LA Talks /

Los Angeles, year zero

Winter in America

I land at LAX from Paris in a hazy mid-January 2014 afternoon with some summer clothes, many books on Los Angeles, a few vinyls, Flaubert, Polish poetry and my dad’s Leica.

I haven’t slept; I’m haunted by the somber sparkle inside my mom’s eye at Roissy Airport as I was waving goodbye. I am here to start a new life with Fahrenheit, a 2,500-square-foot exhibition space and artist residency in the industrial part of downtown. I barely know the city, and still confuse the 101 Freeway with the 110 and the 10 when driving from Highland Park — where I settled down in a little house surrounded by Mexican families — to downtown, where Fahrenheit is opening its doors. Our neighbors from Night Gallery were the first audacious ladies to move to this area located at the intersection of Boyle Heights, Vernon and the Fashion District. Today galleries, spaces and artist studios are extensively developing in the neighborhood.

The paint is still wet and the Internet barely working when on January 30 we open Fahrenheit’s first exhibition, “Far and High,” presenting the works of Felix Gonzales-Torres, Laure Prouvost, David Douard and Tamara Henderson, among others. It’s the art fair weekend, thousands of visitors from out of town show up for the first edition of Paramount Ranch, and ultimately to our opening. The crowd is so thick and the tequila so tasty that two of my friends have to save me from passing out from emotion. Later we drive around town blasting the new Beyoncé and local DJs Nguzunguzu in a white convertible Volvo. Yes, Paris seems strangely far away.

Spring was never waiting for us, dear

Fahrenheit’s first artist-in-residence, Julien Prévieux, has arrived for a two-month stay to produce a performance starring local dancers and a musician. It is about time to make new friends. The Mountain School of Art students are spreading around town, and I decide to hit the road with one of them, French sculptor Caroline Mesquita. We drive through the dusty southwest, run on mesmerizing white sand dunes and observe triumphant yet lonely cactuses. We end up in Marfa, where I presented a film series at Fieldwork, and head back to LA blasting Dory Previn’s Hollywood-inspired depressing folk and admiring Frank Lloyd Wright’s angled buildings.

From May to July Fahrenheit devotes its program to performances, screenings and talks. Julien Prévieux’s dance piece gathers a large and very diverse audience. It also starts to get hotter and hotter, and my Polish blood demands a rest. I flee north to The Banff Centre, a charming retreat nestled in the Canadian Rockies, where the gallery’s curator whispers with a fashionably unimpressed smile: “Don’t worry, it will only take you about two years to get used to the West Coast.” When I return to LA, I learn that Fahrenheit’s benefit auction has raised enough to finance the entire upcoming program for the year. In June I fly to Europe and while sitting at a terrace in Berlin I overhear a young man chatting with his friend: “It seems like everyone is moving to LA! Have you checked this new space, Fahrenheit?” I smile to myself. I feel proud, I guess. Later this month, a glimpse of doubt darkens my Los Angeles blue sky — and what if I am not made for this Californian life, its individualistic culture and social isolation? What if my French-Polish soul will always win over my work ambitions?

Summer in the city

Fahrenheit’s second exhibition,“The Space Between Us,” opens mid-July and explores how the line extends beyond flatness into physical space through the construction of fluid and indefinite movement. It presents the work of Caroline Mesquita, Polish artist Piotr Łakomy and Los Angeles-based Aaron Garber-Maikovska. French writer and curator Dorothée Dupuis arrives in town for a two-month sojourn as a critic-in-residence and Fahrenheit helps her develop her blog Terremoto. That summer in LA, it seems like everyone I know comes to visit, and Fahrenheit does not even close for a holiday. Swiss curator Tenzing Barshee spends a few weeks here. He notes everything he experiences in his diary: our drives to Malibu blasting FKA Twigs’ Two Weeks, dancing to the purple moonlight and watching MacArthur Park melting in the dark. We take him to the legendary cocktail bar Musso & Frank, where I once interviewed Kenneth Anger and where the founders of Freedman Fitzpatrick and Château Shatto are waiting for us with some Europeans and locals. “I am standing in the sun,” sings French singer Amanda Lear. And what if LA’s fading golden light was in fact the ultimate backdrop for artistic encounters and interactions in 2014?

