dayoutlast is a record of my direct engagement with mostly contemporary art, mostly Los Angelean.

As this blog has evolved since its 2010 inception, so has my perspective. What I once perceived as central within the investigation was what was central, literally, within the photographic frame that I shared here. While still an important consideration, such thinking has also given way to more peripheral considerations, ones also accompanied occasionally by text (written manifestation of thought) and the oscillations between them. What's missing here are larger unknowns surrounding issues of presentation and representation; the amount of time and space it actually takes to accomplish such first-hand observations; and the quandaries between documentation and interpretation.

Despite my attempt to communicate here with image and text what is essential in some respect about the artwork, neither representation should ever be considered a substitution for the primary viewing experience. Of course, occasionally there are exceptions.

Most of the time, these posts are merely remnants---residual fragments---from my last day out.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Part 3 of 3, A conversation with Michael Ned Holte about Made in L.A. 2014 @ Hammer Museum

As a slight departure from its typical form, dayoutlast is pleased to finally share the third part of an in-depth conversation with Michael Ned Holte regarding the 2014 iteration of Made in L.A. at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California.  While initially conceived as a single-day, real time conversation via email, the unsurprising reality is that because of the breadth and depth of the exhibition as well as the dialogue surrounding it (our own included), it took much longer than one day to discuss.  As such, it was decided to break it down into three parts and post each one separately, sequentially, and intermittently.  The actual conversation for Part Three resumed this past May 2016 with the goal to finish before the next biennial opened.

While the deadline may seem out of character, it in fact, has more to do with scheduling and perceived deadlines on my part.  It was also my hope to gain greater perspective through distance of time to discover what aspects of such a momentous exhibition may actually hold two (or more) years later.  It's also worth considering a longer period of digestion for Art in general and, somehow, the canny timings of Michael and I's involvement with this exhibition, his as a critic and curator mine as a preparator, also makes it appropriate to share the final part on the eve of the next one. Moreover, it's worth keeping in mind that what appears in the media time-wise may not always be as it actually is in the workings of things. For example, Michael wrote his own review of the 2012 biennial in June of 2012; he was invited to curate in September of that year (his review was published within that very same week).  Perhaps more significantly, the exhibition itself is given a date by virtue of its cause,  "Made in L.A. 2014," while much of the work is actually "made" a year or more prior. For these reasons, time and timing become a focal point to consider the reception of Made in L.A. 2014, Made in L.A. more generally, not to mention the broader scope of biennial's and their purpose for Art-making. So, it is with such considerations in mind that we turn to a final part, to attempt some sort of conclusion and to make good on something we started nearly two years ago.

With Part One already posted here and Part Two posted here, Part Three resumes well past the original planning, in fact on the very eve of Made in L.A. 2016.

JL: I’m sure most of us in most respects have moved on pretty quickly from Made in L.A. 2014, at least in practical terms.  On the other hand, here we are resuming a discussion which started mid-August of 2014 about the exhibition, and it is now a year and a half later after its closing.  Which is to wonder how such an intense condensation of participants for a relatively short period of time would have any impact on our new present (the current state of the future).  Such a course, even for those works selected however few, does indeed take time to digest. At various points in the first parts of our discussion, we touched upon elements that I thought might push toward deeper connections (at least for me) and further toward thoughts about commonalities in concept or theme.  If yours and Connie’s Venn diagrams, so to speak, were nearly overlapped, then I wonder if the show overlaps well in certain areas and what those ideas would be (about).

