William Poundstone
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Posts Tagged ‘MOCA’

The Broad Goes Big

The scaffolding is now off the Broad’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro building. The latest press release says the Grand Avenue museum will have “more than 50,000-square-feet of public gallery space.” That figure has been creeping upward even during construction. It includes the original, column-free space on the third floor (35,000 sf.) plus another 15,000 sf. now planned for the first floor. The building’s total area is 120,000 sf.

Speaking just of public exhibition space: How big is 50,000 square feet? Well, it’s twice the size of the Broad’s neighbor, MOCA Grand Avenue (which claims 24,509 sf. of “actual exhibition space.”) It’s almost as big as the Geffen Contemporary (about 55,000 sf.)

It’s about the size of Renzo Piano’s new Whitney Museum, also opening in 2015 and said to be 50,000 sf. The Whitney will have another 13,000 sf. of outdoor exhibition space. The Broad has a 24,000 sf. public plaza, but it doesn’t sound like art will be displayed there.

The Broad’s exhibition space is between that of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion (45,000 sf.) and Broad Contemporary Art Museum (about 60,000 sf.) It is half the total size of the immense Hauser Wirth & Schimmel commercial gallery space planned for downtown (100,000 sf.—presumably, most of that for exhibitions.)

(Shown: a rendering of Robert Therrien’s Under the Table on the Broad’s third floor; Gary Leonard’s photo of the Broad as it now looks.)

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.

Sturtevant, Barney Coming to MOCA

Though it’s still unofficial, two upcoming MOCA exhibitions have been disclosed. Curator Bennett Simpson’s Facebook page and today’s New York Times are saying that MoMA’s “Sturtevant: Double Trouble” will travel to MOCA March 21 to July 27, 2015. And in a New York Observer piece last month collector and former MOCA board member Maria Arena Bell mentioned an upcoming Matthew Barney show. Finally, it may or may not be meaningful that the Magdalena Fernandez exhibition, planned for 2014, then bumped for Warhol’s Shadows and moved up to 2015, is no longer listed on the MOCA site.

(Tyler Green tweeted the Sturtevant news. Above, Sturtevant’s Haring Tag July 15 1981.)

Season of the Witch

One of the remaining distinctions between art museums and theme parks is that museums don’t program around Halloween (much). Still, a couple of witchy acquisitions have been announced this October: Henry’s Fuseli’s The Three Witches at the Huntington and Jordan Wolfson’s slutty android in witch mask for the Broad Art Foundation (below). Another museum-to-be, that of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is presenting “Hollywood Costume” with the gingham pinafore of film’s most famous witch hunter, Dorothy. But this year’s ultimate Halloween show is  “Cameron: Songs of the Witch Woman” at MOCA Pacific Design Center.

Cameron was not just an artist, mystic, and underground film diva. Her friend Scott Hobbs recalls that Cameron wore black, drove a hearse, and gave interviews as a “witch” to L.A. TV stations on Halloween. I have tried to find Cameron’s video (or newspaper) Halloween interviews online, with no luck. If any reader can find them, let me know and I’ll share them.

Cameron took a feminist-realist attitude to the passing of youth and beauty. She told a friend who’d had plastic surgery: “You can erase the lines, but not the pain!”

(Top of post: Cameron’s Black Egg, a self-portrait. Below, one half of Cameron’s Witch Diptych).

Museum Without Walls

The mythic “Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art,” known only from mentions in East Coast media, makes another appearance in the New York Observer.

“Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman”

Few figures in the Los Angeles avant garde have such an intriguing life story as that of Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (1922-1995). Known by one name, Cameron was artist, actor, mentor, muse, and sorceress to L.A.’s beat generation. Interest in Cameron has escalated in recent years, the more so after her inclusion in a couple of Pacific Standard Time exhibitions. It’s been tough to disambiguate her too-colorful biography from her too-little-seen achievement as a visual artist. Is Cameron one of the great L.A. artists, or merely material for a future indie biopic? “Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman,” at MOCA Pacific Design Center, is the first real attempt to answer that question.

Organized by guest curator Yael Lipschutz, “Cameron” downplays the sex, drugs, and social networks for the art itself. Cameron was above all a draughtsman. Fossil (1958, above), in white ink on black ground, is original, haunting, and unlike anything else in the show.

Cameron’s style was ever-mutating, and her retrospective might easily be mistaken for a group show. At left is Harpocrates, shown as part of a grid of 20 ink drawings of occult, freaky psychedelia. Harpocrates was the child-god of silence. The cropped face must be Cameron’s husband, Jack Parsons, a co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and follower of Aleister Crowley.

“Cameron”’s most compelling pieces are assemblage-paintings of the late 1950s. Below is an untitled portrait of Crystal (the artist’s daughter, 1959) and Buried Doll (1955). These explore entropy, the universal tendency of everything to fall apart. That inconvenient truth is the nexus of mysticism, religion, and philosophy. In such works Cameron’s art connects most directly to that of her more-famous mentorees George Herms and Wallace Berman. If Berman was the father of California assemblage, Cameron was its godmother.

MOCA gives pride of place to a painting, Aleister Crowley’s Guardian Angel. The clean, illustrational style strikes me as rather dull. It is a reminder that, like Hilma af Klint, Cameron was often transcribing mystic visions more or less literally.

Perhaps in that category is a tiny portrait of an E.T.-unicorn. The title, Alien Assemblage, seems to tweak the California Assemblage movement that Cameron helped foster. In its vintage frame it is poised between a very weird Cornell box and decor for a hipster hotel. Another artist might have made a series of such things; with Cameron it was one-off.

