There is a belief that art is universal—a belief, more often than not, perpetuated by New Yorkers who just happen to live in the city where universality comes to roost. But like the popular axiom about politics, art happens on a local level. Sure, the final product might eventually hang just as nicely in any white-walled space from Moscow to Abu Dhabi (that’s the point of white walls), but all art originates in a specific place with its own social obsessions and regional leanings. Some of the most provocative, potent art being created in the United States today isn’t coming out of New York City but clear across the continent in Los Angeles—and what’s more, those artists aren’t simply raising up their canvases like sun reflectors for NYC approval. It used to be that Ed Ruscha was the lone dignitary forced to represent the entire Southern California scene—his backward Hollywood signs and epic fires raging on vacant landscapes almost suggesting what little cultural value the environment held. But today, thanks to L.A.’s own community-building efforts, artists have moved far out of Ruscha’s shadow. Emerging talents mix with art history’s radical pioneers. Hollywood and consumer culture are consistent references, but so is the terrain of the city
itself, where the sprawling geography and jutting horizontals allow for productions that would be physically or psychologically impossible in the compartmentalized verticality of Manhattan. Experimental galleries and non-profits have exploded. Innovative collectors willing to take risks—and with more wall space than their East Coast counterparts—have risen the stakes. Contemporary art in Los Angeles is not new. But there is no question that in the last few years, a new sense of manifest destiny has electrified the city’s art scene. If art is in essence a conversation, Los Angeles, at the very least, is an opportunity for a new way of talking. It sounds completely different than anywhere else. It sounds very much like the future.
Night Gallery, Nocturnal Art Space
When you think of Los Angeles, you mostly think of the sun. But a lot in L.A. goes down at night. In honor of those late creative hours—or perhaps simply to find an excuse to get together in them—29-year-old artist and Canadian transplant Davida Nemeroff opened Night Gallery last February in a space in a run-down Lincoln Heights strip mall surrounded by taco stalls. L.A. has always been a bastion of unorthodox spaces, from the notorious Ferus Gallery of the 1960s to a recent one, unrelated to the iconic artist Dan Graham, called the Dan Graham gallery. Night Gallery is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from the hours of 10 P.M. to 2 A.M. and is located in a three-room black-walled space that used to be a party-supply store. It may still be something of a party-supply store for Nemeroff and her friends, who can be found hanging out during gallery hours. “It’s about smoking, drinking, and art,” explains Nemeroff, who makes her own art by day and took a number of odd jobs to afford the $850 a month rent to keep the gallery operating. “My own rent money went into this place,” she says. “So I stayed with friends. But I didn’t ever want to live here, because I needed it to operate as a legitimate space.” Just because lots of alcohol and smoke gets consumed doesn’t mean Night Gallery’s program, which usually changes monthly, is any less serious. One recent work by artist Justin Beal consists of a black-garbage-bagwrapped sculptural barricade bisecting the main room, which makes moving through the space at night that much more complicated. “We’ve had some pretty sketchy people visit,” Nemeroff admits. “One night a man came in thinking it was some kind of brothel.” Whether risky or risqué, Night Gallery is definitely about community building.
Jeffrey Deitch, Museum Director
When it was announced earlier this year that gallerist Jeffrey Deitch was going to take the reigns as director of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, many in the West Coast community feared a New York mutiny of their stake in contemporary art. But fans of Deitch’s SoHo gallery could have immediately set Californian minds at ease. Deitch is no invader. He’s a gracious, thoughtful improviser. His biggest asset is his ability to build a community—one, in the 15 years of Deitch Projects, that gave a home to some of the most exciting grass-roots urban art projects ever seen in downtown New York.
