William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Posts Tagged ‘Shepard Fairey’

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.

Google, the Instant Art Critic

Critical Theory has a funny post on how Google’s auto-complete feature critiques the philosophers. I tried their gimmick with some contemporary artists. Just type an artist’s name into a search engine, followed by “is” or “is a.” The auto-complete feature will supply instant art criticism, reflecting the crowd’s latest searches. It seems to work mainly with artists over-appreciated by the news media, and that makes it all the more fun!

In fairness, Google’s auto-complete has issues with contemporary art…

… and modern art.

The crowd doesn’t even like crowd-pleasers.

So who does the cloud-crowd like?

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.

Street Art Comes to Springfield

It’s reported that the new season of The Simpsons will include voices by Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, and Robbie Conal—apparently, yet another cultural reverberation of MOCA’s “Art in the Streets.”

In 2010 Bansky designed an opening for the animated sitcom, and Jasper Johns and Frank Gehry have supplied their voices.

(Above, a Simpsons street art mural in Vancouver. Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid.)

When Art Is Illegal

Illegal Invader mosaic. The street art is the little picture below the folk art.

MOCA’s “Art in the Streets” is generating controversy on the theme of art and crime: Should a museum “glorify” criminal activity? It’s not entirely academic. At least one artist in the show, the French-born Invader, has apparently been placing his trademark video-game mosaics in downtown L.A. For the record, that’s nothing new. Long before the MOCA show, the well-travelled Invader placed mosaics on the Hollywood Sign and Randy’s Donuts.

Practically all of the artists in the MOCA show have tagged or otherwise ignored property rights, and many still do. On the other hand, the only illegally created works in the show would seem to be a few Keith Haring subway drawings—which New Yorkers, who know from graffiti, mostly adored. Many Haring drawings were peeled from subway walls by collectors—illegally?—and preserved as art. That’s probably how they ended up at MOCA.

Legal Invader mosaic at the Geffen Contemporary, a former LAPD warehouse, with workman's graffiti

As far I can tell, the MOCA show doesn’t take a position on the ethics of using someone else’s property for art. That’s what some critics are faulting it for. Heather Mac Donald, in the City Journal, blasts the “conscience-less amorality of Art in the Streets.” She goes on to call everyone in the show a “graffiti vandal” and give “Art in the Streets” a salacious, banned-in-Boston vibe it can’t necessarily live up to:

“…many photos feature vandalized property, as well as the loathsome punks (including the late Dash Snow) who perpetrate such vandalism, caught on camera here in various states of undress, inebriation, sexual availability, and mutilation.”

Art shows aren’t generally in the business of offering legal advice and moral guidance. How many El Greco shows take a “position” on the Spanish Inquisition? That doesn’t mean that the curators are secret Spanish Inquisition sympathizers. It just means that they’re chronicling art history the way it happened, not the way we wish it had happened.

Today’s Los Angeles Times supplies this bit of legal advice from former LAPD Chief William J. Bratton: “If you want to be an artist, buy a canvas.” It also offers upbeat spin from Jeffrey Deitch:

“We want to put out an inspirational message: If you harness your talent you can be in a museum someday, make a contribution and a living from it.”

MOCA San Diego’s Hugh Davies, who did a Shepard Fairey show, is less upbeat but takes a similarly economic perspective:

“There’s an anarchic culture that doesn’t want to go through the chain of going to art school, [then getting into a] gallery and museum. It’s like, ‘I want to do it in my own way, I’m not in it for the market.’ “

Maybe the true crime is not wanting to make money? Americans can forgive anything but that.

“Art in the Streets” at MOCA

MOCA’s “Art in the Streets” is accessible in the best sense of the word. If you’re thinking that a graffiti show will be “dumbed-down”… banish the thought. Likewise, were you expecting a cultural show where art takes a backseat to a crowd-pleasing celebration of bad boys (and a very few bad girls)… nope. “Art in the Streets” is all about the art, and the art history that it is helping to write. In other words, it’s exactly the sort of show the old, pre-meltdown MOCA was loved for: a Geffen-size survey of a theme that is inevitable only in retrospect.