Actually, it’s hard to make sweeping statements about Cameron’s oeuvre. Much of her work is lost or at least misplaced. The MOCA exhibition begins with Curtis Harrington’s 1955 film portrait of Cameron and her art, The Wormwood Star. All the artworks in the film are lost except for Buried Doll. It’s said that acquaintances and fans took much of her art and memorabilia after the artist’s death.

Had Cameron attended art school in this century, she would have been told to promote, promote, promote her career. She had but one single-artist exhibition in her lifetime, at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in 1989 (the year she turned 67).

It’s all the more notable then that MOCA director Philippe Vergne is a Cameron fanboy. He’s written a foreword to the show’s forthcoming slim (88-page) catalog. A Vergne quote in the MOCA press release puts the pro-Cameron case well:

“Cameron has opened many doors that continue to intrigue and inspire generations of artists. Her hallucinated vision, at the edge of surrealism and psychedelia embodies an aspect of modernity that deeply doubts and defies cartesian logic at a moment in history when these values have shown their own limitations. Her work demonstrates that the space in the mind is without limit.”

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.)

Should Museums Shame Critics for Bad Reviews?

Through Sunday MOCA is offering free admission to “Andy Warhol: Shadows” to anyone who brings a review and tweets about it (hashtag #LetsDiscuss). The Museum’s tweeted photo makes it clear they’re reacting to Christopher Knight’s negative review in the L.A. Times.

“Vapid and pretentious, the overblown installation ranks among the worst works Warhol made,” writes Knight. This view is no outlier. That Shadows and other late Warhol abstractions are relatively minor is the conventional opinion. MOCA is challenging that opinion, as it’s entitled to do.

Other reviews of the MOCA show have been kinder. Chalk up Edward Goldman’s as a rave. (“Andy at the Top of His Game… Hurry up and go see the new jaw-dropping exhibition…”) Still other reviews, including my own own, have been generally positive, if not to a Goldmanesque degree. But hey, don’t go by me. I’m Mikey—I like (almost) everything.

So Knight alone dares to say the Pope of Pop Art has no clothes.

This is the Internet, and we’re all making up the rules as we go along. MOCA’s social net team must have regarded the promotion as a proactive way of countering a bad review. My sense is that it comes off as belittling rather than encouraging honest discussion.

Are there any situations where a museum might push back against criticism? Sure. An obvious example is New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s criticism of Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary back in 1999. Giuliani was a powerful figure who knew nothing about contemporary art. His words got far more attention than any art critic’s and, had they gone unchallenged, would have left the public misinformed. Using the controversy as a teachable moment was inevitable.

But with Knight and Shadows, there’s nothing to teach. Knight knows all about Warhol and is offering his well-informed opinion that Shadows is bad Warhol. I’m not sure the Internet has changed the old advice, that the best reaction to a bad review is to ignore it.

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.”

Why Online Museum Ratings Fail

Which is the better Hammer Museum—the one in L.A. that shows art, or the one in Haines, Alaska, that shows actual hammers? There’s an app for that. Several, in fact. Google and TripAdvisor give higher ratings to the Alaska museum, and Yelp! calls it a tie.

That in a nutshell is the problem with crowdsourced museum ratings. Or consider a TripAdvisor press release that was widely reported as news last week. A TripAdvisor algorithm had determined that the best museum in the whole wide world is… the Art Institute of Chicago. The Getty Center came in #4 (#2 in the U.S.), beating the Met, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Prado.

Before anybody gets too excited, the #8 American museum on TripAdvisor’s list was Chilhuly Garden and Glass, Seattle.

TripAdvisor's #4 American art museum presents the art of Dale Chihuly

Okay, right: never mind.

Here are some TripAdvisor reviews of the Louvre: “Huge disappointment and waste of time”…  ”Never want to go back to that place”… “It sucks.”

Whether you think online ratings are worthwhile or not, they’re getting harder to shrug off—especially for museums hoping to court younger audiences.

A couple of issues with online ratings have received much attention. You must have heard that Yelp! is running what some call an extortion racket and that a recent court ruling supported its right to do just that. (“It’s Mafia on the Internet,” griped one of the plaintiffs.) Review sites are also subject to businesses gaming the ratings by encouraging friends and customers to post good reviews (or bad reviews of competitors).

I don’t think either issue is too much of a factor with museums. But from the end-user perspective, the biggest problem with museum ratings may be that every significant museum gets almost the same rating: 4.5 out of 5, plus or minus 0.5.

TripAdvisor gives LACMA 4.5 stars, same as the Louvre and Perez Art Museum Miami. MOCA is a 4. The Huntington, Norton Simon, and Getty are perfect 5s, as are the Met, the Frick, the National Gallery, Crystal Bridges, and the Kimbell.

It should be apparent that most reviewers aren’t trying to compare quantity and quality of art from an global perspective. Probably they shouldn’t: There’s little point in downgrading a Santa Monica restaurant because you think there’s a better one in Tuscany.

Many raters are comparing the experience as much as the collection or exhibitions. That means things like amenities, gardens, admission cost, and not being too crowded. This isn’t unreasonable, and I imagine that it helps L.A.’s sybartic, indoor-outdoor museums.

But… Florence’s Uffizi, being only a palace, gets downgraded for lacking the coffee kiosks and comfy seats Americans expect. Only a few art museums get higher ratings than Disneyland.

Yelp! citizen-reviewer on MOCA: “Who is the guy who thinks this shit is art? I’d like to meet him, shake his hand and then punch him in the face."