One city’s loss is another’s gain, and now the 57-year-old ex-gallerist and current museum head is firmly rooted in Los Angeles: in the hills of Los Feliz to be exact, where Deitch has taken abode in a Spanish-style mansion once owned by Cary Grant (the recent addition of a Richard Woods wall-to-wall installation of cartoonish blue wood paneling with a Vegas-esque light piece by Tim Noble and Sue Webster in the room off the pool certifies that the new resident is more art lover than Hollywood legend—for now). “I’m still just finding my way around,” Deitch says modestly while sitting in a chair by the pool. “I’m immersing myself.” He’s a quick learner. Having tapped artist Doug Aitken to create a happening for the famous moca gala in November, Deitch has already put together a show called “The Artist’s Museum” which frames an institutional dialogue between artists and the museum in its 31-year history. Staying true to his long-held interest in graffiti, Deitch is planning his first monumental exhibition to be this spring’s “Art in the Streets,” an extensive multimedia show devoted to the history of graffiti art. “After Pop art, graffiti is probably the biggest art movement in recent history to have such an impact on culture,” he explains. Deitch’s own impact on Los Angeles culture is starting off with a democratic gesture: art from the ground up.
Elad Lassry, Photographer, Filmmaker
Deceptively simple, aggressively frank, and yet incessantly jarring, the photographic work of Tel Aviv–born artist Elad Lassry has managed to strike such deep nerves in the art world that he has already been claimed as a conceptualist, a realist, a neo-Pictures
Generation artist, a pop recycler, and just about every other genre that has anything to do with objects and their consumption. All of this means, of course, that the 32-year-old artist’s output is as poetic as it is rooted in our cultural climate, toying simultaneously with formal structures and pop-culture signifiers. Lassry, who works out of his East Hollywood studio where he often brings his two black standard-size poodles, has a predilection for shooting still lifes of vegetables and fruits, cosmetics and animals, figurines, and even friends, usually set against bright colored backdrops, occasionally arranged on pedestals, often manipulated so multiple exposures allow for doubling, ghosted images, or a blur. Other times he appropriates from vintage photography, turning stock shots into menacing collages.The audience is left to deal with a series of subjects that should be easy to digest but instead become disarming psychograms. “I’m interested in the status of the picture in the 21st century,” Lassry says. “What happens to the picture outside its many institutions.” If Lassry has freed the image from its usual constraints, he has also freed it from our own expectations. Hollywood, or at least filmmaking, is another institution that he has been tackling in a number of recent film works. He has made films with ballet dancers, actress Radha Mitchell, and, most recently, one that starred a California king snake and the actress Rose Byrne. Many of Lassry’s photographs are even devoted to Hollywood legend Anthony Perkins, in whom the artist first became interested while watching Psycho as a child. It somehow seems fitting that the actor who played a man who played his mother who killed women whom her son had crushes on who then had to clean up all the evidence and make it seem like nothing happened should hold Lassry’s attention. There is a parallel here to the artist’s pictures, where everything seems normal but everything has happened.
Piero Golia, Mixed-media Artist, Professor, Businessman
It’s hard to keep track of the various highly conceptual, devoutly serious, and sometimes utterly hilarious art projects that 36-year-old Piero Golia has going, but it’s easy to know if he’s in town. Earlier this year, the Naples-born artist erected a large white bulb on the roof of the West Hollywood Standard Hotel that is lit when Golia is in L.A. and darkened when he’s not. That may seem a rather pompous gesture, but Golia is no quiet, solitary creator. Not only does he run his own graduate art school (the Mountain School of Art, which operates out of a bar in Chinatown that he started five years ago with artist Eric Wesley), but he has started his own corporate business (called New Atlantis Enterprises, with its office in the Pacific Design Center). “I’m a radical,” he says ingenuously. And he’s right. Golia formed New Atlantis Enterprises because he realized that if art is going to have a large impact in society, then the current operating budget and scale for it is too small. “It will take $24 million to build a wall separating Los Angeles from Orange County,” he says. “In the business world that is nothing. In art, forget it.” When asked why he wants to build this wall, he says, “I think we need it. Walls keep people happy.” Golia may be best known for compacting a 35-foot bus into an art booth in 2008, but he doesn’t always work in three dimensions. At his office, he is currently displaying a piece that consists of ten years of his life in posters—a series of wall hangings from 2003 to 2010 (purposely not ten years) that document everything from grants he didn’t win—“Boycott California Community Foundation”—to a recent snapshot of a taxi which ran into the front of his Hollywood Hills home. Another piece is a photographic diptych of two stacks of cash, each totaling one million dollars. “Thanks to a collector, I borrowed one million from a bank, got it delivered, took the picture, and returned it. Do you know it cost $3,800 to take the money out that long?” By doubling the image, Golia made two million out of one. “People always think I’m joking,” he says. “But I am a serious man.”
