Number one: this is not a show about "excellence". We tend to associate the concept of a biennial with something that somehow should represent “the best of the best.” This show is not about that. So we suggest you rework the definition of the word "excellence" because you’ll need a new meaning for it if you want to enjoy the show. In that sense, this show is as much about you as it is about the stories and work featured in it.
Number two: this show is not fair. It’s so hard to convey the life and sacrifices, the journey an artist has made, with a single wall or room and an artist statement on the wall. So when we say it’s not fair, we mean that as an audience you’ll have to do extra work to figure out the scope of the story behind the artist, because just the stories behind the pieces featured will not be enough.
Number three: this show is not for everybody. This survey is not meant to have artists as an audience, in our opinion. The art scene in a city for an artist who lives and works in it feels like a non-stop marathon ran inside a giant pressure cooker. Most artists don’t go to see shows of other living artists because it’s just way too masochistic. This survey is for art students, art critics, curators, gallery owners, art fair fans, and obviously the followers and collectors of the participating artists.
So what is this art show like for someone who doesn't know anything about it? With all its ambitions and scope, the show feels like a crossover between an escape room and an archeology museum. You’re given an object and a few clues and you dig out the bones of the stories on your own. Surveying the ‘culture-makers’ in a specific moment in time in a city like LA is a monumental undertaking. The show is not meant to be liked or hated. It's not about size, skill, or special effects. It's an invitation to discover and to talk about. It's meant to give you a tiny glimpse of what’s going on in the city art-wise through the eyes of the curators who put it together.
In that sense, this is a fantastic opportunity to encounter intelligent art life in our city, a chance to witness all of the art languages spoken here. Let the show challenge you (cue cereal "boxes", penis slices), and take a moment to reflect why you feel challenged.
There were 3 awards given to 3 artists in the show. We decided to give away our own Three Roofless Awards for our favorite things and people.
The 'Best in Show' award goes without a doubt to Celeste Dupuy-Spencer painting ‘Durham, August 14’. If there is a painting that will define our generation we believe it's this rendering of a Confederate monument after being taken down by protesters. Decades from now this painting will send chills down our spines.
The 'Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement in Visual Arts' (hey, we’re in LA!) goes to Luchita Hurtado. Why? Because she’s 97! After more than 70 years cranking out artwork she outruns everyone in this town. Less Baldessari and more Luchita, por favor.
The 'Message in a Bottle Award' goes to the tiny oil painting titled “Hanoi” in James Benning installation, featuring a Vietnamese soldier manning a SAM missile site as a B-52 bombed Hanoi during the Christmas bombings. 1,624 civilians died in those bombings.
PS: Keep making art!
By Julio Panisello
It’s Monday, August 20th, 2018. I'm reaching the end of the packed newsletter that Carolina Miranda at the LA Times sends out weekly, and I read this: Parker Center Gets Demolition Date, Monday, August 20th. She posts the reference link.
I know the building. I pass by it frequently, almost daily at one point. It's slick and sexy in a subdued mid-century way. In the afternoon, as the sun goes down, the three braided palm trees on the front corner playfully doodle shadows on the brutalist rectangular facade. The prospect of demolishing such unique site brings hasty feelings of voracious and greedy developers getting rid of anything that’s old, no matter how architecturally significant.
Late Monday afternoon I drive by it. It’s still there. The grass on the front yard is a bleached yellow ochre, and a premonitory fence is closing in its fate. Building demolitions are always sudden, sad. They sneak in unannounced, quietly and swiftly, as if the buildings were going to the slaughterhouse.
In the late evening, we summon a roofless situation room meeting of the sorts. We’re doing it. We’re going to plant our easels the next morning and paint the Parker Center from life before it gets pulverized. Perhaps we’ll see a wrecking ball. What if it gets detonated? We’re determined to immortalize it. Tomorrow may be too late. It’s on.
At that point, we knew the building had been the subject of a long battle between two main factions: the conservationists and the local community. We were on the side of the conservationists, of course. The building brings imaginary memories of a romanticized 50s time when Marilyn would bet booked late into the night and then drive to Palm Springs in the early morning to get some drinks with Frank and the boys.