MNH: Indeed, I do feel distance from "our" Made in L.A. two years ago: I've been deep in the trenches at CalArts, I've organized three other exhibitions, and have taken on multiple writing projects since. But, in many ways I still remain close to the exhibition by staying close to most of the artists in it--and I've written longer texts on Alice Könitz, Clarissa Tossin, Marcia Hafif, and Public Fiction since. I've also stayed close to many of the ideas in the exhibition--and in terms of the Venn diagram I think it's important to realize that Connie and I had many conversations, and there were certain ones we both came back over and over. I think if you look at our respective catalogue essays you'll get some idea of what specific issues we were focusing on at that time, but we overlapped on quite a few-- what I termed microinstitutions and the artistic communities they represent; the ongoing importance of painting in Los Angeles; the possibility of making political art, including artists working directly as activists (A.L. Steiner, many of the KCHUNG members) or addressing politics more historically or poetically (Juan Capistràn, Clarissa Tossin, and even Piero Golia, who was questioning the symbols of democracy--Jennifer Moon might count in both categories I'm putting forward here). We were quite interested in the social connections between artists, but also the opposite of that, which is to say artists working in relative solitude. We were also both still reeling from the recent death of Mike Kelley and were imagining what the Los Angeles art world might be or become after him. In some ways our inclusion of an exhibition of Tony Greene and his circle was a very delayed reaction to his legacy and a specific reaction to the AIDS crisis among a group of Los Angeles artists, but that gesture was also urgently addressing the constancy of loss and the fragility of social groups and historical moments. Which remains true in the present. There were many more ideas, surely, but these are the ones that I remember very clearly.

JL: What is the purpose of a biennial--of Made in LA?  Is this show a random (core) sampling or how are we to think about the conversation of works one to another?  Certainly, the assumption is that any biennial would be less about a core sampling of geography and more about one of time, one with its time to be more precise and how it reflects a moment.  Granted, the most illustrious one, the one in Venice, Italy, is organized around National Identities, certainly a quaint notion in many respects these days as we see our selves in many respects as trans-national, global citizens.  How much did your 2013 viewing of Venice Biennale structure your plans for Made in LA and how does Made in LA accomplish its own sense of contemporaneity? Such an awkward word…

MNH: I think every biennial serves a different function, and the purpose of Made in L.A. is quite different than Venice in nearly every respect--except for the time-frame. Venice is organized around national pavilions, but beyond the pavilions is also heavily thematic, which is what the curator or "artistic director" brings to it. For many years, it's served as a kind of thesis statement; Documenta too. These are also city-wide efforts: They are intended to bring people, meaning the art world, what Jack Bankowsky usefully referred to as a "tent community," but also a broader public--and tourist dollars--to Venice and Kassel. Many biennials are aimed at tourists. I never felt that was the primary ambition of Made in L.A., or of Annie Philbin at the Hammer. I always felt it was for the local crowd. But that gets us back to the peculiarity of Los Angeles, which is a global city where thousands of artists live and work, but is also in many ways a weirdly hermetic, inward-looking art world. Connie addressed that tension in her essay, as she has elsewhere. But with the recent attention (and approval!) the Los Angeles art world has been receiving in The New York Times and The Guardian, this biennial, which started in 2012, along with Pacific Standard Time just before it, marks the beginning of a new era for this global burg. Economically, I suspect that's true, but we're not Venice yet, and never will be. For better I'd say.

We sometimes used the term "core sample" to describe the selection for Made in L.A., but I think it's more of a picture of what's happening at a given time, or a mapping. I supposed a constellation of core samples also provides a kind of map... Metaphors are always limited. We started with a few artists or projects we felt totally certain about, and the exhibition was shaped around that. Connie and I really wanted to make it an exhibition rather than an array of discrete projects. I hope that difference is clearly understood. An exhibition is both rhetorical and gestural, and as I'm arguing, we were interested in ideas and gestures but not necessarily about making a big thesis statement. That's somebody else's biennial.