George Herms Mixed-Media Artist, Bohemian Pioneer
The closest thing to a West-Coast art shaman, 75-year-old sculptor, painter, assemblage master, and jazz lover George Herms has roots so deep in the Los Angeles creative community that his vertiginous three-dimensional collages could be described as odes to timelessness and decay while unquestionably running on a Pacific Standard clock. Herms, a Californian by birth, who originally studied engineering at Berkeley, decided to pursue a life as an artist when a drifter in a Sacramento bus depot sat down next to him and said, “There’s the makers, the takers, and the fakers. Which will you be?” Around that time, Herms met Wallace Berman, the epic Beat artist, in Topanga Canyon, and even helped him hang his first show in 1957 at the equally epic Ferus Gallery, “when it was behind Streeter Blair’s antique store. You went down a little passage and there was the gallery and John Reed slept under a work bench, courtesy of Ed Kienholz, whose shop it was.” Herms went on to become associated with the influential assemblage Southern-Cal art group Semina, creating found-object poems that range from sculptural balancing acts of detritus to ripped and semantically re-anchored textual wall collages. Herms has a home in Irvine, but he keeps a basement laboratory in a friend’s house in Topanga Canyon, stuffed full of scraps, cuttings, boxes, and rusted metal that look like finished works waiting for the right venue (actually, the studio is the right venue—only the mass audience the works deserve would disrupt the tranquility of the place). “The feeling I get when leaving a jazz club is how I want people to feel when they leave an exhibition of mine,” Herms says. Right now, he is working on the stage setting for an avant-garde opera to be performed at REDCAT, CalArts’ experimental art venue, in 2011—a visual piece that may or may not include spiral staircases, paper plates stamped with Herms’s own mysterious music notes, an abstract sculpture suggesting a giant clarinet, and even the inclusion of a cardiogram screen. The project fuses his deep love of music with his eye for visual pyrotechnics. “This whole town is an opera,” he says.
Chris Burden, Mixed-media Artist, Sculptor, Performance-art Icon
The violent, provoking, groundbreaking performance and duration works by Chris Burden in the 1970s didn’t simply redefine the direction of art (although it did just that by questioning the role of the artist, where art was held, how dangerous it could get, and if viewers were really innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire). Burden’s loaded performances arguably predicted cultural issues— and the viewer response to them—that ranged from escalating gun violence (Burden famously had a bullet shot into his arm in a performance in 1971) to consumer car worship (he also crucified himself on a Volkswagen). Today, residing with his wife, artist Nancy Rubins, in Topanga Canyon, Burden seems less interested in his role as an L.A. art icon to a young generation increasingly returning to performance art than he is in the raw, hyper-masculine, large-scale sculptures that have been consuming his practice for the past two decades. Currently, his warehouse studio, which sits on eight acres of rugged land, is overtaken by his latest ode to car culture: Called Metropolis No. II, the piece is a bigger, faster, and more epically labyrinthine version of a sculpture he created in 2004. This second rendition is a fully motorized boy fantasyland where roughly 1,200 specially produced Matchbox-style cars circulate around undulating tracks every 40 seconds: That means about 100,000 cars an hour fly through this Burden maze at such a velocity that it is impossible to follow a single car. “It’s like freeway noise in miniature,” Burden explains. “The sound adds another level of anxiety. And there are also trains for additional motion, although those are slower than the cars.” The result is like a roaring mechanical waterfall for commuters in a J.G. Ballard dystopia. Burden, whose wilderness of vintage streetlamps permanently adorns the plaza of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, hasn’t stopped working on his other architectural monuments: two stainless-steel Erector set towers stand guard in front of his studio. He’s also currently devising the engineering details for the construction of a miniature zeppelin air balloon.
