Saturday, March 20, 2010

Signs of LA

Oliver Michaels Museum Postcards, Shoshana Wayne Gallery, March 6 - April 3, 2010. All pictures are by the author.

I was in LA last weekend for some architecture business and had the chance to drive around the city and see some sights.

Some sights!

Oliver Michaels's show at Shoshana Wayne made me and deep peep Laura Esposito laugh out loud (how often does that happen in a gallery in a good way?) Michaels animates postcards of classic objects from museums around the globe, and creates situation comedies that are ominous or ruinous, political or sentimental. He plays off of the political contexts of these sculptures and replaces them with mostly specious pop culture overtones. What a great critique of our formal fetishization of historical objects.

Laura E. inside Bengston's recreation (although that furniture is new).

Bill Al Bengston's show A Re-Creation of the Ferus Space (Not Exactly but Close to Scale) and other work at Samuel Freeman Gallery (the old Patty Faure space in Bergamot station) brought back my years spent at the Newport Harbor Art Museum [NHAM]. Bengston's iconic chevrons and hearts, and a surprising graphic painting of an i, were a great surprise. Even though I'm not a huge fan of Bengston's work, that he is re-placing himself within the Ferus canon is interesting, and that the gallery allowed him to burn candles under those works is astonishing. Is this reification or R.I.P? Given how LA's art world is so well-known now, who can blame Bengston for wanting a bigger slice of the historical pie?

Noted LA-based video artist Diana Thater had a beautiful installation Between Science and Magic at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Thater films magician Greg Wilson pulling a rabbit out of a hat, over and over again and from many different angles. The film you see here was then screened at the Los Angeles Theatre, a lavish memorial to the importance film has had for the arts and for Los Angeles. Film, and now video, truly pull tricks out of nowhere (I'm thinking Rocky and Bullwinkle though!) A lovely work.

Then off to Redondo Beach and a Sunday morning walk in Palos Verdes where we saw the "other" LA freeway in action!

I spent four years at the NHAM thinking about the history of the visual arts in California. What was always clear to me--having moved to LA from NY--was that the many great schools, artists who stayed and plenty of intellectual room has given rise to one of the best artist communities on earth. LA has a unique combination of factors that mostly have nothing to do with the cliches of sand, swim and surf.

Every smaller city in America needs to find their own unique combination--what will ours in STL be?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Along the Mississippi, part I

Pontchartrain Park. All photos courtesy the author.

I went to New Orleans last week for a site visit to see Joe Baker, Executive Director of the Longue Vue House and Gardens . We're working on connecting our places, and we spent time driving around the city after looking at every nook and cranny of Longue Vue (fabulous mansion, too bad about the plants killed by the freak frost!)

The founders of Longue Vue, Edith and Edgar Stern, were socially engaged civil rights leaders who, in addition to creating Longue Vue, built Pontchartrain Park, one of (if not the) first middle class African American sub-divisions in the country. This area was also devastated by levee breaches caused by Katrina, but the destruction was not reported in the way it was in the Lower Ninth Ward. (Perhaps there is something more nefarious, undermining about the word "ward?) The city is in a state of enormous flux--but we all know about this from the reporting that has happened since Katrina.

We were also lucky to tour the new arts area of St. Claude to see galleries The Front, Trouser House, KK Projects, Antenna and Barrister's Gallery. Most are non-profit and speak to the revitalization artists can bring to place.

Above is an image across from KK Project's main space--the white house was the site of Mel Chin's safe house from Prospect I, now being dismantled to make way for more projects and an urban garden out back.

The houses in this neighborhood look worse than those of Pontchartrain Park--due to devastation of the man-made kind, not nature! Many of these places seem to be ruins--but it is often hard to tell if they are degrading or coming alive, as in most urban areas. Where are the Sterns of this day and age?

Before we got on our plane back to STL we were sipping a glass of wine and enjoying a shrimp boil at Amy Graham and her partner Macon's place over-looking the Mississippi.

I'll be back.