JL: While thinking about the evolving art identity of Los Angeles as it relates to the rest of the world (something I am assuming most biennials are doing to varying degrees, appealing to a broad global audience), I would like to think about a progression that may fall nearly in line with your introduction to LA and its art making perhaps via your first vist to MOCA that you mention.  During this time period, there was an exhibition titled Made in LA (1995) involving John Baldessari and Chris Burden); a few years later there was an all-encompassing Y2K show at LACMA titled Made In California (2000); and then there was Pacific Standard Time (2012), yet another expected end of the world year.  While the first two examples share in its title “made,” the latter really was the all-encmpasssing southern California regional blockbuster.  I think many of us got many strands of SoCal art history out of our systems or at least discovered new ones.  While I would never hold you to all of this as germaine to Made in LA 2014, I can’t help but wonder how they might connect and how “making” is or is not important to yours and Connie’s version; how much yours was a deflection away from past histories to present moments that root elsewhere outside of the “cool school” as one example; how exactly is a biennial responsible for representing the art-making identity of a local region; and with these progressions of increasing intensity, has LA “made” it? For so long, it was thought to be a frontier, a hinterland, a wide open space for exploration of well, space.  And now, it seems the influx of art commerce into LA in the past four years is unprecedented here. Such an exciting time and such a lot to grapple, such complicated questions here...

MNH: Funny that you remember a MOCA show called Made in LA from my earliest visit to that museum. I don't remember that title, but I totally believe you. It's a very generic title. I mean, I really never liked the title. I don't like the abbreviation of "Los Angeles" into "L.A.," because the latter always suggests a fantasy about the city from outside, while the former represents the city as it actually is--which is to say a multiplicity of things. When I reviewed the first edition of Made in L.A. for Artforum, I said, "Lost on nobody was the fact that this energetic survey of sixty artists and collectives... capped nearly a year of the exhibitions and festivities making up 'Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980,' as if to say, 'Hey, this is what’s going on now; you probably missed it while you were out getting your art-history lesson.'" I also am reminded--as I often am--of Norman Klein's insightful History of Forgetting, which I referred to in a review I wrote of Pacific Standard Time where I discuss an ongoing effort to get this city's city right. All that said, our exhibition was a kind of picture of what we were seeing and comprehending and intuiting in 2013--and speaking of contemporaneity, the biennial is always about what happened the year before the biennial! But we were particularly interested in things that had developed since the 2012 biennial (which would have been researched in 2011), and there were a number of projects like KCHUNG and Public Fiction and Alice's Los Angeles Museum of Art that were clearly making an impact on the Los Angeles art world. The impetus for the Hammer's biennial, as I understood it, was to attend to the new or overlooked, and we wanted to be attentive to those recent emergences, even if that wasn't the entire consideration.

JL: What criteria were you using to organize the show? Did you use the same criteria to evaluate it? If not, what criteria seemed more apropos at the end of 2014 and then now? When we suggested seeing this third part through, you were wondering what you would actually remember.  This is the part I think that is most valuable to thinking about such world-staged events and what actually has lasting power.  Perhaps I am trying to tie something together that doesn’t want to be.  Perhaps because there is no consistent logic as a whole is to a point (that all systems fail eventually and that exceptions to systems are often the best parts) about MILA and possibly art in general. That said, what themes/theses are central? Peripheral? Which ones defer/resist?

MNH: Not to be flip, but I felt like my work in organizing the 2014 biennial was critical and an inevitable extension of my review of the 2012 version for Artforum. That review established my criteria to a large degree, even though I had no clue I'd be curating one of the next one when I wrote it. And, given that logic, I felt the 2014 version is best evaluated by anyone other than me. (And, perhaps inevitably, my review of 2012 became a part of the narrative in quite a few of the reviews of 2014.) But as a critic who sometimes organizes exhibitions, I am always excited to receive the critical assessment of others. I like the way in Tom Lawson and Christopher Knight addressed the politics of the exhibition, which not everyone did. I also think Neha Choksi's review in X-Tra was really thoughtful, both tough and generous, and it's also interesting to consider that it's coming from an artist-critic based in Mumbai who has lived in worked in Los Angeles. She keeps coming back to the idea of staging and process--that what we exhibited was, in many cases, work in process or work coming into being. I'd argue that one could also think about much of it--Public Fiction, KCHUNG TV, James Kidd Studio--in terms of performance, which is essentially what those projects were, and are. I'm really interested in performance as a model. I guess I'm even more interested in how the exhibition might eventually play into a historical account or understanding of the Los Angeles art world ten or twenty years from now. I don't know if the exhibition will be part of that account, but I know many of its participants will be.