Autumn leaves

From freeways to highways, from east to west, through hills and canyons, I can’t stop driving. The epic iPod is blasting Randy Crawford’s Street Life, the song that is featured in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and the 1984 Canadian documentary Hookers on Davie. It inspires Fahrenheit’s fall exhibition that features street films by two avant-garde filmmakers, Michel Auder and Józef Robakowski. I’m under the impression that the show is weirdly received, and I realize that LA, with its visual culture shaped by Hollywood and television, is a complex ground for the reception of avant-garde filmmaking. While shadows of doubt are breaking over my head, Andrew Berardini (whom I tease by calling him the voice of our generation) finds the exact words to appease my intellectual fears, and his ongoing support feels priceless.

October means FIAC time in Paris and the Marcel Duchamp Prize awards, for which Julien Prévieux has been preselected with the performance work we produced at Fahrenheit. Not one woman is nominated for the prize, so I decide to boycott the ceremony and stay in bed when I receive a text message from Elisabeth Forney, the impressive woman who is behind Fahrenheit and the FLAX Foundation: “C’est Julien.” He just won the Prize.

Back to LA,  artist-in-residence David Douard starts his large-scale production for an exhibition to open at the end of January 2015, with Liz Craft and Jesse Stecklow. Meanwhile it’s already Thanksgiving and Jesse McKee, the Canadian curator, is back in town. We hop into my car and drive straight to Death Valley. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for The Sicilian Clan plays full volume just as we enter Zabriskie Point, and I recall Thom Andersen’s beautiful documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, which begins with the words: “This is the city: Los Angeles, California. They make movies here. I live here.”

by Martha Kirszenbaum

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Tobias Spichtig Michael Thibault Gallery / Los Angeles

Amid an organized geography of minimal abstract elements leaving no hope for the presence of human beings (a few large paintings on the wall lightly touch the floor; a basic sculptural totem made of found speakers diffuses electronic music; and a primordial fire is fueled by propane), there are two identical photographs hung in the two rooms of the gallery, portraying a close-up of an unknown female’s face, possibly a model or an actress from the early 1990s, a forgotten starlet, like many others.

The artist found the two ready-made posters in a salon during a recent stay in Morocco. For the show, he added a resin crystal tear below her left eye, forcing the figure to endure a nostalgic burden, experiencing pain — for herself and for us. The image projects an uncanny, profane beauty, reminiscent of the creepy fascination of a weeping holy statue shedding oily tears.

Spichtig is concerned with images and their meaning as informed by Foucault’s theory. He creates tight, conceptual bodies of work, which sometimes deliver a hint of narrative. Considering contemporary history and social conditions, he attempts to explain our world without despising it. For this show, the artist uses ink almost like watercolor, in a process that allows for a wide range of accidents, and whose result emphasizes his desire to lose control. He creates what he calls backdrops for primitives, delivering to us, the primitives, an environment in which colors combine with organic shapes, evoking at times soothing elements like water and air or sinister, romantic skies that nourish illusions.

Like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Spichtig is a true seeker; his research, surrounded by a certain darkness, is hauntingly generous. No matter how evolved we are in our thoughts or attempts to build a social organization, in his eyes we remain primitives grounded to a network of shared failure, moving forward one uncertain step at time. All that remains are just a few backdrops against which we survive.

by Patrick Steffen

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American Producers Between Bridges / Berlin

Artist Wolfgang Tillmans’s off-space Between Bridges moved to Berlin in January 2014 after five years in Bethnal Green, London. Its new home is a domestic space on Keithstraße that has most recently been devoted to exhibitions that, in Tillmans’s words, “aim to provide a dedicated space for the playback of recorded music.”

Unlike the first installment — a survey of the limelight-shirking band Colourbox, including records, printed posters and a mix CD — “American Producers” consists solely of an hour-and-a-half-long audio program. Chosen with the input of DJs, producers and artists whose e-mail correspondences with Tillmans are excerpted in the show’s press materials, some selections are major hits — Michael Jackson, Beyoncé — while others have experienced their own moments of ubiquity within certain circles, particularly the show’slikely audience. Producers with art-world cache who have been catapulted into mainstream fame — Arca, Kingdom and Nguzunguzu — are included. An ancillary qualification seems to be a sonic range wide enough to take full advantage of the astounding Bowers & Wilkins stereo sound system, which, at the risk of writing advertising copy, isn’t heard so much as it is felt.

