends” paralleling the black books of today. Others are manuals of calligraphy (shown, a 1564 book of letter forms by Urban Wyss). The earliest object in the show appears to be a 1-inch high Sumerian cylinder seal dated 2900-2750 B.C. That’s five millennia of urban art, not bad for a small museum in El Segundo.

In all the juxtapositions work better than you might expect. The parallels between the ancients and the contemporary artists are more thought-provoking than gimmicky. Easing the segue are industrial-strength vitrines for the books. The one drawback is the lighting. Subdued enough to protect the rare books, it doesn’t quite do justice to the art on the walls.

“Cinema Vezzoli” at MOCA

“Aren’t people awful?” asks John Hurt as Caligula in the BBC’s 1976 TV adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. For an answer you needn’t look further than the 1979 Caligula movie produced by porn tycoon Robert Guccione. The Penthouse publisher hired Gore Vidal as screenwriter and a respected Brit-heavy cast that included Helen Mirren, Sir John Gielgud, and Malcolm McDowell (left) as the decadent Roman emperor. Without their knowledge, Guccione also hired porn stars to shoot hardcore sex scenes and edited them into the final cut. The result was disowned by almost everyone and gained the distinction of being one of the three films that Roger Ebert walked out of. As he wasn’t doing thumbs back then, he gave it zero stars.

A generation later, that famous catastrophe of filmdom became the launching pad for Francesco Vezzoli’s career. MOCA’s “Cinema Vezzoli” includes his 2005 Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula (above). It became an instant classic, not just for the dead-on parody but the arguably superior production values. Like Guccione, Vezzoli used star power to command attention. Vidal and Mirren appear in the Trailer, as does Courtney Love—but can anyone top Karen Black’s cameo?

Trailer for a Remake anticipated the future of digital-media narrowcasting, one in which attention spans shorten while appreciation for obscure pop culture references grows exponentially. Funny or Die deals in short online parodies with A, B, C, and Z-list stars. Occasionally it aims for Vezzoli’s level of non sequitur weirdness (as in John C. Reilly as Bing Crosby, and Will Ferrell as David Bowie, in a bent homage to a network TV holiday special.)

Unlike Funny or Die, Vezzoli creates objects for the international art market. But the short movies are surely the best introduction to Vezzoli. The heart of the MOCA exhibition is a black-box grindhouse showing a 50-minute reel of Vezzoli’s greatest hits. A retrospective in its own right is Vezzoli’s fake E! Network True Hollywood Story episode chronicling the artist’s brilliant career and so-far fictitious death in West Hollywood.

Is it art or entertainment—or, as Jeffrey Deitch proposes, is there no difference anymore? Well, as they say in cable documentaries: “You decide.”

Quote of the Day: Tim Blum

“There’s a whole Deitch camp that are probably rolling on the floor gnashing their teeth.”

—Tim Blum of Blum & Poe

Blum’s comment, referring to “a certain sect of middlebrow graffiti artists who believed they were getting their due from the museum world” under Jeffrey Deitch’s regime, is just one of many quotable bits in a candid two-part article on MOCA, Philippe Vergne, and Dia Art Foundation in the Gallerist.

Pictured, Shepard Fairey’s Marilyn Warhol, 2000.

L.A. Comes of Age (Groundhog Day)

“2014 may prove a turning point for art museums in Los Angeles.”

The Economist, in a Jan. 4, 2014, article citing MOCA’s Mike Kelley exhibition

“There is no question that Los Angeles has become the contemporary-art capital of the world.”

Eli Broad in The New Yorker, Dec. 6, 2010

“Mr. Deitch’s selection… may very well make Los Angeles the most exciting city in the world for museums of contemporary art, the place where the future of museums takes shape.”

Roberta Smith on Jeffrey Deitch’s appointment as MOCA director, Jan. 11. 2010

“Los Angeles, a city of suburbs in search of a center, on Monday came one step closer to finding one.… Whether a single building, however grandiose, can transform downtown Los Angeles is an open question.”