You may still be wondering, what are they showing? Most street art is painted on someone else’s building. That someone else isn’t necessarily interested in conserving it.

No problem. Much of the exhibition consists of MOCA commissions or thoughtful recreations. There’s plenty of wall painting, of course, as well as photo- and video-documentation thereof. There are sculptures and performances; surrealist objects and concrete poetry (or whatever the street art terms for such things are). The show has three cars, an ice cream truck, and a steamroller — all pivotal. Above all, there are installations and environments. “Art in the Streets” may cause you to reflect that the otherness of street art has been greatly exaggerated. Much of the work could pass for your basic MFA art (and vice-versa); or for an amusement park/crazy house attraction. Did I say it’s accessible?

You can learn a lot of art history in this show, none of it in Janson. Graffiti is as old as cave painting. The MOCA timeline begins with American hobo “monickers,” names or simple drawings sketched on railroad cars and other surfaces. There are documentary photos and a few authentic ‘bo relics. How many major museums show hobos? The “KILROY WAS HERE” meme of the second World War grew out of this tradition.

Street art as such began with spray paint. Invented by Edward Seymour in 1949, it became widely available in the mid-1960s. It was as transformative as oil paint was for the van Eycks, or tube paints for the Impressionists. Urban youth culture, pop art, and other influences coalesced into the multi-chrome graffiti that’s now omnipresent and bemoaned. (Check out the display of anti-graffiti posters.) The “wild style” added expressionistic letterforms and trompe l’oeil touches. The subtext: These words are real, three-dimensional objects invading your space.

One of the many shows within the show is a group of tagger black books collected by artist Martin Wong and donated to the Museum of the City of New York. Like Rauschenberg’s Factum I and II, it exposes the deliberation behind the spontaneity.

Geoff McFetridge and Lance Mountain’s Skate (top) is a functional skateboard surface. It also happens to be the most advanced development in post-post-cubist sculpture. The circular wedge, not to mention the WWII Kilroy motif, echoes Little Tokyo’s “Go for Broke” Monument, the Grassy Knoll-maguffin of Blu-gate. The waving freak-flag transmutes Kilroy into an infinity sign. Skate comingles painting and sculpture and performance and manages to look completely different from various angles. The 2D-3D tension is reminiscent of Picasso’s Guitar. It may be the most ingeniously polymorphic sculpture in Los Angeles right now, and that’s saying a lot with Benue River Valley, Gods of Angkor, and David Smith in town.

Big names? The biggest, by conventional museum/art market standards, is Jean-Michel Basquiat. There’s a nod to him in a delightful recreation of New York’s long-defunct Fun Gallery. Just don’t go expecting to see major Basquiats for the art market, for they aren’t here. Shepard Fairey? Eh. He’s not a standout in this crowd. Bansky, however, rocks. I would have predicted that a little Bansky goes a long way; that a string of visual puns quickly gets tiring. Instead, the Banksy room works like the Heath Ledger Joker. Too much funny can be scary. (Above: The museum guard is not part of the Banksy piece; the dog, a taxidermy specimen, is.)

The Geffen’s northeast corner is devoted to Street, a uncategorizable something-or-other by Todd James, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, Devin Flynn, Josh Lazano, Dan Murphy, and Alexis Ross. Think opium dream, with insanely complex vertical perspectives… an unspeakable, H.P. Lovecraft part of Disneyland… Duchamp urinals with readymade graffiti… and another sort of “graffiti,” commercial signs made on the cheap from digital files—globalizing, retro, capitalistic, numinous, ominous, folksy, menacing.

That provokes comparisons to the many varieties of contemporary text art. Nobody did that better than the late great Margaret Kilgallen (1967-2001). Kilgallen was schooled on hobo monikers and hand-painted business signs. Her biggest work here is Main Drag, a high point of the 2002 Whitney Biennial.

