THE ROUNDUP: THE LA ART SPOTS WE LOVED

This past February we ventured to the land of the stars for LA Arts Weekend. LA’s art scene is vibrant and impressive. Perhaps best of all, their institutions and events are well attended. There is an energy and excitement about art and we loved it. See the highlights of our whirlwind, coffee fueled tour below.

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Art Los Angeles Contemporary

Held in Barker Hanger near the airport, ALAC, though bare bones in comparison to the star struck Frieze, had many engaging pieces on offer.

Johnny Abrahams

Johnny Abrahams

Johnny Abrahams

Johnny Abrahams makes exquisite, labor-intensive, abstract acrylic-on-canvas paintings, covered edge-to-edge with endless iterations of patterned lines. “Beginning each piece with a grid, I can either express that structure or divide it into smaller, increasingly intricate geometries to form a progressively finer language of elements,” he explains. “Put into high-contrast figure-ground relationships, these reduced elements become vibratory, and they destabilize the fixed gaze.” He often works in black-and-white, and with curving, zigzagging, or straight lines, creating the illusion of movement and depth on the flat, still surface of the picture plane to call attention to the process of perception. With a long career ahead, Abrahams plans to explore color, shapes, texture, and space in future series, and our mind-eye-body connection to these various visual elements.

Matthew Stone / To be titled, 2019 - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Matthew Stone / To be titled, 2019 - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Matthew Stone / To be titled, 2019 - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Matthew Stone / To be titled, 2019 - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Matthew Stone

Stone began his career as a leading influencer in a number of counter-cultural movements in London. He was instrumental in developing the South London art collective !WOWOW! as well as a central figure in the shift of sub-cultural understanding that came to re-imagine and later define areas of the East End of London during the mid 00’s.

In terms of composition, colour and treatment of the body, Stone works in explicit relation to the history of painting, seeking to understand and define broader abstract ideologies that relate to the body itself. The artist examines perceptions of interconnection, collaboration and hierarchy through the canon of art as propaganda, seeking to promote notions of social unity and optimism.

Megan Whitmarsh - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Megan Whitmarsh - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Megan Whitmarsh - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Megan Whitmarsh - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Megan Whitmarsh

Los Angeles based artist Megan Whitmarsh grew up in the 70's and 80's, and, like many of her generation, uses the visual noise of her youth as inspiration, rather than the history of painting. She makes drawings, comics, hand-embroidered pieces and soft sculptures.  Her themes can best be visually described as scenes of fantasy characters existing amongst the detritus of the modern world. They can best be conceptually described as the artist's attempt to reconcile the ataxia of the modern world with an optimistic vision of the future dictated by an internal logic and supernatural iconography.  Whitmarsh sees her current artistic process as a slightly evolved continuation of her childhood practices of illustrating Buffy Sainte-Marie songs and making comic books about rabbits watching Mork and Mindy.

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Next up, not one but two MOCAs!

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA Grand Avenue and Geffen Contemporary)

LA’s MOCA is impressive and that’s an understatement. Two buildings blocks apart with soaring ceilings and an incredibly open concept layout which allows for quiet contemplation of the the works within. Between both buildings we had the great fortune of seeing both Zoe Leonard’s stunning Survey and Lorna Simpson’s mesmerizing digital piece, One Day At A Time.

Zoe Leonard as part of  Survey / MOCA LA Photo Thomas Bollmann

Zoe Leonard as part of Survey/ MOCA LA Photo Thomas Bollmann

Zoe Leonard as part of  Survey / MOCA LA Photo Thomas Bollmann

Zoe Leonard as part of Survey/ MOCA LA Photo Thomas Bollmann

Zoe Leonard as part of  Survey / MOCA LA Photo Thomas Bollmann

Zoe Leonard as part of Survey/ MOCA LA Photo Thomas Bollmann

Zoe Leonard

New York–based artist Zoe Leonard (b. 1961) is among the most critically acclaimed artists of her generation.  Over the past three decades, she has produced work in photography and sculpture that has been celebrated for its lyrical observations of daily life coupled with a rigorous, questioning attention to the politics and conditions of image making and display.           