The New York Times on the opening of Disney Hall, Oct. 20, 2003

“The Getty Center should make Angelenos in general feel a little better, in part by making Los Angeles seem more like a real city.… obviously, the Getty Center will enable culturally ambitious citizens to weather the Woody Allen jokes.”

The New Yorker on the Getty Center opening, Sept. 29, 1997

“Q. What’s the difference between Los Angeles and a bowl of yogurt? A. Yogurt has a live culture. Time to pension off that oldie…”

Robert Hughes on the opening of MOCA Grand Avenue and LACMA’s Anderson Building, Jan. 12, 1987

“The City of Angels used to be a place where culture feared to tread. But today the traffic slowing down to neck-crane along Wilshire Boulevard is not looking for stars but admiring the shimmering complex of pavilions surrounded by a moatlike reflecting pool of vastly more substance and value than was ever to be seen in a DeMille superset.”

Time magazine on LACMA’s opening, April 2, 1965

(At top of post: Mike Kelley’s Ahh… Youth. Above: A school group at the early LACMA, viewing Norbert Kricke’s Space Sculpture.)

That 70’s Show

Whenever somebody writes the Jeffrey Deitch-MOCA biopic (opera?), the final act will turn on the disco show. Media leaks turned “Fire in the Disco,” Deitch’s scheme of recreating famous discos in a MOCA exhibition, into a meme. “When I heard about that disco show I had to read it twice,” said John Baldessari. “At first I thought ‘this is a joke’ but I realized, no, this is serious.”

It’s still serious. Since leaving MOCA, Deitch has continued to talk of the disco show (to be curated by electronic musician James Murphy). In October Deitch told the Brooklyn Rail

“I am developing a disco exhibition that will be a combination of an educational experience and a completely immersive club or festival experience. I hope to combine the two, in a way that museums have been heading toward, but that has never been quite realized to this extent, where people will dance in the middle of the exhibition.”

Last November, Deitch realized a proof of concept in “AREA: The Exhibition,” a five-night pop-up recreation of the old AREA nightclub at The Hole, the New York gallery, and other Manhattan sites. The write-up for the exhibition name-checks the many artists who created original work for AREA (click here for the only known photo of Michael Heizer, David Hockney, Andy Warholand Leroy Nieman in proximity). The art and disco connection is not so entirely tenuous as you might assume.

That granted, the question isn’t, is disco worthy of an art museum show? Nor is it are social experiences art? Museum directors face a more difficult puzzle: Is a disco show the best thing an art museum can be doing with its finite resources?

(Photos of “AREA: The Exhibition” by Elise Gallant at purple Diary.)

Artists on Vergne

MOCA’s press release announcing Philippe Vergne’s appointment as director has quotes from all four of the artist-trustees who resigned in protest of Jeffrey Deitch’s leadership. Catherine Opie is “personally thrilled,” and John Baldessari is “100% excited.” Barbara Kruger praises Vergne’s “deep appreciation of MOCA’s rigor,” and Ed Ruscha deems him “the most artist friendly and at the same time most community friendly choice to steer our ship.”

In The New York Times—speaking before the Vergne announcement—Diana Thater said: “We don’t want someone coming into town the way Jeffrey Deitch did, announcing immediately his own curatorial plans. We’re not interested in his personal plans. We’re interested in his plans for hiring more curators and how he’s going to manage the so-called $100 million endowment.”

(Pictured, Vergne holding a Frank Gaard painting the artist gave him when he left the Walker Art Center.)

MOCA’s New Goal: Richer than LACMA?

LACMA has offered to bail out MOCA twice in the past six years. But having met its $100 million endowment goal, MOCA is now almost as wealthy as its Hancock Park cousin. LACMA’s endowment was recently put at $115 million. MOCA has just set a new goal of $150 million, which would take it well above LACMA’s current endowment.

This isn’t about bragging rights, of course. A $100 million endowment might throw off $5 million a year in income, a fraction of MOCA’s cut-to-the-bone $14 million budget. All of L.A.’s museums—Getty and Huntington excepted—still have modest endowments relative to comparable institutions elsewhere. Eli Broad’s Grand Avenue museum will be a rich kid, opening with $200 million in the bank. The effectively brand-new Perez Art Museum Miami has a $69 million endowment.