By the end of the painting session, as we were finishing with our last strokes, we had a completely different take. We learned of William H. Parker, the police chief of the LAPD at the time. His racist, sexist, and homophobic views turned the public force into a paramilitary gang. The friction turned to street war against the community, and by "community" we mean all the different minorities who called it home but were treated as third class citizens. The black community moving to LA from the South in search of better opportunities and struggling to find jobs. The Japanese-American community still rebuilding its cultural identity from the ravages of post-war expropriation. The LGBT community, struggling to keep the doors open of the very few safe locales left in DTLA. The Latino community preemptively questioned by the assumption of not belonging. The unrelenting harassment culminated in the infamous LA riots of 92. Hard to believe the building still bears the police chief's name.
We also learned how the land where the building stands was seized from the Japanese-American community after the war. That scar hasn’t healed yet among the longtime residents of Little Tokyo. We learned of teary hearings where neighbors/survivors retell stories of abuse, violence, injustice. They don’t want the preservation of the site that housed those horrors to be a reminder of that dark history.
As we go on painting, we start meeting the people who once worked there. The adjacent buildings host new police facilities, and some senior workers moved there from the Parker Center. They tell us about the rats, the asbestos, the cracks on the walls. The filing cabinets were at one point so heavy with files that the floors would cave in. The building itself is tilting. Its stability is compromised. It hasn’t been retrofitted to bear quakes. The building has never had an AC system. People working there tell us of bad things going on, but also of good things.
It seems like the mood is of surrendered sadness among the people we talked to, regardless of the understanding of its sealed fate.
Now we don’t know how to feel about our paintings. Are we immortalizing a building? Are we betraying a community? Welton Becket, the architect who designed the building before it was renamed after Parker, also designed the Capitol Records building and the Encounter structure in LAX.
Our feelings are now entirely split. This building is an architectural piece of art. Perhaps if we make a distinction between a dwelling and a monument, could we then rationalize saving one and razing the other? We’re thinking of all the colonial architecture built on confiscated territory around the world and throughout human history as a means to institute power over people. Why single out just this building?
As we leave the site, our conversation continues. We’re happy we painted there, mostly because of the conversations we had with the people who live and work there.
However, we don’t know what side are we on now.
Check out our paintings here.
The "Klaus effect" is as real as the oppressive summer heat. By now we are imagining hordes of people connected to the local art scene practicing in private how to pronounce his last name: Biensenbach, Biesenbach, Biesenbach. Don’t worry, saying it three times will neither summon him nor drive him away. You will still be hot, and NOTHING will happen to your art career, so you can chill.
What are we talking about? Here is a piece about it.
Yes, our hearts also sank at the announcement of Klaus Biesenbach as the new Director of MOCA. Listen, there are things we like about Klaus: his anti-trump memes, his rainbow hair during the last NYC Pride, and his onanistic daily photos of NYC through his office window. He's like our favorite uncle and we expect from him something along those lines when he moves to die Stadt der Engel (German for city of angels, and you better start practicing that). We’re happy for Klaus: he’ll be able to take so many selfies with the stars now.
Anyhow, we could add our dismay to the thousands feeling that MOCA missed a chance to appoint its first female director in its history, or for again having to go pool from the NYC art bowl to find the right art plumber to unclog the hairballs left after the last chief curator at MOCA was fired. Take a read here.
To add insult to injury, we have been tortured this past week with an array of “listicles”, as Jerry Saltz calls them: “articles” listing the things Klaus should do in LA, or shouldn’t do, or who he should be replaced with when the leaves NYC. Please.
But what if instead of loathing the “Klaus effect” we forget about Klaus for an LA minute? The last best show we saw at MOCA was Kerry James Marshall retrospective. What a powerful show! Everyone living under a rock or a bridge in LA making art went wild over it. It was a show that changed lives. And Helen Molesworth curated it. And how about Helen and Noah? Helen and Noah Davis were friends. He asked for her help and she helped him: the Underground Museum is their creative child.
Oh, Helen. Let’s about about Helen. Helen was the chief curator at MOCA, she was outspoken about the lack of diversity in museums and something needed to change, and her actions matched her words. And then, she was fired, allegedly for undermining MOCA. Thin skin much? To us the appointment of Klaus vindicates her opinions and beliefs.