JL: Clearly, the modesty in number and in scale of artists involved in MILA 2014 did not seek collective, holistic representation of the Los Angeles artistic landscape at large in any literal way as one might want to take from your microclimate metaphor in the catalog. Certainly, artist operations more at the periphery/fringes are not exemplified, excepting Marcia Hafif, for example, who may be “fringe” in many respects for that matter (and Laguna Beach, technically not even close to LA physically though may embody the “dream” more than LA proper). Also cf. Ann Philbin's introduction in the catalog which sets up a more East/West axis literally in her perception and laudatory remarks of your curatorial survey of LA. She mentioned everything from Highland Park (east) to Venice (west).  I noticed she didn’t name drop Wilmington or Canoga Park, for example (to also include artists working in southern and northern parts of LA as well).  Such an east/west paradigm also suggests how our country polarizes these days, certainly where art is concerned.  So, this version of the show as a whole does not think about place as much as people (despite its title) at least in terms of representation (yes, there are exceptions).

MNH:  I like your analysis of this. You know the city better than any Uber driver. The reality is that there are a number of significant clusters of artist's studio in the greater Los Angeles area, and as you also know as well as anyone there are a significant number of artists who don't work in one of those clusters. There were so many days when Connie and I drove to Glassell Park for studio visits--sometimes taking separate cars, in ridiculous Los Angeles fashion--that I wanted to rename the exhibition Made in Glassell Park. But in reality we drove all over the place, and beyond the East/West paradigm you mention, there was Valencia, Arcadia, Inglewood, and yes, Laguna Beach! Of course Laguna could only be "Los Angeles" in some fantasy way--and on that note perhaps I should also mention I visited Marcia Hafif's other studio in Lower Manhattan, too. A handful of the artists were working in New York by the time we put the final list together. So, that really stretches the map. But I was as interested in social or even psychological microclimates as much as geographical ones. The Frimkesses have been working in the same house/studio for forty-some years. They're a block away from Abbott Kinney, which certainly looks like "civilization" these days, but they were remarkably removed and almost hermetically sealed, at least when I first visited. Magdalena is 86 and just had her first solo shows in Milan and Santiago, so she's on the go these days.

JL: MILA progression. 2012 to 2016: Privy to the current one as I saw it last week, I can say that this biennial has evolved further and further away from embracing emerging artists and popular gallery artists to ones of an increasingly diverse background and track record.  The Hammer’s own Now Dig This! also comes to mind as a highly influential one on this show.  Formally, there is an increasing tend [[tendency + trend?]] toward isolated works and less dialogue across/within spaces of the museum.  More like a biennial, I guess.

MNH: 'm really excited to see it, and I'm happy to come to it as a viewer rather than as a participant. And I'm all in favor of it being a very different exhibition. It should be, and that's what I said Hamza and Aram early in their process. Not that they needed my encouragement--it will inevitably be a different show. They are telling us what they saw and were compelled by in 2015. I know exactly half the artists well, so I expect to learn a lot.

JL: We started this conversation with a notion of multiplicity.  There are potentially an infinite number of ways to consider this show, what do you want viewers to take away from this show? While I would want to say that there is something for everyone, there might not be. Actually, I’m sure there isn’t. Final thoughts?

MNH: Funny, I don't think I ever worry too much about what I want a viewer to take away. Which isn't to say I'm not interested in what viewers take away. Rather, I think I'm interested in sharing what I find compelling in the art works or artists I'm working with and hope it registers in some way. If I'm doing things well, others will find it compelling too. But I'm all in favor of multiplicity--multiple encounters, multiple responses. I did so many walkthroughs and talks during the exhibition and always enjoyed seeing things through viewers' eyes. And along with that, I enjoyed the dialogue it produced or provoked. I always do, which is probably why my primary work is in the classroom. And it probably explains why we're finally finishing this conversation. So, I'm happy that the exhibition is still producing dialogue.