 Zoe Leonard: Survey is the first large-scale overview of the artist’s work in an American museum. The exhibition looks across Leonard’s career to highlight her engagement with a range of themes, including the history of photography, gender and sexuality, loss and mourning, migration, displacement, and the urban landscape. More than it focuses on any particular subject, however, Leonard’s work slowly and reflectively calibrates vision and form. Using repetition, subtle changes of perspective, and shifts of scale, Leonard draws viewers into an awareness of the meanings behind otherwise familiar images or objects. A counter-example to the speed and disposability of image culture today, Leonard’s photographs, sculptures and installations ask the viewer to reengage with how we see.

Lorna Simpson / One Day At A Time MOCA LA - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Lorna Simpson / One Day At A Time MOCA LA - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Lorna Simpson

Lorna Simpson is an American artist best known for her black-and-white photographs and works on paper—both of which explore the interplay between historical memory, culture, and identity. Often associated with postcolonial and feminist critique, Simpson’s work seeks to explicate the ways in which race and gender shape human interactions, specifically in the United States, through the medium of portraiture. “I do not feel as though issues of identity are exhaustible,” the artist has said. “I feel that my critique of identity, which in the past work may be the most obvious, becomes the foreground or recedes given the structures of the text or the type of narrative that I impose on the work.” In her most famous work Stereo Styles (1988), she explores the way in which identity is externally projected, displaying 10 images of an African American woman in different hairstyles alongside text that reads “Sweet,” “Ageless,” and “Magnetic.” 

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The Wende Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

The Wende Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

The Wende Museum

We took a detour to the Wende, an out of the way space hidden in the middle of a quiet, residential neighbourhood. The museum was founded by Justinian Jampol, a native of Los Angeles and scholar of modern European history, to “address the wholesale neglect and rampant destruction of Cold War material culture in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989”. (Just a tad dramatic!) Wende (pronounced “venda”), is a German word meaning “turning point” or “change” and is used to describe the transformative period leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Wende had an impressive collection of protest posters by none other than Shepard Fairey. Fairey’s Make Art Not War is currently available in limited edition at the institution.

Shepard Fairey at the Wende Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Shepard Fairey at the Wende Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Shepard Fairey at the Wende Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Shepard Fairey at the Wende Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey is an American graphic artist and social activist. Part of the Street Art movement along with other artists including Banksy. Fairey blurs the boundary between traditional and commercial art through type and image, communicating his brand of social critique via prints, murals, stickers, and posters in public spaces. “Art is not always meant to be decorative or soothing, in fact, it can create uncomfortable conversations and stimulate uncomfortable emotions,” he stated. Born on February 15, 1970 in Charleston, SC, Fairey attended the Rhode Island School of Design, creating his seminal Obey series during the early 1990s. The artist is perhaps best known for his Hope (2008) campaign, which portrays in red, white, and blue, a portrait of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. In 2017, the artist created a series of three posters— featuring portraits of culturally diverse women in red, white, and blue—in response to the xenophobic rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump.

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The Hammer Museum

Exterior view The Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Exterior view The Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

The Hammer is an interconnected series of walkways and staircases that lead, in almost Alice In Wonderland like fashion to nondescript doors which open up into grand exhibition spaces. The design of the Hammer is sublime and on our visit we just happened to catch an Allen Ruppersberg retrospective titled Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968–2018.

Allen Ruppersberg at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Allen Ruppersberg at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Allen Ruppersberg at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Allen Ruppersberg at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Allen Ruppersberg at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Allen Ruppersberg at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Allen Ruppersberg

From the museum:

This major retrospective on the work of Conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg (b. 1944, Cleveland) marks the artist’s first comprehensive US survey in over 30 years. Many of the works included, from private and public collections in Europe and elsewhere, have never before been exhibited in US museums.