Kaari Upson, Multimedia, Installation, Video, And Performance Artist, Portraitist
The ongoing project that has consumed multimedia artist Kaari Upson for most of the last decade could possibly only come about in Los Angeles—California is home to some of the strictest anti-stalking laws in the United States. And certainly obsession is a big part of the 38-year-old artist’s oeuvre. But it would be reductive to write off the mesmeric, messy, and psychologically molten productions Upson has staged over the years as a simple case of fixation. Her work delves into anonymity far more than fame, and the results are intense self-portraits even while they focus on somebody else. It all started in 2003, when Upson returned to her childhood neighborhood in San Bernardino, California, to check on her parents’ house as wildfires were raging through the area. She ended up going into the semi-abandoned McMansion across the street. Inside she photographed nearly every corner of the house and discovered a number of boxes of personal items left behind by the owner (soon to be given the name “Larry”). Upson confiscated three boxes containing photographs of the man from the late ’70s and early ’80s (often with young, pretty women in the vein of a Playboy lifestyle), journals that documented his troubled businesses, and forays into demode psychological therapies. These documents—which revealed so many details about a man Upson had never met—became the backbone of a project where identities were created, swapped, interfused, and finally exorcised. “When I was trying to kind of hijack his life and put it together, I was researching how you could assess who somebody is,” Upson says. “For example, I had a graphology [handwriting analysis] report done.” In uncovering the man who is Larry, Upson created a doll, interfused her portrait with his, built a Playboy-type grotto with video-art coves of sexual pleasure and frustration, and even assembled her own doll twin, which was molded and cast in charcoal. Now in her Koreatown studio, she is working on the final stage of her “Larry” project, which involves an inverted version of the staircase of that old McMansion made from a cast molded into the earth. “It’s been like a relationship with myself. But I think it’s time for it to go,” she says about her last tribute to a man she never really knew—or maybe knew better than he ever knew himself.
Rosette Delug, Collector, Trustee, Epic Hostess
The Lawrence Weiner text piece—which reads “Stretched As Tightly As Is Possible (Satin) (Petroleum Jelly)” across the floor of Rosette Delug’s pool—used to be red. A few weeks before she was to host a party for Weiner’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008, a pool man came and accidentally washed the red to a lavender. “I sent Lawrence pictures, and he said he actually liked it that way,” she remembers. “I’m not one to go against the artist’s wishes.” The Turkish-born 60-year-old, who moved to California in 1972, has become one of the biggest personalities in the Los Angeles art world in the last decade, opening her home for parties and serving on the board of overseers for the Hammer Museum (she used to be a MOCA trustee before Eli Broad’s intensified involvement in the museum caused her resignation in 2008). But the clever, outgoing, outrageously funny Delug is also one of the most adventurous collectors in terms of taking a risk on newcomers and more marginalized talents. Sure, the walls of her minimalist Trousdale home feature works by certified stars like Chris Ofili, John Baldessari, Matthew Barney, and Ed Ruscha, but Delug has proven a champion of emerging talents like Scott Campbell, Tomory Dodge, and Mark Manders in a city far less known for chance-taking buyers. “I focused on things I liked,” Delug explains of her collecting instinct. “I really didn’t know better. I hadn’t studied. When I believed in something, I bought it in the first place immediately.” Ironically it was her emotional intuition that first led her into the art world. In 2001, when her marriage was breaking up, Delug flew to New York to spend time with one of her children. By chance, she ran into some friends who were headed to the Armory Show. “I didn’t even know what an Armory Show was,” she says. “But I went and got so excited I ended up buying a few pieces—Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans. When I got home and hung them around my bedroom, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t so alone.” Now Delug has plenty of company.
Sterling Ruby Painter, Mixed-media Artist, Ceramicit, Sculptor
For an artist whose hyperprolific output jumps from inchoate stalagmite sculptures covered in a urethane coat akin to a nail-polish lacquer to a refurbished bus that once transported California prison inmates; from neon-dappled semi-abstract graffiti paintings to one recent video work of masturbating male porn stars, the studio compound of Sterling Ruby is surprisingly organized. Located southeast of Los Angeles in the industrial stretches of Vernon, California (Pennzoil motor oil is produced directly across the street), the artist’s headquarters, staffed by 10 assistants, is divided into five separate workshops for drawing and collage, ceramics, paintings, urethane, and woodwork. Ruby, who was born in Germany but grew up on the East Coast and attended college in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles for graduate school, is probably one of the most accomplished material-jumping art stars of the last decade. He’s known for producing bright, pop-colored works that belie more sorrowful, failed underpinnings—as if the 38-year-old’s sculptures can’t seem to organize themselves into a form and the canvases can’t cohere to produce a single order. This, of course, can be read as a structural breakdown or the beginning of new possibilities. “I’ve found a pretty happy route in using a lot of different mediums,” he explains. “Even video. I feel very capable of picking it up without preconceived rules and regulations to make it work.” Currently, Ruby has two different bodies of work taking up most of the activity of his studio. One is a series of Mexican scrap-metal sculptures, many of which seem to be shaped like guns, which was inspired by a recent stay at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, near the Mexican border. The second is a number of large ceramic basins glazed in vibrating colors and filled with broken shards that reflects Ruby’s “basin theology” (his belief that in placing past work in these containers, he might reclaim his futile gestures). In a sense, these pieces may be the receptacles of Ruby’s past mistakes, but they are also small monuments celebrating their own subsistence.
