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Posts Tagged ‘MOCA’

Fall 2014 Preview

You must have heard that MOCA’s exhibition schedule is “practically blank.” Yes and no: This October MOCA Pacific Design Center will be presenting an anticipated survey of Marjorie Cameron, goddess-mother of the L.A. school. L.A. museums’  fall season is notable for several shows on cult favorites, but there are more universally acknowledged names too. “Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings 1913-1915″ has recently opened at LACMA (through November 30), and a Rubens show will be coming to the Getty. There will be single great paintings or series by Delacroix, Thomas Cole, Manet, and Warhol. Big-picture surveys will treat Samurai armor and the cosmic phase of African art.

Tunic for Shango Priest. National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Franko Khoury

The latter exhibition, “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” arrives at LACMA from the Smithsonian’s African Art Museum. (Aug. 24-Nov. 30). Shown is a Yoruba tunic for a Shango priest, possibly from the Baba Adesina family workshop.

Also coming to LACMA is “Playthings: The Uncanny Art of Morton Bartlett.” Slotted as an outsider, Bartlett was a commercial artist like Warhol and Rosenquist. In 1936 he embarked on a personal project of creating incredibly lifelike dolls of children, designing clothing for them, and photographing them in that clothing, or else nude. Bartlett has been compared to Lewis Carroll and Henry Darger, implying erotic interest in his effigies. Unlike Darger, Bartlett was no recluse. Friends say he dated women and never had children in his studio. Some believe he intended to market his creations as anatomically correct Barbies and Kens; others, that he was a serious artist who knew exactly what he was doing—creating disturbingly eroto-self-referential photographs in the mode of Paul Outerbridge. The LACMA show will include new prints of recently discovered color slides—such as the one at top right. (Aug. 30 to Jan. 31, 2015).

Another artist’s artist—like Cameron, working the Left Coast, single-name Freaknik territory—was Jess. “An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle” comes to the Pasadena Museum of California Art (Sept. 14 to Jan. 11. 2015).

“Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take” runs Oct. 2 to Jan 17, 2015, at the Hammer Museum. Above is “As Close As I Can Get” (1998), a digital simulacrum created with analog Pantone color chips.

MOCA’s Cameron survey is subtitled “Songs for the Witch Woman.” Witch woman is not the nicest thing to call a proto-feminist artist. But Cameron had no problem with the term. She drove a hearse and gave Elvira-style Halloween interviews to L.A. media. She was also a draftsperson, a poet, and a Kenneth Anger superstar; a mystic muse to Wallace Berman and Philip K. Dick and a perp to the LAPD vice squad. At right is a self-portrait, The Black Egg. (Oct. 11 to Jan. 11, 2015).

The Getty Center has organized an exhibition around Rubens’ most ambitious tapestry commission, the Triumph of the Eucharist. Americans want Rubens to be a creator of autograph and not too obscurely religious paintings. The reality is that Rubens was a media-hopping art entrepreneur, deeply Catholic in both senses of the word. The Getty exhibition will present small oil sketches from Rubens’ hand alongside magisterial tapestries. Below is an oil sketch of The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. (Oct. 14 to Jan. 11, 2015).

“Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Babier-Mueller Collection” stops at LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion Oct. 19 to Feb. 1, 2015. It includes the stunning Tengu (crow demon) armor at top of post, from 1854.

Nineteenth-century American paintings from the New-York Historical Society will winter at LACMA in “Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School.” The loan will include Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire, model for Ruscha’s post-industrial series of the same title. Below, Cole’s The Course of Empire: Desolation. (Dec. 7 to June 7, 2015).

Finally, this fall MOCA will present Andy Warhol’s Shadows (from the Dia Art Foundation), LACMA will be showing Delacroix’s Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (from Bordeaux), and the Norton Simon will entice Rose Bowl visitors with Manet’s The Railway (from the National Gallery of Art).

Why Summer Tourists Should Head West

This summer millions of American and overseas visitors will flock to the big museums of the Eastern seaboard. There they will see unparalleled permanent collections and fewer intelligent loan exhibitions than are currently on view in Los Angeles. (Shown, Mike Kelley’s “The Territorial Hound,” part of the MOCA retrospective.)

L.A. has two sprawling shows that could serve as primers of contemporary art—MOCA’s “Mike Kelley” and the Hammer’s “Made in L.A.” Then there are three big exhibitions of classic modernism: “Calder and Abstraction” and “Expressionism in Germany and France” at LACMA and “The Scandalous Art of James Ensor” at the Getty Center. Two shows present hard-to-arrange loans of iconic treasures from centuries past: “Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium” at the Getty Villa and “Chinese Paintings from Japanese Collections” at LACMA. A third such show, “Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910″ opens this Sunday. For a week–until “Chinese Paintings” closes on July 6—L.A. museums will have eight shows of international distinction running simultaneously.

