William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Posts Tagged ‘Retna’

From Rothko to RETNA

MOCA is doing what every museum ought to do: mainstreaming the art of right now into permanent collection galleries. The latest reinstall of MOCA’s collection, at the Grand Avenue building, may be the most satisfying ever. As usual it starts with Giacometti and abstract expressionism. The chronology runs continuously all the way to 2013 and, yes, street art. The latest works are two RETNA murals commissioned for a corridor, Para mi gente, los pintores de mi alma (For My People, the Painters of Our Spirit) and The falcon, before and after.

The most topical surprise is a loan, Charles Ray’s monumental relief Two Boys (2010). Have effigies of Huck Finn youth ever been more controversial than Ray’s? Venice is removing his tourist-friendly Boy with a Frog because (according to which story you believe) the boy is nude and/or they want to replace an antique lamppost that used to be there. In the U.S. the ultra-conservative National Civic Art Society has damned Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial largely on the basis of a conversation Gehry had with Ray—in which Ray passed on the opportunity to sculpt Ike. Operating in Joe McCarthy insinuation mode, the NCAS report quotes from the MoMA catalogue entry for Ray’s Family Romance (the passage could just as well describe the viewer before Two Boys): ”Its manipulations of scale also imply a disruption of society’s balance of power: not only have the children grown, but the adults have shrunk.”

MOCA the Likeable

Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that donations of art to MOCA have not, as doomsayers feared, fallen off a cliff. Here’s another positive indicator: MOCA is the city’s most liked museum.

That’s “liked” as in Facebook likes. MOCA has 194,316 likes, putting it far ahead of the Getty (134,553) and LACMA (110,666). Does this mean anything? A few years ago I would have shrugged. Now Facebook is so mainstream that it’s hard to ignore. (At top, from MOCA’s collection: James Rosenquist’s A Lot to Like).

RETNA: 22,764 likes

You might suppose that contemporary art draws younger crowds who are more active social net users. That’s true, but it can’t be the whole story. The Hammer has only only 19,099 likes.

There is similar pattern in New York, where the numbers are larger. MoMA has 1.26 million likes, versus 783,000 for the Metropolitan Museum. But MoMA has Matisse, Picasso, and van Gogh. MOCA stakes everything on post-WWII art and often on emerging artists or “forgotten” history. That makes its lead among L.A. museums all the more surprising.

None of this changes the fact that MOCA’s attendance is a fraction of LACMA’s or the Getty’s. Ergo, MOCA visitors (and hangers-on) are many times more inclined to click the like button. I’m not sure what that means except that it suggests a special connection to the city’s contemporary museum.

Spider Pavilion: 9 Likes

There’s no way of knowing how many likes are endorsements of Jeffrey Deitch populism or Paul Schimmel counterintuitivity—or whether this dubious dichotomy exists in the mind of the average liker. I suspect that MOCA picked up a lot of likes during “Art in the Streets.” Many artists in that show have racked up impressive numbers of likes on their own Facebook pages. Shepard Fairey has 51,344 likes, and RETNA has 22,764. In comparison it’s rare for a non-street artist to have 1000 likes (and not all care to have a like button on their FB page). John Baldessari has 2633.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has 26,422 likes, and its Spider Pavilion has 9 likes.

The Other Street Art Show

Photo: Brandon Shigeta for Hypebeast

Curator Shirlae Cheng-Lifshin and graffiti historian Steven Grody spent three years nurturing a street art show for the Pasadena Museum of California Art—only to have Jeffrey Deitch swoop in from New York and conjure up a bigger show in about fifteen seconds. Pasadena’s “Street Cred: Graffiti Art from Concrete to Canvas” is barely the size of some of the installations in MOCA’s “Art in the Streets,” and it had the further misfortune of opening a month later. But that doesn’t make “Street Cred” redundant by any means.

At the risk of stating the obvious: If you can see only one street art show, or aren’t sure whether you want to look at a lot of graffiti, the MOCA show is the one to see. If you saw “Art in the Streets” and want more, you should check out “Street Cred.”

• “Street Cred” is strictly L.A. artists; “Art in the Streets” is worldwide. The main Pasadena talking point is that placa predated wild style, bitch.

• “Street Cred” focuses on street kids and former kids who paint(ed) urban walls; “Art in the Street” includes MFAs, pranksters, and poster-posters.

• The key difference between the shows is that “Street Cred” displays gallery art made by street artists. Unfortunately, L.A. street artists today are about where any kind of L.A. artists were, commercially, about fifty years ago. The works are smallish and sometimes seem to have been dashed off as marketable souvenirs. “Street Cred” has small reproductions of its artists’ street paintings (the photos by Steve Grody). The tiny reproductions are often more engaging than the originals in the show. MOCA uses the Geffen acreage to present large-scale pieces, some commissioned for the show.

• While both shows have tons of “educational” material, “Street Cred” more often addresses the questions people are likely to wonder about. “Some Basics: There main forms of graffiti: tags, throw-ups, pieces and productions…” That’s a good way to start. It’s in the “Street Cred” brochure, which you can download and might want to take a look at before going to the MOCA show, even.

• In the Pasadena and Little Tokyo shows: Chaz Bojórquez, Retna (left), TEMPT, SABER, REVOK. Steve Grody, co-curator of the Pasadena show, is in the MOCA show.

• Hey Brooklyn and Queens: “Street Cred” is “made possible in part by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division.”