Ruppersberg moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s with the goal of becoming an illustrator, but soon became active in an emerging scene led by artists such as John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, William Leavitt, and others exploring the interface of language and image filtered through the lens of mass culture. His early projects—including environments made with found objects; wry, narrative photo works; and a novel copied by hand—began a career-long practice of creating works that prompt both reading and looking, and that intertwine fact with fiction.

The exhibition charts Ruppersberg’s key themes: movement between places, presence and absence, the book as object and subject, memorials, and self-portraiture. It also reveals his reverence for cultural forms “destined to disappear,” from postcards and wall calendars to hand-painted signs and early recorded music. Perhaps more than any other artist of his generation, Ruppersberg has mined the nuances of culture through its visual details, unsung conventions, and modes of the everyday, often encouraging the involvement of the viewer as social participant, an aspect of his work that has had particular resonance with a younger generation of artists.

Also on exhibition at the Hammer was this gem of a room with an immersive installation by Jamaican artist, Jamilah Sabur.

Jamilah Sabur at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Jamilah Sabur at the Hammer Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Jamilah Sabur

From the museum:

Jamilah Sabur is a multidisciplinary artist whose work incorporates performance, video, and installation. Un chemin escarpé / A steep path (2018) is a five-channel video installation featuring her inner world, from a cricket field in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica to underwater geological features of the Caribbean sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The video bridges ritualistic practice with digital technology, evoking questions related to navigation between the material world and the transcendental plane. The piece is inspired by geophysical data taken aboard the retired research vessel Vema and the geological term escarpment, referring to a steep slope formed from erosion. In one image we encounter a figure carrying a rhombus, a recurring form in Sabur’s practice that references the architecture of her mother’s childhood home in Jamaica. Sabur also deconstructs the phenomenon known as the Rossby whistle—a frequency emitted from the Caribbean Sea every 120 days that can only be detected from space—using it as inspiration for a sequence of movements she performs in the video and it is featuring it in the score.

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The Broad Museum

Interior view The Broad Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Interior view The Broad Museum - Photo Thomas Bollmann

Next up The Broad Museum. The Broad was one of those happy accidents we stumbled upon while meandering through downtown LA. With its daily line up of all that is hip and young stretched around the corner, you know we had to find out what the commotion was all about.

As it turns out, The Broad is not only an organic architectural wonder, it houses some of the most Insta-worthy pieces as part of its very impressive collection.

Here are just a few of our favourites:

Kara Walker / African’t, 1996

Kara Walker / African’t, 1996

Kara Walker / African’t, 1996

Kara Walker / African’t, 1996

Kara Walker

Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California, in 1969. She received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991, and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. The artist is best known for exploring the raw intersection of race, gender, and sexuality through her iconic, silhouetted figures. Walker unleashes the traditionally proper Victorian medium of the silhouette directly onto the walls of the gallery, creating a theatrical space in which her unruly cut-paper characters fornicate and inflict violence on one another.

Barbara Kruger/ Untitled (If you’re so successful, why do you feel like a fake?), 1987

Barbara Kruger/ Untitled (If you’re so successful, why do you feel like a fake?), 1987

Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger is an American Conceptual artist known for her combination of type and image that conveys a direct feminist cultural critique. Her works examine stereotypes and the behaviors of consumerism with text layered over mass-media images. Rendered with black-and-white, red accented, Futura Bold Oblique font, inspired by the Constructivist Alexander Rodechenko, her works offer up short phrases such as “Thinking of You,” “You are a captive audience,” and “I shop therefore I am.” Like multimedia artist Jenny Holzer, Kruger uses language to broadcast her ideas in a myriad of ways, including prints, T-shirts, posters, photographs, electronic signs, and billboards. “I'm fascinated with the difference between supposedly private and supposedly public and I try to engage the issue of what it means to live in a society that's seemingly shock-proof, yet still is compelled to exercise secrecy,” she explained of her work.