Production, reproduction and presentation are longstanding fixations for Tillmans, which helped fostered his early refusal to frame his photographs; his pioneering experimentation in the darkroom; and, despite initial reluctance, his more recent teasing of the technological boundaries of the digital camera. Whether eliminating the glass between viewer and photograph or imaging the interior of a chromogenic printer, Tillmans has consistently sought to reveal something about how media is created and consumed. “American Producers” is in Tillmans’s eyes an art show — he decries the division between art and music in the show’s press text, along with the miserable, clipped-quality audio that we all seem to accept from YouTube and our laptop speakers. Whatever “American Producers” is, it’s supremely satisfying. When seen as another tributary of Tillmans’s research into fidelity and mediation, the show does take on the quality of art: a fugue-like refrain of the artist over the past twenty years: that reproducible things are still experienced singularly.

by Patrick Armstrong

 

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Zona Maco 2015 / Mexico City

Ranked the eighth richest city in the world despite a 45.5% national poverty rate, it may be no surprise that Mexico City is the center of a thriving and well-funded contemporary art scene. Its galleries and cultural institutions put on compelling exhibitions that support Mexican artists as well as introduce the local public to important work from abroad.

The city also is host to a prominent contemporary art fair, Zona Maco, which has just concluded its 12th edition. This year’s program featured over two hundred galleries separated into five sections: General, New Proposals, Modern Art, Design and Sur [south] — the latter, curated by João Mourão and Luis Silva, featured solo projects that attempted to highlight artists rather than galleries.

If international art fairs give any indication of the state of contemporary art in an advanced global market, the commercial darlings on display at some of the blue chip establishments at Zona Maco suggest a rather bleak indication of the imminent lateralization of art’s distribution and consumption. Will contemporary art collections all over the world someday consist of the same gallery-branded canons?

While everyone seems to agree that fair booths amount to little more than weeklong show rooms, one likes to believe that art can still produce evocative, if not demanding, experiences despite this limited context. Whether thoughtful presentations are for the sake of consumer interest or the benefit of artworks and artists, the local Mexican galleries offered the most in this regard. At Labor, the elusive and controversial works of Santiago Sierra formed a challenging presentation that, at the very least, posed questions about how the artist’s more social-based practices could be translated into art objects. At House of Gaga, Mexican artist Juan Jose Gurrola’s 1971 work Monoblock was on view in the form of an American monobloc engine housed inside an industrial refrigerator. The piece was being sold not as a singular sculpture but as a comprehensive performance: a fleeting event manifested in the work’s archive of photography, documentation and poetry, as well as the objects on display — which were included on the stage set of the original 1971 performance in which Gurrola presented Poemas y Textos Sin Elocuencia: Monoblock [Poems and Texts without Eloquence: Monoblock]. To purchase Monoblock is also to commit to the posterity of the artwork and its maker — a commitment far exceeding the speculative market and one usually reserved for institutional collections rather than private ones. Perhaps none of this is news, but the commercialization of historically significant performance art is a relatively recent endeavor, and the ways in which galleries control artist estates hold significant implications for the preservation of contemporary art and the writing of its history.

Elsewhere, outside Zona Maco’s walls, one could experience inspiring exhibitions all over the city. At Museo Tamayo, Pablo Vargas Lugo’s exhibition micromegas presented a diverse group of video, sculpture and installation works that felt distinctly local while also engaging with histories of Minimalism and Land Art. Circulationismo [Circulationism], Hito Steyerl’s show at El Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, further engaged with “circulationism” — a compelling theory articulated elsewhere in her e-flux writings and lectures.¹ These three recent video installations seemed to continue the legacy of Harun Farocki into our current technological moment with nuanced criticality and insight.

Between Polanco and Coyoacán — in Roma Sur — Chris Sharp and Martin Soto Climent’s project space Lulu inaugurated the first of a three-part exhibition titled Lulennial: A Slight Gestuary. Part one featured a formally restrained yet concise group of works from Zarouhie Abdalian, Gabriel Orozco, Tania Perez Cordova and others. At the opening one could hear cycles of laughing and shouting from Christian Falsnaes’s participatory performance, or witness Susanne Winterling quietly attaching men’s ties to neighborhood trees. As guacamole and agua frescas were served on the sun-drenched sidewalk, that ever-obscure boundary between art and the everyday seemed momentarily suspended.

by Olivian Cha

¹ www.e-flux.com/journal/too-much-world-is-the-internet-dead

 

 

 

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Zhan Wang Long March Space / Beijing

Chinese artist Zhan Wang is famous for his ongoing project of stainless-steel taihu rocks, which imitate the temporal traces of weathering on the porous stones — a protagonist in ancient Chinese gardening culture — with an artificial metal produced for perpetuity.