MOCA’s endowment is 7 times its current budget. LACMA is a much bigger operation; its endowment is a year and change worth of expenses ($96 million for 2013).

How did MOCA raise so much so fast, in an ego-mad city? They’re not revealing the secret sauce, but the New York Times offers this alarming disclaimer: “none of the donations or pledges for the endowment were contingent upon Mr. Deitch’s leaving.” Jeffrey Deitch in fact is listed as one of the major donors.

Ryan Trecartin, Three Years Later

MOCA Grand Avenue’s “Room to Live: Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection” hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention. Curated by Bennett Simpson, it’s a permanent collection show of artists who have emerged in the Obama (Deitch?) years, without household names or curatorial high concepts. MOCA’s acquisition funds are modest compared to the few other museums in its league. “Room to Live,” heavy on L.A. artists, demonstrates how smart MOCA’s collecting has been recently.

For many, the show’s selling point will be the Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch video installation, B: Settings, acquired earlier this year. At the time of the work’s original L.A.-New York-Paris tour (2010-2011), everybody swore up and down that Trecartin was the future of art. Peter Schejeldahl touted him as “the most consequential artist to have emerged since the nineteen-eighties.” For Christopher Knight, Trecartin was “Edouard Manet with an iPad,” and for Holland Cotter, he was “game-changing.”

That kind of talk almost demands a reversion to the mean. When art is utterly of the moment (Trecartin’s “work looks and feels like life today”—Jeffrey Deitch) that usually means that, three years later, it will look and feel like an iPad 2 next to an iPad 5. Scores of ambitious artists have spent the past three years trying to out-Trecartin Trecartin. The CW network has.

I found B: Settings just as mesmerizing this time around. Shown here is one of four room-size components, The Re’Search (Re’Search Wait’S)Re’Search is a mumblecore music video reality show poetry slam that’s better than 99 percent of the works slotted into one of those pigeonholes. It still looks like the future, three years and counting.

Disney’s Weirdo Museum Inspires a Marvel Comic

What Southern California museum inspired a Marvel comic book? In an ideal world, I’d vote for Jeffrey Deitch’s MOCA. In this world, the answer is Walt Disney’s never-realized “Museum of the Weird.” The latter was to have been an attraction at Disneyland. Disney took his museum idea seriously enough to commission animation artist Rolly Crump to design it.

As I wrote in a 2010 post,

“Crump was an ‘in-betweener’ in more ways than one. He was an assistant animator, a beatnik, a doper, and a modernist sculptor influenced by Alexander Calder. In the 1950s, while working for Disney, Crump produced satirical posters promoting jazz bands and recreational drugs. After seeing an in-house show of his mobiles and marijuana posters, Disney decided Crump was the man for the museum project. But after Disney’s 1965 death, management decided the museum was too weird for Disneyland.”

Fast-forward to 2009. The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Comics. Pirates of the Caribbean was a global goldmine, and Disney bean-counters were fanning intellectual property detectors over every Disney park ride. One outcome is Marvel’s Seekers of the Weird comic book, based on Disney and Crump’s imagineering. The first issue is due in January 2014.

There was film interest well before the comic book. In 2010 Frank Zappa’s screenwriter son Ahmet was pitching a “Museum of the Weird” movie. (And lately Frank Zappa’s weirdo music has gotten renewed attention—at Disney Hall.)

Below is Rolly Crump with a maquette of his Grandfather Coffin Clock, featured on the comic book’s cover.

Jeffrey Deitch Resigned Sept. 1

Jeffrey Deitch officially resigned as MOCA’s director Sept. 1—as mentioned in last night’s REDCAT talk and today’s L.A. Times. No surprise, except that it took 6 weeks for this newsworthy event to make the local news. Please excuse a couple of recent posts (here and here).

(Graphic via the Bart Simpson Chalkboard Generator)