William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Deitch’

MOCA’s New Schedule Is Smart and Sensible

MOCA’s 2015/2016 exhibition schedule is a return to real art for real art audiences. A Matthew Barney exhibition, focused on his new RIVER OF FUNDAMENT project, might be considered the flashiest attraction. Shows of William Pope.L, Elaine Sturtevant, and R.H. Quaytman ought to establish MOCA as the artist’s artist museum. (At top, Quaytman’s Point de Gaze, Chapter 23, 2011.)

Not in the mix: the Magdalena Fernandez exhibition that MOCA had scheduled and rescheduled. There’s no budget-busting Jeff Koons, no disco, no Devo.

There is Kendrick Lamar, sort of. MOCA will present Kahlil Joseph’s m.A.A.d, a two-screen hip-hop Fantasia scored to Lamar’s beats (a still at left). True believers in the Deitchian fusion of art and fashion can look forward to Bernhard Willhelm and Jutta Kraus’ “sculptural installation with a fashion sensibility” at MOCA Pacific Design Center.

Has there ever been an major museum’s exhibition schedule not worthy of Guerrilla Girls shaming? MOCA 2015/6 might merit a pass. Of the four single-artist and multiple-object shows, two involve women, and one an African-American. There are no Latinas, but Magdalena Fernandez must have been on the bubble? The L.A. Times reports that exhibitions of Kerry James Marshall and Zoe Leonard are planned for 2017.

The elephant in the calendar is a one-year permanent collection install that will occupy the entire Grand Avenue building from fall 2015 to fall 2016. That must have been motivated by the Deitch-Vergne hairpin turn and a renewed commitment to fiscal discipline. The year-long event will lay out Chief Curator Helen Molesworth’s take on MOCA’s historic collection and its newest art. Above is an untitled Lari Pittman, gift of Peter Morton.

MOCA’s permanent collection display will coincide with the opening of the Broad. Roughly this time next year Grand Avenue will highlight the contemporary wing of the “Greater Museum of Los Angeles”—that museum with too many walls.

James Franco Is “Only 5% of What I Did”

Jeffrey Deitch has two new books out. One can double as a place setting, and the other is about MOCA. The MOCA Index is not a tell-all—it’s a self-published collection of photographs of Deitch’s MOCA exhibitions. For words, you’ll have to settle for some recent interviews.

On MOCA: “I walked into a hornet’s nest.” That quote appears in ArtNews (Sept. 23) and in The New York Times (Oct. 2),  which repeats “Hornet’s Nest” in the article’s title.

On celebrity shows: “… from reading press reports, people would think the only thing I did there was a show with James Franco. And the show we did with James Franco was in fact very interesting! But it’s only five percent of what I did.” (ArtNews)

On disco: “The disco show is still a show I’d like to do. I wish I could have done it then, but I think it’s OK for me to wait a while.” (ArtNews)

On Deitch Projects L.A.(?!): “If I had continued the gallery into the next decade… I would have had to have a London gallery, and a Los Angeles gallery. Rather than making this massive investment, I decided to go in a different direction. I can do business with a big collector in London without having a building that cost me millions in overhead.” (NYT)

(Above left: Martin Kippenberger’s Disco Bomb [1989] in the MOCA collection, gift of Christopher Wool.)

Warhol’s Disco Rothko Chapel

MOCA got its disco show after all. Andy Warhol envisioned a hundred-panel abstraction, a “disco Rothko,” for Studio 54. The nightclub passed, and the work was instead commissioned by the precursor of the Dia Art Foundation. Dia’s former director, Phillippe Vergne, is now MOCA’s director, and he’s arranged a loan of the Dia Warhol, titled Shadows. It has converted MOCA Grand Avenue into a Disco Rothko Chapel.

Warhol’s late abstractions—Shadows, Oxidation/Piss, Rorschach, and Camouflage paintings—have been called difficult, self-indulgent, and just not that good. MOCA’s 2012 “The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol” argued that the late abstractions were due for reappraisal. When The Broad opens across the street, its collection will hold large Camouflage and Rorschach paintings.

Factory assistant Ronnie Cutrone said the Shadows silkscreens were based on photographs of studio constructions that Warhol made to cast interesting shadows. That connects them to Constructivist and Dada precedents, such as Man Ray’s 1919 Integration of Shadows (right).

Warhol described Shadows as “disco decor.” But he also blew up when poet René Ricard used the term”decorative.” “That got me really mad,” Warhol told his diary, “and I’m so embarrassed, everybody saw the real me.”

Rothko is decorative (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Warhol’s Day-Glo acrylics seem intentionally garish. They are fundamentally experiments in monochrome. Shadows has more profitably been compared to Franz Kline’s B&W abstractions. (Several  are on view in MOCA’s permanent collection galleries. Left, Buttress.)

The installation in MOCA’s biggest gallery does however pose parallels to the Rothko Chapel and the perception that certain abstractions are worthy of extended philosophic contemplation. That can’t have been a realistic prospect for Studio 54. Yet there is a melancholic tone to much of late Warhol. Shadows is often connected the Skull series of 1977. In those memento mori, Warhol gave equal weight to shadow and substance, and sometimes upset the figure-ground applecart by screening negative images. The vibe of Shadows is similarly sepulchral. “Even in the disco, there am I.”

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.