Eugenio Lopez, Collector, Trustee, Future Museum Head
In his native Mexico City, Eugenio Lopez is known as the dashing heir to the Jumex fruit-juice–company fortune and the radical art patron who is responsible for Mexico’s most prized collection of contemporary works. In fact, the 43-year-old Lopez is currently planning the construction of a monumental museum to house the collection in downtown Mexico City (for now the collection exists in the northern outskirts of the city inside the Jumex factory compound). No matter how much cultural weight Lopez has brought to his homeland, Los Angeles is where the collector feels most at home—and it is where he first became obsessed with contemporary art. He moved to the city in 1994 and started his own art gallery. “I opened it on Roberston Boulevard representing Latin American artists because I needed an excuse to live outside of Mexico City,” he remembers. “I could convince my father that it was a business.” Although the gallery is long gone, his interest in art has only grown. Lopez’s influence on the L.A. art scene is now seismic. Not only is he on the board of trustees at the MOCA, his massive collection travels all over the country and abroad, gaining pieces at every turn and often promoting Latin American stars. “We have over 2,400 pieces in the collection, and I change it around, even in my home, all the time,” he says. Lopez’s own sleek international-style house, tucked in the hills of Trousdale, is studded with contemporary masters: Richard Prince joke paintings, a Damien Hirst formaldehyde cow head, a Tracey Emin neon sign, a yellow aluminum Jeff Koons elephant sculpture in the back garden—even a Cy Twombly scribble painting in the bedroom that covers the television set. If there is a sense of the playboy in the scion’s collecting attitude, there is also a clear message that he is building a legacy.
Artist Curated Projects, A Radical Artist-for-and-by Artist Collective
Artist Curated Projects cannot be accused of false advertising. The grassroots, pro-artistic-freedom endeavor was the brainchild of artists Eve Fowler (a highly prolific photographer) and Lucas Michael (a multimedia artist). “I remember we were on a hike together in 2008, talking about art,” 46-year-old Fowler says about the project’s genesis. “We were saying how we knew so many friends who made great work that no one knew about. It occurred to us to ask artists to curate a show for us.” ACP was born in the summer of 2008 out of Folwer’s apartment in Hollywood—in a building memorable to anyone passing down its hidden alley for a frieze of writer Jack London on its façade (the site was originally an art school founded by sculptor Finn Haakon Frolich, and London used to stay here when he visited L.A.). “We’re a no budget operation,” explains Michael. “And our projects tend to have a queer bend. The evolution has been really organic, and now about 135 artists are involved.” Early projects saw sculptures, ceramics, and video work installed across Fowler’s room floors (as well as up walls, on top of the dining room table, and hanging from the ceiling). Participants included K8 Hardy, Tony Payne, and Amanda Ross-Ho, and while there is an ad-hoc feel about the setting, the result is emotionally and intellectually invested. It wasn’t long before ACP spilled out of Fowler’s home and found provisional satellites around the city. Other artist’s houses, non-profit art spaces, online, and even, for a recent series of artist-led tea ceremonies, at the iconic Schindler House. Fowler and Michael are supplying a platform to build a creative cross-pollinating community outside of the usual commercial or museum setting. Community is so essential that our photograph of ACP needs to include one editor note: Fowler and Michael went to great lengths not to be the center of this photograph. And we apologize if they appear any more significant here than the equally invaluable artists who encircle them.