Kilgallen believed in the mystic power of lettering to influence meaning and thought. That was roughly the thesis of Rammellzee (to the extant that any mortal can be said to understand what Rammellzee ever said or meant). He was a sometime multi-media collaborator with Basquiat, who also died young. Rammellzee refused to be interviewed unless he was wearing homemade P-funk/Transformers outfits and called his ism gothic futurism (click AYOR). MOCA has rigged up a freaky, black-light version of Rammellzee’s bedroom, or something like it. Max Ernst’s bedroom? Please. Authentic? Who knows? It may be the core of this show, for any capable of getting it.

Mr. Cartoon, L.A.’s genius of lowrider-dom, chews up Dr Lakra and Robert Williams and spits them out wholesome. His absurdly louche Ice-Cream Truck, glistering in an out-of-gamut color lightshow, is a public favorite/insult to decency. The MOCA-commissioned Mr. Cartoon mural, in sinuous grisaille, may be more inventively disturbing for the few who dare to study it.

A recent L.A. Times article by Jori Finkel compared-and-contrasted the philosophies of MOCA’s Deitch and the Hammer Museum’s Ann Philbin.

DEITCH: “We would like to bring our attendance to the 500,000 level, and we’d like to do it quickly.”

PHILBIN: “We always say we’ll do a show that 12 people want to see if we think it’s important to do.”

The dichotomy—”crass” Deitch v. “idealist” Philbin—may be as artificial as some debated in Congress. Both sides have points, as far as they go, which isn’t necessarily too far. It’s all about the fine points, the judgment calls that elude sound bites. “Art in the Streets” suggests that museology’s yin and yang can occasionally meet. When that does happen, it’s cause for celebration.

Who’s In, Who’s Out: “The Artist’s Museum”

Who’s in:

Funny/Creepy Painters. “The Artist’s Museum” has Kenny Scharf, Robert Williams, and Mark Ryden (installation view at top). The Deitch effect?

Latin Painters. Carlos Almaraz, Judy Baca, and Gronk. This must be the first MOCA show to have a painting on loan from the collection of Cheech Marin (Wayne Healy’s Beautiful Downtown Boyle Heights, right).

Teachers. There’s a large contingent of art professors who have been around a while and haven’t gotten much love from galleries, much less this museum.

Political Artists. Robbie Conal, along with the usual suspects of art-school engagement.

Helen Pashgian. MOCA is showing one of the veteran light-and-spacer’s best pieces, and it’s recent. From the front, it’s like a great 3D Rothko, from either side it’s something completely different.

Devo! It’s like having a free iPod for the Geffen Contemporary, assuming your iPod has the same four Devo songs on repeat play. But Devo’s videos stand up to generational changes in music- and art- video better than you’ve any right to expect.

Who’s minimized:

The obvious big names. This isn’t a Euro-style history of L.A. art, it’s a democratic show where everyone is represented with one or two works or series.

Gender watch:

By my count, 39 out of 146 artists are women (27 percent).

Who’s out:

Shepard Fairey. (Whew!)

Narcissism & Bad Poetry at the Getty Villa

Has any contemporary show not sponsored by Chanel gotten worse buzz than Jim Dine at the Getty Villa? It has yet to open, and already the New York Times is printing a searing letter from Christine Chronis, who sat with Dine on the board of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center.

“His bust is an unapologetically narcissistic, seven-foot self-portrait (as Orpheus!) surrounded by Sirens, and the poetry scrawled on the wall, as far as I can tell from the brief sample, is bad.”

The Getty Villa needs contemporary art like a fish needs a bicycle. That doesn’t mean they can’t do it, it just means that anything they choose to do should be pretty special. With all the possibilities out there, Jim Dine???

Memo to Michael Brand. Artists we don’t need to see at the Getty Villa anytime soon: Red Grooms, Dale Chihuly, Niki de Saint Phalle, Banksy, Spencer Tunick, Robert Longo, Shepard Fairey, a survey of Leger’s late ceramic sculptures…