Jeff Koons / Balloon Dog (Blue), 1994-2000

Jeff Koons / Balloon Dog (Blue), 1994-2000

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons is one of America’s most popular contemporary artists. His Neo-Pop aesthetics and wry appropriations of consumer objects, express a reverence for popular culture. “I try to create work that doesn't make viewers feel they're being spoken down to, so they feel open participation,” the artist has explained. He is perhaps best known for his oversized sculptures of kitschy souvenirs, toys, and ornaments that are bright and shiny, as seen in his Celebration(1994–2011) series. With his choice of materials, Koons lends a heft and permanence to otherwise ephemeral items. 

Edward Ruscha/ Turn Around, 1979 / Will 100 Artists Please Draw a 1950 Ford From Memory?, 1977 / The Girl Always Did Have Good Taste, 1976 and Hollywood Is A Verb, 1979

Edward Ruscha/ Turn Around, 1979 / Will 100 Artists Please Draw a 1950 Ford From Memory?, 1977 / The Girl Always Did Have Good Taste, 1976 and Hollywood Is A Verb, 1979

Ed Ruscha 

Ed Ruscha is an American artist whose oeuvre melds Pop Art iconography with the documentarian rigor of Conceptual Art. With a practice that spans drawing, painting, photography, film, printmaking, and publishing, Ruscha’s background as a graphic designer is evident in his subtle use of typography. He is perhaps best known for his artist’s books, such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), as well as his word paintings which skew the meaning of each word through color, background, and font. “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again,” he said of his inspiration.

Glenn Ligon / Double America 2, 2014

Glenn Ligon / Double America 2, 2014

Glenn Ligon

Born in Bronx, NY in 1960, Glenn Ligon became known in the 1990s for his artistic exploration of the complexities of race, gender, representation and language. Moved by the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, Ligon was inspired to create his signature black and white text-based paintings, often referencing the writings of esteemed African American authors like James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston. Text is a recurring motif in Ligon’s work, which frames his exploration of identity and meaning. Ligon has said of his works that he aims to “make language into a physical thing, something that has real weight and force to it.”  Untitled (I Am a Man), 1988, one of Ligon’s early recognized paintings, appropriates the words from placards carried by the striking black sanitation workers of Memphis, TN in 1968.  On the walls of a gallery, the displaced civil rights sign is decontextualized and the language dislocated from its source. Using this historical memory, Ligon confronts and embodies formalist painting, political action and personal declaration. Ligon’s identity as a gay black man informs his art as he boldly experiments with new concepts and materials to reveal the identity politics of modern America too often overlooked in the art world. Although deeply pointed and courageous, Ligon’s artistic voice is more subtle than strident, more investigative than declarative, the breadth of his subject matter matched by the wide range of mediums he employs.

Jenny Saville / Strategy, 1994

Jenny Saville / Strategy, 1994

Jenny Saville

In her depictions of the human form, Jenny Saville transcends the boundaries of both classical figuration and modern abstraction. Oil paint, applied in heavy layers, becomes as visceral as flesh itself, each painted mark maintaining a supple, mobile life of its own. As Saville pushes, smears, and scrapes the pigment over her large-scale canvases, the distinctions between living, breathing bodies and their painted representations begin to collapse.

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We were almost out of steam for LA when we decided to skip town and check out Desert X, a public art festival held in the Palm Desert. If you ever get a chance to head to Palm Springs, this is a must see. First of all, it’s refreshing and inspiring to see art given such a platform in the middle of this beautiful landscape and second of all, well, Palm Springs is just too surreal not see at least once in your life.

Here are the installations that made us swoon.

DesertX

Sterling Ruby / Specter as part of Desert X 2019

Sterling Ruby / Specter as part of Desert X 2019

Sterling Ruby

Sterling Ruby is a contemporary American artist. Working in a multidisciplinary practice, Ruby often pulls from a wide range of socio-economic topics to create politically charged work. In his 2008 solo exhibition “SUPERMAX 2008,” the artist converted the Los Angeles County Museum of Art into a dense installation invoking the harsh living conditions of the American prison system, displaying a range of objects covered in fake blood and red polyurethane. In Ruby’s series SOFT WORK (2012), consisting of loose fabric sculptures sewn out of the American flag, he offers a playful means of confronting the pitfalls of overt patriotism.