Matt Chambers, Painter
Very few artists admit to painting with their glasses off, but very few artists paint so prolifically and—more to the point—so arbitrarily as 28-year-old Matt Chambers. Originally from Boise, Idaho, Chambers initially came to L.A. for film school but dropped out, opened a short-lived closet-sized gallery space in Chinatown, and eventually began making his own art. Today he produces drawings, books, and paintings in an industrial studio space he shares with artist Brendan Fowler in Atwater Village. Chambers’s large rectangular canvases, often thick with layers of oil paint, have the energy and giddy imprecision that suggest a deeper interest in getting the image down than making it right. The subject matter comes from an onslaught of “classical” sources—junk mail, advertising fliers, magazines, and basically whatever else lands near the artist’s feet to grab his attention (he tends to shy away from Internet searches). In effect, Chambers seems to be taking an anti-conceptualist stance with his work, refusing to play philosopher, spiritual guide, and translator for his audience. “I never have to deal with the repercussions of how people are going to read my paintings,” he says. Here, process is more important than product. “It’s never about finishing a picture,” he swears. “That’s why I’ll work on 40 canvases at a time.” When a canvas becomes too loaded, he will rip it into strips and create sculptural paintings by weaving the strips together. For a recent show at the UNTITLED gallery in New York, Chambers swore he sent the nearly 40 canvases without giving direction on what the gallery should do with them in terms of their exhibition. “That ends up reading to me like, ‘artist as tastemaker’ and ‘artist as arranger,’ ” he muses. Certainly, even a refusal to play the game of the art institution is playing the game, but Chambers fresh, free-flying tactic of swallowing and spitting out is about as alive as painting can get these days.
Zackary Drucker Performance Artist, Filmmaker
The most memorable work to date by 27-year-old performance artist Zackary Drucker may well be a piece entitled The Inability To Be Looked At and the Horror of Nothing to See, staged four times in 2009, where Drucker lays on a table wearing only underwear and a blond wig with a steel ball in her mouth. A prerecorded tape of Drucker’s voice instructs audience members to pluck out body hairs with provided sets of tweezers. The artist’s tone is reminiscent of guided spiritual meditations while she consoles her listeners for their sadistic hair-pulling act with pronouncements like, “Don’t be afraid, the bitch can take it.” This piece has come to represent the duality of Drucker’s work: a direct, unapologetic confrontation between the audience and her body, gender, and voice. “I wrote that piece in the summer of 2008, when I was participating in a performance-art boot camp in the Mojave Desert run by Ron Athey and Julie Tolentino,” says the upstate New York native, who moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to attend school at CalArts. Drucker seems to have learned a lot from such performance-art masters—and in fact, she lives and works in a Silverlake apartment that Athey leases, where a few scenes of Bruce LaBruce’s queer L.A. cult film Hustler White (1996) was filmed. Drucker, a transgender artist whose work often celebrates and amplifies the viewer’s inability to affix easy norms and codes, is one of the leading participants in a new generation that is rediscovering performance as a space for revolt, expression, and creative bedlam. Drucker has also been incorporating film and video into her practices—often collaborating with other queer and transgender performers in overt, uncompromising, sexually vocal works. In You Will Never, Ever Be a Woman . . . Drucker and Van Barnes, who Drucker describes as a close friend and sort of sister, demean and embrace each other in a domestic setting, demanding privacy while playing up for the camera. “I’ve always been interested in mixing signals,” Drucker says. “I don’t think any of us are easily defined. Trans people have a tendency to adhere to normative culture, but I think all the rules and truths are being redefined.”
