We were very impressed with the list of museums that Hou Hanru’s class was scheduled to see. We had been to Los Angeles a few times before, but the focus had never been on academics. Mr. Hanru is a wonderful guide throughout each and every exhibition that we went to. The program was extremely well thought out and perfectly organized. His teaching assistant Sheeka Arbuthnot was such an amazing contribution to this trip. The two of them make a fantastic team and everyone felt very welcomed by them. We arrived early with a group of people and we rented a very interesting home in Venice Beach, just outside of downtown Los Angeles. It was perfectly located between the various places that were on our itinerary.
Monday, February 13, began our travels through the Los Angeles area. We started out at the MOCA Geffin. This was an extension space from the MOCA, which was located in a more central location. The MOCA Geffin housed one of the most impactful exhibitions that I have seen in a very long time. It was entitled, Under The Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981. The press release reads as such: “This major art survey examines the rise of pluralistic art practices across the state. The years 1974 and 1981 bracket a tumultuous, transitional span in United States history, beginning with Richard Nixon’s resignation and ending with Ronald Regan’s inauguration. The exhibition borrows its title from the 1982 album by the Los Angeles-based punk band X to suggest that, during this period, the California Dream and the hippie optimism of the late 1960s had been eclipsed by a sense of disillusionment during the post-Watergate, post Vietnam era.” They speak of the dystopian atmosphere of the 1970s and how it created an artistic milieu that, “ seemed to include everything under the sun.” Across the state of California, people were creating art works that reflected what was occurring both socially and politically in a post war culture. This exhibition was extremely impactful and a true memory that we will always cherish. We caught it on the last day before it was closed, so we all felt very lucky to have been able to see this exhibition first hand. Something that we found of great interest as a studying curator and photographer, was the manner in which it was so well organized. Each and every artwork and section of the museum was mapped out with numbers. There was a phone number that we could call and a voice on the other end was of the artist, him or herself, explaining the manner in which they created the work and how they were inspired. Neither one of us had ever seen an exhibition that incorporated this curatorial aspect. The book that was published and readily available in the bookstore was of the upmost quality. You could join in with the show and then later, take a numbered map of the museum layout that correlated with the works and the museum setting and you could continue back into a virtual world with each and every work commented on by the individual artists who made this possible. we found this to be quite brilliant as well as the small library room, which housed various books and educational material on each and every artist that was included in this California social retrospective archive.
The MOCA was founded in 1979 and is the only museum in Los Angeles to be completely dedicated to contemporary art. With the new director, Jeffrey Deitch, this museum has taken a very extraordinary turn in its program, a very edgy one at that. We thought that it was very interesting that photography seemed to play such an important role in each and every exhibition that we went to. The subject of photography and the state of California as a subject seemed to dominate the focus in various showrooms all across that Los Angeles area, from the museum space to the smaller gallery spaces. The exhibition at the MOCA was entitled: Naked Hollywood: Weegee in L.A. This exhibition consisted of around 200 photographs by the tabloid photographer Weegee whose base is in Southern California. “The exhibition encompasses Weegee’s related works as an author, filmmaker, photo-essayist, and genius self-promoter.” (Press Release MOCA) It was co-curated by MOCA editor Erica Wrightson and guest curator Richard Meyer. This exhibition was intended to be a part of the Pacific Standard Project, which is affiliated with The Getty Research Center and focuses on post war art made in Los Angeles. This has been an active project since 2002 and the plan will continue until 2013. It is a historical archive that is of great importance and it’s first-person accounts make a crucial impact.
Right across the street from the MOCA is the Redcat. We met with Adram Moshayedi, who curated the show entitled, Making China Town, by the artist Ming Wong. Here we see a re-enactment of Roman Polanski’s cult film, Chinatown. The thing that made this exhibition so incredibly interesting was that it consisted of various film stills and backdrop sets strategically placed throughout this exhibition space that was a converted garage space in the bottom part of this huge building that housed the Redcat. The most striking element of these film stills was the ever morphing Ming Wong whose multitude of characters all consisted of himself acting. His makeup and acting was so convincing, that it took us a while to be really convinced that the female character, originally played my Faye Dunaway, was actually a man. He is a very good actor and you can see such painstaking detail in each and every scene that he re-enacted. The cameo appearance of Aram Moshayedi brought an interesting interplay between the curator acting in the art work, bringing a correlative and personalized aspect to this project, especially when he explained that Wong was convinced by his sinister portrayal of a gangster who later mutilates the nose of the character originally played by Jack Nicolson. It was very entertaining to say the least! I also agree that this scene was quite convincing as well as hard to watch because it is quite bloody. I enjoyed this visit to old Hollywood glamour, yet with an ending that is anything but a traditional Hollywood ending, and so typical of Polanski and his European style. In the press release for this project, Ming Wong explains that “part of the process is not only channeling the characters of a film but the creators and interpreters-writers, directors, actors- so the research phase includes looking at Polanski before, during, and after the making of Chinatown (1974). The same is true for Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicolson. I see them as artists, and part of the work involves matching the legacy of the role, the artist, and the film with my re-interpretation at this point in history.” He goes on to say that “it is a space between the real, the perceived, and the imagined.” This exhibition really stuck in our minds many days after we had seen it.
The next day, we ventured through various galleries in Culver City. We had never taken the time to walk through this area of Los Angeles. Some of the galleries we visited were: Koplin Del Rio, Thinkspace Art, Charmichael Gallery, Scion Installation L.A., Roberts & Tilton, WWA Gallery and Susanne Vielmetter Gallery. Along the same walk way, was LAXART, where we met with Lauri Firstenberg. The theme of Los Angeles based photography was again demonstrated with, I Want to Go to Detroit; cheerleaders CHEER, by the photographer, Daniel Joseph Martinez. This exhibition press release stated that this was also “in conjunction with the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980. “ “This exhibition encompassed the debut of two bodies of work that Martinez produced in the 1970s. These two series document Martinez’s investigations of bodybuilding and beauty pageant culture in Southern California during this critical period of Southern California history.” The exhibition was accompanied with a billboard project on La Cinenega Blvd. interestingly enough, bringing the exhibition into the public sphere. Rita Gonzales was a very interesting person to speak with regarding the art scene in Los Angeles. She spoke in length about the issues that arise when working in a non-profit, public art space. We both found this information very useful. The participatory role of LAXART in the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival, supported by the Getty Research Institute. This was a very interesting happening where the art of the Pacific Standard Time was displayed in public areas in Los Angeles from January 19 through 29, 2012. The press release read:” This 11 day celebration will feature more than 30 extraordinary performances, including re-enactments of iconic works by artists such as Eleanor Antin, Judy Chicago, Suzanne Lacy, and James Turrell, and inventions both large and small in the public sphere. The festival will present a series of adaptations, re-inventions, and commissions that are inspired by the performance and installation artists working in Los Angeles between 1945 and 1980.” Our trip to L.A. couldn’t have come at a better time! We both felt as if we were incredibly lucky to be able to experience these exhibitions that were at a closing end as well as the festival that was going on. It’s is really a part of American history that was right at our fingertips.
by Mimi Mayer and Andreanne Michon