In New York, the marquee attraction is “Jeff Koons,” opening tomorrow at the Whitney. (Left, Split Rocker.) It will join three big retrospectives of contemporary artists (Sigmar Polk and Lygia Clark at MoMA, Ai Weiwei at Brooklyn). There’s Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim and “Lost Kingdoms: Hindu Buddhist Sculpture” at the Met. Count the Met’s fashion show, on Charles James, and that’s seven major exhibitions in New York. IMHO, not only does L.A. have more first-rate exhibitions but they’re less predictable and more relevant.

In D.C., the National Gallery of Art has the predictable crowd-pleaser “Degas/Cassatt.” The Freer/Sackler has a mid-sized show on James McNeill Whistler and the Thames. The Hirshhorn is partly closed for construction.

There are fine small shows in Boston and Philadelphia, though not at this level of ambition. The summer’s biggest tourist magnet in Philadelphia is Vermeer’s worst(?) painting—the Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, below. (The singleton loan to see is in New York, Parmigianino’s Schiava Turca at the Frick Collection.)

Patrons of East Coast museums leave town when the tourists arrive. That’s probably why Eastern museums focus more on a fall-winter season. Maybe some of those summer tourists should try L.A. instead?

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.

What We’re Reading Now

Asked “Do you have a favorite book about Los Angeles?” Philippe Vergne offered this one, L.A. Shortcuts: A Guidebook for Drivers Who Hate to Wait by Brian Roberts and Richard Schwadel. (Via Ezrha Jean Black’s interview with MOCA director Philippe Vergne in Artillery)

Goodbye Kelley, Hello Kitty

MOCA’s future exhibition schedule is a little less empty. “Steve McQueen: Drumroll” is set to open at MOCA Pacific Design Center June 28 and run through Sept. 21. It’s built around Drumroll (1998), McQueen’s Turner Prize-winning three-channel video shot from cameras inside oil drums rolled down Manhattan’s 56th, 57th, and 58th streets.

Aside from McQueen, the only show officially on MOCA’s future exhibition schedule is “Magdalena Fernandez,” opening Sept. 14 at Grand Avenue. Oh, wait, that’s not counting Hello Kitty. “Hello Kitty Con 2014″ is to run at MOCA Geffen for four days starting Oct. 30. That’s right—Mike Kelley’s homespun dolls will be replaced by another achingly winsome symbol of the desire to connect.

“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.”

Vergne on Deaccessioning

The Dia deaccessioning is Philippe Vergne’s Benghazi. It’s the Rorschach blot in which some see a smoking gun and others a red herring. As Dia director Vergne sold Cy Twombly’s 1959 Poems to the Sea, a suite of drawings that went for $21 million (above), and John Chamberlain’s 1963 Candy Andy (below left), which so for $4.6 million. The proceeds were used to buy 30 works from the Patrick Lannan collection and to establish an acquisition fund.

In this month’s Artillery, Ezrha Jean Black asks

Your deaccessioning of certain pieces in the Dia collection, including some well-loved Cy Twomblys, garnered some controversy. Do you anticipate any “pruning” at MOCA on the order of what was done at the Dia Foundation?

Vergne’s reply:

To answer that, even at Dia I would have preferred that the collection remain intact. But the circumstances at some point didn’t give us a choice. You have to measure. On one hand, we had 30 works that belonged to Patrick Lannan, 30 works including a room of Donald Judd, very important late Chamberlain, five Robert Smithsons, eight Agnes Martins, three installations by Bruce Nauman, and an entire exhibition of Hanne Darboven. That was about to disappear—and it represented about 20 years of Dia’s history. Allowing this work to go would have negatively impacted the integrity and identity of the institution for years to come. I knew that I would face criticism. That is one of the reasons I wanted to do it extremely publicly. I would rather face the criticism than be accused of hiding anything. At the end of the day, we saved the collection; and we created an endowment for acquisitions that will allow Dia to continue to collect artists Dia wants to collect. People are going to have little dolls to push pins into for what—five more years they will forget. And if Dia builds an incredible collection, nobody will remember.

The word “deaccessioning” raises hackles. It is applied to worst-case scenarios like the Delaware Art Museum, which is selling the best artworks in its collection to raise operating funds. Everyone (aside from the Delaware board) agrees that is beyond the pale. The justifiable kind of deaccessioning is selling less-crucial works to buy more important ones. That, after all, is how MoMA acquired Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Deaccessioning is fraught with peril, in a contemporary art museum especially. It risks alienating living artists, whose markets can be hurt by a deaccessioning, and living donors, who like to think (however narcissistically) that their tastes can’t be improved upon. It also alienates audiences. There will always be those who feel a special connection to the works being sold.