Brendan Fowler, Multimedia Artist, Occasional Rock Star
Previously known for his rock act/performance piece/performance piece-disguised-as-a-rock act, BARR (for an example of this theoretical knot, please listen to BARR’s track “The Song Is The Single”), 32-year-old Brendan Fowler has recently emerged as one of the most intrepid artists coming out of Los Angeles. As with his music, Fowler’s visual productions operate in a series of aggressive negations and reassertions—often one image literally crashing through or canceling out another, but only to have the second image further the narrative of the first. Sound confusing? It really isn’t. “For years I performed as a deconstructive pop band,” he says in the Atwater Village studio—which used to be the warehouse for Beastie Boys–approved clothing line, X-Large—that he shares with artist Matt Chambers. “So the music dealt with narrative and formal arrangements, but I was also appropriating from improvised music and free-jazz compositional structures.” Take for example a series of posters of a 2008 musical tour Fowler was supposed to go on with the band Deerhunter. He was not the headliner nor was the tour cancelled—only BARR’s appearance—but Fowler spelled out “Cancelled” over screen prints of the poster which had already been cancelled out by his application of white paint over the information; he then cancelled out the cancellation by printing letters over those letters, which reinstates the act of cancellation. This may sound like a lot of rhetorical gamesmanship, but many of his sculptural paintings, where multiple frames are stacked on top of each other or smashed together, are quite biographical. In his various flower studies—a subject, according to Fowler, that announces itself as a high aesthetic but in doing so already proves itself to be an exhausted motif—one of the image layers is a shot of a computer screen, recording the exact time and file name of the flower image it is bisecting. Many recent works contain white Masonite sheets, another piece of memoir. “I almost got killed by it,” Fowler recalls. “Thirty sheets fell on me when I was in the studio alone and I was pinned there until my friends finally showed up to save me.”
Land: Los Angeles Nomadic Division, Multi-platform, All-terrain, Non-profit Art Organization
When former Whitney curator Shamim Momin moved from New York to Los Angeles in early 2009, many of her peers thought she was leaving the epicenter of art activity for the wild west. But the truth was the 37-year-old curator had been coming out to Los Angeles for years on the hunt for fresh, untapped talent. “Historically, the L.A. art community has always been interesting, but it really feels like it’s gathering a critical mass over the last few years in an exciting way,” she says. Momin linked up with another former New York curator, Christine Y. Kim, who is now associate curator of contemporary art at the Los Angles County Museum of Art to form the ambitious non-profit art organization Los Angeles Nomadic Division (a.k.a. LAND), which basically turns the entire city landscape into potential art exhibition sites. “At this point I can’t look at anything without thinking about it as a venue,” she says. LAND’s various projects tackle long-term multi-platform productions such as the year-long “VIA” which brings significant Mexican artists to public sites around L.A., like Yoshua Okon, whose video of 15 pit bulls was shown on the walls of a hot dog stand by the pier in Santa Monica last September. But they also organize more roving one-night fetes for emerging talents. Last October LAND hosted a video and lecture by Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe in the historic Schindler Buck House. Momin, Kim, and her team of associates (Taylor Livingston and William Parks, among others) don’t just see the Pacific Ocean as their horizon lines. While based in L.A., LAND is aiming to stretch its creative opportunities all over the globe. They are already planning an exhibition in Marfa, Texas, in fall 2011, but first LAND is taking over an island—at least for a night—in Miami during Miami Art Basel.
Kori Newkirk, Multimedia Artist
Most mornings Kori Newkirk takes the bus to his studio in downtown L.A., making him one of the few established artists not reliant on a car. “I haven’t had a car in a year,” he says. “With so much of the art world imploding lately and funding changing, I figured that when my car died I really didn’t need it.” There is something of this scrap-the-past-and-start-over mentality about the 40-year-old artist’s own career, which has already experienced several distinct progressions in the last decade: from this former New Yorker’s rising-star status as a “post-black” artist making decorative paintings to his more complicated media-driven installations in recent years. Now Newkirk seems to be undergoing another creative metamorphosis. “I’m trying to figure out again what it means to be an artist,” he says. “It’s a re-investigation. I’m playing around in my studio.” Most artists of Newkirk’s generation have been boxed into specific mediums or motifs, but Newkirk has always resisted easy classifications. At a recent solo show at the Schindler House, he added black circular magnets with jagged edges to windows, which had the sense of sunspots. “I’m really into science fiction these days,” he explains. “But I also realized that if I lived in a house like that one, it would be all shot up, and the windows would be riddled with bullets.” Another piece in that show was a circular pattern of T-shirts arranged on the floor, covered in sweat and dirt. One day at the studio he realized that his own shirt stains looked almost like tie-dye. Tie dye is traditionally a hippie symbol, but Newkirk says, “that sculpture had to do with labor. My parents might have wanted to enjoy the Summer of Love but they couldn’t. They were working. ‘I’d love to be outside with you but I have to be in here scrubbing floors.’ ” Let’s hope Newkirk never gets stuck in classifications.