Therefore, on my way to his exhibition “Morph” at Long March Gallery, everything in my imagination was colored silver.

I was wrong. Apart from one metal rock, all the works in the show are a non-reflective, milky white. This is Zhan’s new sculptural series “Silhouette” (2014). The five gigantic objects — with heights between three to four meters — look like splashes of thick white paint that has frozen in the air before reaching the ground. On closer examination, there are uncanny, fleshy textures in the folds, accentuated by spotlight-generated shadows. I even recognized the shapes of human parts in them.

The exhibition opened at a time when a couple of sci-fi movies were topics around every dinner table in the Chinese art world. The formal fluidity of Zhan’s “Silhouette” evokes the post-human bodies of our dystopian technological fantasies, in which transcendent mental and physical infinitude changes everything — for better or worse. It turns out that Zhan’s series is not about the human of the future, but of the present. The works are self-portraits; the artist stood in front of his stainless-steel rocks and captured his twisted reflection with a camera. Then, with the help of computer processing, he turned them into sculptures with resin and marble. Reflection is still present, but it is veiled by the matte white surface of the sculptures. The artist holds up the mirror to himself and to the country’s capitalist-industrial production, while at the same time exploring the materiality of his sculptural medium by forcing the concept of reflection on it.

by Venus Lau

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Karolina Dankow on Karma International / Los Angeles

You recently participated in the second edition of Paramount Ranch — a fair that shows a particular side of the LA art scene. How was your experience?

I loved the experience of this fair, which was really more an enthusiastic and hippiesque get-together of colleagues, friends, artists and collectors. A place where one could actually talk and spend time with different kinds of people. Whereas at normal fairs everybody is busy and always on the run, this event provided a place to deepen relationships and bond new ties. As there was hardly any cellphone reception, people were really there instead of just checking their incoming mail or Instagram all the time. To me the Paramount Ranch was more quality time than work. It also reminded me of the very first fair we’d done, when Karma International was still a not for profit. It was the Milwaukee International organized by the Green Gallery and Scott and Tyson Reeder. This fair, had a similar feeling of familiarity. Some important friendships came out of this. For instance, we met Ida Ekblad there.

 

You are opening a temporary space in Mid-City, Los Angeles, on February 28. Why did you choose LA and not NYC or Mexico City?

Coming to LA had more to do with personal reasons than with a business model. We’ve been tempted by it for a long time, but then it happened rather quickly and even took us a bit by surprise. At the same time, we learned that many other galleries are moving out here, which is funny. We never looked at LA as a strategic place. We just wanted to spend some time.

I am curious how large galleries moving here will affect the scene. Definitely LA is in a state of flux, and it’s exciting to be part of it. I like that the city is not as saturated as NY. It feels like there are maybe more possibilities in a certain sense, even though it definitely has a much slower pace.

 

Will being far away from your usual work environment affect the way you direct the gallery? Will you look for LA-based artists to expand your roster?

The temporary Karma International space in LA is definitely a place where we can try new things — like the collaboration with Juliette Blightman. But it’s just as interesting to provide artists from our own roster with the possibility of showing in a new space, a new environment and a new scene. Many of our artists do not have representation here, so it feels even more natural to invite them to show in LA. Of course they are very excited to come here. After Juliette we’ll be showing Emanuel Rossetti, who is currently in NY preparing his show for LA. In the summer we do a show with Ida Ekblad. We have offered to show in the space on West Washington for six months. What happens after that is not defined, but we’ll definitely continue doing shows in different locations in LA. One of them is already confirmed — a two-person show with Fabian Marti and Lucy Dodd. Lucy has lived in LA for a long time. I think it will be interesting working with her, as her approach to the city is so different. As for LA-based art, I think it completely makes sense to visit as many studios as we can and hopefully see lots of interesting new talents.

 

Juliette Blightman’s first show is called “Eden, Eden, Eden,” evoking Pierre Guyotat’s book from 1985. What does the title imply?

Isabella Bortolozzi named her second space in Berlin “Eden Eden” after the novel. Juliette has done two shows that come out of the same body of work — one for Isabella and one for us. The titles of both shows are a signifier of this tie-up. While our title refers to the space in Berlin, the title for the Berlin show, “Come inside, bitte,” has its roots in a personal story that Juliette, me and some friends experienced together. In that sense Juliette is building this bridge between Europe and LA, which seems a very familiar thing to me. As a European in LA this is what you do. You build bridges.

by Patrick Steffen

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