The biggest problem is that no one can know what contemporary art will be most appreciated 20 years from now, or a century hence. (It’s a problem because museum directors and billionaire collectors are sure they do know.) It would be a mistake not to proceed with due humility and attention to the fact that alienating a single collector can cost a museum a lot more than could be gained by a deaccessioning. It would also be a mistake to take the fatalistic position that no one knows anything and collections can’t ever be upgraded.

The trickiest kind of deaccessioning is selling major though “redundant” works. The Guggenheim has sold important Kandinskys on the grounds that it has “enough” Kandinskys and one won’t be missed. As Tyler Green pointed out, this is very much an issue at MOCA, an institution has always tried to collect artists in depth: “No other art museum boasts MOCA’s strength in artists such as Jean FautrierRobert Rauschenberg and Antoni Tapies. I hope that Vergne and MOCA’s board consider that type of depth a primary strength.”

Vergne Is Serious About That $200M

Annie Buckley, writing for KCET’s Artbound, has the most substantial Philippe Vergne interview yet. It touches on Jeffrey Deitch, the Broad, why Ruscha didn’t return to the board, and the search for a new chief curator.

Vergne also talks fundraising. At the last MOCA gala, museum board co-chair Maurice Marciano vowed to raise the endowment to $200 million. I wasn’t sure how seriously to take that. It had taken heavy lifting to make the long-sought $100 million mark, and the milestone was followed in quick succession by surprise announcements of going for $150M, then $200M.

But Vergne confirms that $200M is the number he’s working toward. “…it’s absolutely necessary to grow the endowment to this level because that will make MOCA even more independent, not only independent financially, but independent intellectually. If you have the stability, you can start really engaging with artists in very experimental ways.”

There’s no question that MOCA could use a $200M endowment. The Museum of Modern Art recently reported a $668 million endowment. But $200 million would propel MOCA to the financial top tier of contemporary art museums. It would match the $200 million that Eli Broad has said he intends to give his museum across the street.

Mike Kelley’s Killer Clown

“Mass Murderer Paints Pictures in Prison—& Warped Art Collectors Buy His Junk!” That Feb. 13, 1990, National Enquirer headline referred to serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was then selling his clown paintings from a cell on Illinois’ death row. The Enquirer called Gacy “the darling of offbeat art collectors,” though it failed to supply much evidence of that. The reporter should have dug deeper. A Gacy painting had been central to one of the most important museum shows of 1988.

That was “Mike Kelley: Three Projects” at the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society. This career-defining exhibition launched Kelley as one of the pivotal artists of his generation. It presented Half a Man (the dolls, banners, and garbage drawings), From My Institution to Yours (the politically incorrect office humor), and a new commission, Pay for Your Pleasure. All three elements are now on view at MOCA Geffen.

In a post last week I discussed Kelley’s interest in the Chicago Imagists and their appreciation of outsider art. The Renaissance Society exhibition brought Kelley directly into the Chicago-outsider orbit. His commissioned piece, Pay for Your Pleasure (above, in the 1988 installation) was inspired by the then-raging media controversy over Gacy’s art career. The Renaissance Society described it as “an installation conceived by Kelley specifically for… the city of Chicago which will address the legacy of John Wayne Gacy.… With this, we, as members of this community, can ask which of our institutions and desires are responsible for confining Gacy as a criminal and yet freeing him as a celebrity.”

John Wayne Gacy, a twice-married suburbanite, was the sort of implausibly functional serial killer favored by TV writers, a man able to pass for normal and go unsuspected over a long story arc. Gacy raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 boys and men and stashed the bodies in the crawlspace under his home. Named “the third most outstanding Jaycee” in Illinois, Gacy managed three Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets and a contracting business. He was known for playing a clown at children’s parties and charity fundraisers. As with some TV villains, Gacy’s name was ironic. He was John Wayne, epitome of American masculinity, broke bad.

After his conviction, Gacy assumed a new identity as outsider artist. This must have been motivated by the rising profile of outsider art in Chicago circles, the media, and the art market. Gacy spent over a decade in prison, painting and corresponding with Oprah, Truman Capote, and evidently Mike Kelley. John Waters owned one of Gacy’s paintings. It was a gift; Waters thought it was ugly and kept it in the attic.

I’ve never heard anyone propose that Gacy’s paintings are actually any good. The 1990 National Enquirer article mentions not a single Gacy collector beyond an unnamed member of an L.A. punk band. (Not Destroy All Monsters?) Still, the issues Gacy raised are always with us. Caravaggio killed a man. The art market’s favorite Chicago outsider, Henry Darger, had a disquieting enthusiasm for imagining violence against children (above). As far as we know Darger never harmed a fly (as Norman Bates says at the end of Psycho). The same cannot be said of stand-your-ground killer George Zimmerman, who sold a painting on eBay for $100,000.