There is still so much gossip and drama around Helen’s firing, but to us she represented the MOCA at its best: without celebrities sleeping in glass boxes, or celebrities sitting across a table, or shows about celebrities clothes.
Helen Molesworth was our MOCA hero. And the good news we want to focus on right now is not the next chapter at MOCA, which we assume is going to have a lot of James Franco in it. It’s the last show at MOCA curated by Helen scheduled to open this October: One Day at a Time, Manny Farber and Termite Art.
Let’s forget about Klaus. We're going to properly say goodbye to Helen by going to see the show she curated before she was given the boot.
It's no secret that Vogue magazine has always been an artists’ hub and a continuing reference for contemporary art. Art and fashion consistently collide and collude in kaleidoscopic ways and Vogue is there to either launch or report on the artistic kerfuffles. The fashion magazine continues to be a source of visual reference for painters, but also a platform providing art news, profiling artists, highlighting art shows, and promoting art fairs.
We learned that contemporary artist Tyler Mitchell is going to shoot the upcoming September issue featuring Beyoncé. But the breaking news that turned us to stone is the fact that this is allegedly the very first time in Vogue's 126 year history that a black artist will shoot a Vogue cover.
Congratulations to artist Tyler Mitchell who describes how he had to make a new mold for himself at school because the athlete/nerd dichotomy didn't fit him. We're happy he's going to break the 126-year-old white mold at Vogue (pun intended). We always talk in our workshops about the lack of diversity in the world of art creating. We're happy this will become a point of inflection and a point of reference to all of the artistically-oriented kids out there feeling there has to be something else beyond the athlete-vs-nerd paradigm.
The cover of the upcoming September issue is about to drop, so we'll keep an eye when it's out and create a painting series inspired by it. It's shaping up to mark historic moment in art and in pop culture, a long overdue moment.
We love to practice in the private art studio off of Mulholland Dr. Perched above the bustling canyons, with high views of the city sprawl and prickly DTLA, the tall windows flood the space with balmy LA light.
Jonny, the model for the session, had an extensive experience in posing at Pasadena Art center, Otis, and many other private and public venues. It showed. Because of his posing experience and being able to listen to art instruction for hours, he's become a practicing artist himself. Maybe that's what it takes to overcome the fear of joining an art class: being the nude fly on the wall. "Come pose nude for us and we'll offer to you an easel station spot for free on our next workshop", we'll put that on the sandwich board.
Drawing or painting a nude figure from life is always an uplifting experience. The initial confronting feeling of standing in front of nudity when you are fully clothed is always unsettling, specially when the figure is a stranger or when you are the stranger to figure drawing. But the uneasiness fades away quickly. There is an awareness of humanity when you're in a room with haves and have-nots of a different kind, and that dissolves the initial nervous anticipation. Nudity uncloaks all social etiquette rules and creates a more human sense of oneness. Drawing or painting a nude figure brings out the best in us. If only we would treat each other the same way when we're all clothed.
In the end, there is a sense of exaltation in the air, always. It's wonderful. And then, there is the art.
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He said he was going to bring his new guitar. His cousins were visiting and some of them were shouting at each other while they were trying to fix a truck. He came back after we started painting wearing a clean T-shirt. The air was cool and the birds were loud, chirping, like his cousins.
Rather than the classical playlist, we played jazz through the small speaker thinking it would go with the neighborhood. It blended with our painting practice instead. The towers were beautiful, standing high. The sky was gray and made the braided cement branches look darker at times.
Painting makes you see things differently. We were able to appreciate the details through the stacked segments towering like piled pottery. The towers seemed belonging to a temple.
In the background the planes were approaching landing at LAX, flying low through the gray clouds. Howling. A group of guys started their Sunday martial arts practice on the grass.
The tourists visiting the site were shy, communicated exclusively through picture-taking, unlike the neighbors that approached us and shared their life stories. They loved our paintings and the fact we were there. They are proud of their monument. It's theirs.
We munched on strawberries and nut bars as the paintings started to make sense. We left painting the colorful clusters of tiles, shells, and bottles to the end.
The day was perfect because it felt real, and the paintings came out great.
Photo: Jen Eldridge