John Gerrard / Western Flag as part of Desert X 2019

John Gerrard / Western Flag as part of Desert X 2019

John Gerrard

Gerrard relies on excessive on-site photographs, topographical data and satellite images to create a virtual site visit. With the help of customized, real-time computer game software, the artist is able to animate a 3D model and create virtual footage of the location – indeed, the low horizons and simplified scenery evokes the coded panorama of the computer game. Gerrard’s works feature hog farms, oil drills and dust storms in rural North American settings, often drawing attention to the labour and ecological conditions in the aftermath of extreme industrialization; these virtual relics capture industries that are slowly draining the land and which will consequently be dying out within the near future. Composed in perpetual motion, Gerrard’s projections mirror the repetitive motions of the systems that they digitally represent, revealing their outdated and ecologically ignorant modes of production.

Kathleen Ryan / Ghost Palm, as part of Desert X 2019

Kathleen Ryan / Ghost Palm, as part of Desert X 2019

Kathleen Ryan

New York-based Kathleen Ryan’s work in sculpture is distinguished by her virtuosic grasp of materials, ranging from poured concrete, cast iron, carved marble, and precious stones, to found objects such as granite machine-mount blocks or bowling balls. Ryan engages with formal sculptural concerns such as volume, weight, pressure, balance, and line, while subtly alluding to the materials’ historical and economic underpinnings, along with frequent references to the human body and classical motifs. Many of her recent works were cast at a nearly defunct iron foundry in Pennsylvania, and in part engage with a declining manufacturing industry that has shaped the economic and social trajectory of communities across the United States. Varying from poetic to deadpan, Ryan’s works are rendered effortlessly light and delicate in spite of their massive industrial materials and manifest weight.

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Our last two stops in LA were the newly reestablished ICA LA (Institute of Contemporary Art: Los Angeles) and one of our absolute highlights, The Underground Museum.

ICA LA sits in the rapidly gentrifying LA arts district. Surrounded on one side by homeless tents and on the other by hipsters, chic cafes and pop up shops. The warehouse space is minimalist and modern inside with an impressive book shop to boot.

LA arts district - Photo Thomas Bollmann

LA arts district - Photo Thomas Bollmann

LA arts district - Photo Thomas Bollmann

LA arts district - Photo Thomas Bollmann

At ICA LA we arrived in time to catch an artist chat between Lucas Blalock and curator Jamillah James. While we loved the space and the exhibition was nice enough, the discussion was a bit on the weary side with lots of inside jokes between the two who had known each other for years. At least they had fun!

Lucas Blalock and Jamillah James in conversation at ICA LA

Lucas Blalock and Jamillah James in conversation at ICA LA

Lucas Blalock / Guitar Player, 2013

Lucas Blalock / Guitar Player, 2013

Last but definitely not least, was The Underground Museum. UM is the brainchild of artist and curator Noah Davis. Both an artist studio and a museum, Davis felt that UM would be the perfect way to engage his South Central LA neighbourhood, which he thought of as an art desert. He set up the space and requested pieces for loan from surrounding major institutions, but they all said no. They felt his institution was not in the type of neighbourhood where their pieces would be safe.

Davis, being the genius that he was, devised an opening show in which he recreated famous museum pieces like Duchamp’s Bottle Rack and Jeff Koons’ Hoover Convertibles. The replicas were so convincing, people thought they were real and the buzz the show generated attracted the attention of MOCA’s Helen Molesworth who eventually agreed to lend UM pieces from their collection.

Sadly, Noah Davis, at the beginning of this exciting journey, passed away from terminal cancer. His work and memory live on at the UM through the efforts of his family and Director Megan Steinman. To find out more about UM and the wonderful work they are doing, check out our interview with Ms. Steinman about all things Underground.

Whew! And that’s all folks! We hope this tour has inspired you to get out and see more art. A very special thank you to photographer Thomas Bollmann for capturing these wonderful works.

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We also want to acknowledge the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council, without whom this adventure would not have been possible.

Ciao for now! Mutti

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Thomas Bollmann