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January 2011, The Artist's Museum @ MOCA, Los Angeles


Installation view of the The Artist's Museum at MOCA Grand Avenue, October 31 2010 - January 31 2011
Photo by Brian Forrest


The Artist's Museum
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art
250 South Grand Avenue & 152 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
31 October, 2010, through 31 January 2011


As a first-time visitor to Los Angeles, I was immediately struck by the extreme contrast in temperament to Berlin, the city I’ve been based in for the last four years. Indeed, Los Angeles seems the polar opposite to Berlin in countless ways. While both cities are famous for having a laidback attitude, the similarity here is a deceptive one: Berlin’s laidbackness is rooted in a general malaise of lethargy fueled by the depressive reality of endless Siberian winters and the 24-hour availability of alcohol and other quick-fix substances, while sunny La-La Land’s seems more of an attitude, a pose that serves as a convenient mask for a range of sociopathic personality types that have historically been drawn to the city.

 



Installation view of the The Artist's Museum at MOCA Grand Avenue, October 31 2010 - January 31 2011
Photo by Brian Forrest

 

Today, with its stripmall sleaze and exploding homeless population, LA is as much a convenient mirror for its host country’s rapid decay as it is a hotbed for artistic production and consumption. As Hollywood is already slipping down the same mudslide that has completely devoured the mainstream music industry, the city’s last vestiges of cultural credibility have shifted to its art schools. If you are talented (or connected) enough to get into one of them and rich enough to afford the exorbitant tuition fees (or don’t mind the uncertainty of paying off student loans), chances are high that you will graduate into instant gallery representation catering to an elite of Beverly Hills collectors.

True, LA has always had a market, as well as a sad inferiority complex whenever perched next to New York’s massively inflated ego. But Los Angeles has long been home to an impressive art scene that lacks most of the qualities that have made New York so unbearable for the last two decades. I’m sure visiting New Yorkers can’t help but feel at least a tinge of envy for the relative lack of back-stabbing competitiveness, to name but one of the more virulent soul-destroying symptoms of a milieu that has come to be dominated by hyper-capitalism. LA’s art culture can and should be the envy of most cities. While its culture of laidbackness might be a put-on, the sincere interest that a sizeable portion of the population displays towards art is not, as the all-around enthusiasm witnessed at an afternoon visit to The Artist's Museum at the Museum of Contemporary Art evidenced.

A celebration of the museum’s thirty-plus years of existence, the exhibition features work by more than 146 local artists. All the big LA art stars are here: McCarthy with his big fat gelatinous shit sculptures (graciously, the curators have spared us the videos), Ruscha with his punning word paintings, Jason Rhoades’s macho messiness – heck, they even threw in a room of Devo videos. And why not? For Los Angeles has always been keen on responding to the lure of eccentricism when other parts of the country have turned their backs – including, again, New York, which rarely has time to digest anything that won’t obviously sell.

 


Installation view of the The Artist's Museum at MOCA Grand Avenue, October 31 2010 - January 31 2011
Photo by Brian Forrest

 

Littered among MOCA’s visual arts parallel to the Hollywood “Walk of Fame” are lesser-known names aching for discovery. Among them, you’ll find the blocklike simplicity of Laura Owens’s forms, which are formations from the natural world “edited” on to the canvas of Untitled, 2000, to form an imaginary landscape. Against pastel mountains and a placid sea, a skinny malnourished branch claws at the horizon, specks of buds flecked in the breeze. This painting is hung expertly next to Dave Muller’s acrylic renderings of LP covers depicted from the side, so that all we can read are their battered and worn titles, forging (for those with the musical knowledge) a synaesthetic peculiarity that arises as a result of alphabeticization: how else would one find the Isley Brothers on the same bill as Joy Division?

As a Berliner, I still can’t help but be perplexed by the amount of art that has been produced here in spite of a seeming absence of melancholia in the local hydration system. Perhaps it’s a product of the general sense of unreality that most Los Angelinos I met seem to be dwelling in. I don’t mean this as a criticism; on the contrary, I’m fascinated by it. Whatever it all really means, Los Angeles has already realized both of the major predictions of 20th century art: that everyone can be an artist (Joseph Beuys) and that everyone will one day be famous for fifteen minutes (Andy Warhol.) The question remains open as to whether either of these conditions is desirable.

 


Installation view of the The Artist's Museum at The Geffen Contempoary at MOCA, October 31 2010 - January 31 2011
Photo by Brian Forrest

 


Installation view of the The Artist's Museum at The Geffen Contempoary at MOCA, October 31 2010 - January 31 2011
Photo by Brian Forrest

 

Travis Jeppesen

Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio. 

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