Pay for Your Pleasure consists of 42 oil-on-Tyvek paintings of literary, philosophic, and artistic figures, with quotes on the theme of art, crime, and morality. Taking an idea from his teacher John Baldessari, Kelly had a commercial sign painter execute them. Originally the paintings were mounted in the hallways between University of Chicago classrooms. That’s why they’re different sizes. Shown alongside these paintings was a 1988 Gacy self-portrait, Pogo the Clown, representing a clown guise that Gacy invented and registered.

In the photo of the Chicago installation, the Gacy clown painting is in one of the glass cases otherwise used to display sports trophies or faculty members’ books. Next to it is another key element of Pay for Your Pleasure, a collection box for visitor contributions. Anything raised was to be donated to a victim’s rights organization.

“In the late ’80s,” recalled Kelley’s student Ophelia Chong, “people were starting to get interested in serial killers—those morbid serial killer books, and those John Wayne Gacy paintings. It was creepy and funny, totally ridiculous. Mike was the kind of person who drew me into that world; he saw the humor in it.”

Some may cringe at the word humor in this context. But Gacy was a running gag in Kelley’s circle. Frances Stark recalled a “roast” for Jorge Pardo, a heavyset man who grew up in Chicago: “One of the jokes was like, ‘Jorge’s only alive today because he wouldn’t fit under John Wayne Gacy’s floorboards.’”

The sensibility of the sick joke is central to Pay for Your Pleasure. “Almost laughably,” wrote Kelley, “art in the prison context is promoted as useful sublimation—as ‘therapy.’” He cited “the wonderful parody of this idea” in John Waters’ films such as Female TroublePay for Your Pleasure is thus a sardonic goof on the notion that art has the ability to redeem serial killers—or anyone else. (George Zimmerman wrote in his eBay listing: “My art work allows me to reflect, providing a therapeutic outlet…”)

Kelly proposed that “criminals themselves, safely filtered through the media, serve the same function” as artists. Both, in Susan Sontag’s words, “are devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible.” “We are not interested in Gacy’s brushwork or images,” wrote Kelley, “we are interested in the man behind them, the person capable of incredible atrocities. The paintings allow us to stare safely at the forbidden.”

MOCA acquired Pay for Your Pleasure in 1989, as a gift of Timothy P. and Suzette L. Flood. Kelley reconfigured (and greatly improved) the piece for its post-Chicago life. The paintings of great thinkers now line two sides of a long alley. The one-point perspective is a Hitchcock dolly zoom directing attention to the criminal artwork.

That’s no longer Gacy’s clown. Kelley decided to make Pay for Your Pleasure site-specific. He required that it always be shown with the artwork of a local criminal. Thus four different criminal artworks have been shown with Pay for Your Pleasure in the current Amsterdam-Paris-New York-L.A. retrospective. MOCA has always shown Pay for Your Pleasure with a colored drawing by “Freeway Killer” William Bonin. In Bonin’s picture, a goateed man contemplates mathematical equations—as if calculating the dollar equivalent of the viewer’s voyeurism.

On May 10, 1994, Gacy downed his last meal of fried shrimp, fried chicken, strawberries, and French fries. Hours later, he was executed by lethal injection. Four days afterward, 40 Gacy paintings were auctioned for as much as $800 each. The most determined bidder was Chicago businessman Joe Roth. He vowed to buy as many Gacy paintings as possible and burn them. Roth was described as “fed up” with media coverage of Gacy’s paintings and wanted his artistic output “wiped off the map.”

“Often I have trouble with institutions following my instructions,” said Kelley in 1999. The Seattle Art Museum was then hoping to show Pay for Your Pleasure. The search for a local psychopath-artist drew complaints from victims’  groups—who vowed to reject any collection box proceeds as blood money—and from folks who believed their tax dollars were going to support a “Creative Murderer” (as one headline had it). Hoping to defuse the controversy, SAM curator Tara Reddy offered this clarification: “Kelley has said that the painting could be the work of any violent criminal and does not have to be by a ’serial killer’ as such.” Seattle TV news campaigned against Pay for Your Pleasure, complete with B-roll of the Columbine High School shooting. Faced with that, SAM threw in the towel.

Much of the art considered challenging is created to reassure art audiences that the world’s problems could be solved if only those “other people” would listen. Pay for Your Pleasure confronts the big question about the existence of evil, and neither the philosophers nor Kelley have comforting answers to give.

Kelley’s “Mobile Homestead” Coming to L.A.

MOCA has announced that Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, the artist’s recreation of his Westland, Michigan, childhood home, will visit L.A. It is to arrive for the (very unofficial) Los Angeles Poverty Department’s Skid Row Parade on May 24. Thereafter it will be at MOCA Geffen.

This July the Mike Kelley Foundation will sponsor free Saturday night admission at the Geffen retrospective, from 6 to 10 PM.