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.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Part 2 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 host and share the second part of an in-depth conversation with Michael Ned Holte regarding the most recent iteration of Made in L.A. 2014 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 Two resumed on September 7, 2014.  It was three-weeks to the date after the first one, and it also happened to be the last day for the exhibition itself.  So, with Part One already posted here, the second part of the conversation continues below, as follows:

Note: This post begins with Holte's final comment from Part One in order to restart the conversation with some semblance of continuity.

Michael Ned Holte (MNH): Well, I think I can say we didn't intend for the show to be a smorgasbord or a 35-course prix fixe tasting menu. Maybe I'm not able to commit to a dining analogue here because there are some works or artists that demand more time than others--I'm thinking about performance works that come and go, that one might not even see, but also about Sarah Rara's 65 minute video The Pollinators. Which leads me to think a farm or a community garden might a better metaphor for a show that demands continued attention. By now I'm hungry again.

Harsh Patel
I think there is a kind of assumed "order" to the show, but also ways in which that order is easily subverted or dismissed. For example, someone might come in the back door rather than through the lobby; or someone might go to galleries 4 and 5 before 1 and 2--and there are forking paths offered when one arrives at either set of galleries. The works in the courtyard might be encountered peripherally first and foremost. And Harsh Patel's work in the exterior windows is, as you've noted, highly visible--as "public" as it gets--but in relation to the rest of the show it might be the most elusive. This seems rather fitting given his critical approach to the expectations of design and mass communication.

There are places where the spatial logic of "one artist after another" is interrupted or intruded upon--Emily Mast's "accumulation station" butts up against Channing Hansen's knitted paintings in that way, perhaps in an awkward way, as you've noted. I think we were interested in tension as much as egalitarianism. Emily's occasional performances throughout the museum, not to mention the way the sound from her two videos carries through space, also function as a kind of intrusion in the routine.

Brian O'Connell
I'm really excited about the way that Channing's work intersects with Devin Kenny's installation which leads to or from Brian O'Connell. There's a way in which all three of them are thinking about technology and material histories of technologies--obsolescence, in a nutshell--that provides a kind of cohesion despite the vastly different material or aesthetic outcomes. There are some definite thematic motifs running through the show, either threaded together or acting as punctuation marks. I've been thinking about the connection of Max Maslansky to Barry Johnston to Mariah Garnett on the other side of the show as the "masculine anxiety corridor." 

Foreground: Max Maslansky
Background: Barry Johnston
Photo appears courtesy of Brian Forrest

There are also obvious political threads, sexual threads, a recurring interest in the spectrum, and many more [in the overall]. Some of these were legible in the planning of the show, some might be the result of intuition and a collaborative process. (As noted earlier, we didn't always know exactly what the work would be until it was made--after the floor plan was largely determined.) And needless to say, a show organized by more than one person will generally open up multiple readings, if not myriad possibilities.

I find different works have a different gravitational pull on me on different occasions seeing the show. I'm curious which works have been pulling on you.

Justin Lowman (JL): I agree that all systems, metaphors, analogues, representations (whatever we decide to call them) will have exceptions. In fact, I think the best art revels in as much.  This is what I like about Emily Mast's. Unfortunately, I don't like how her system breaks down in proximity to Channing Hansen's.  That gallery as whole would have benefited from a blank wall sans sculpture on the floor (or hanging from the ceiling).  While I agree that certain juxtapositions can be productive (for some reason the Thanksgiving dinner plate sprung to mind), I find the more discrete works to be more compelling over all.  And I take your point well that there are many paths to approach the show. Funnily enough, in all my visits, my path went about the same. I suppose it was set up for me by the fact that I drove and parked below; I'm assuming that the majority did.  To my direction, I'm also interested in navigating space without repetition and I know that place well. So, that habit would play into my version of the viewing experience.  

Lecia Dole-Recio
Regarding the food metaphor, which I still think is a good one, rather than thinking of it as a dining experience, per se (certainly repeat visits are in "order"), I think it's more important to think about the picture of consumption, not so much literally (of course, if someone were to present such an opportunity, I would have obliged) but rather how our five senses consume the information given (the data, let's call it, from the Latin).  So, what's before us is a meal that each chef has prepared (potential cultivators I agree).  If the meal were good, I would likely have an instant reaction of pleasure.  This would mean that I would have some level of familiarity already and my body would receive it well. For me, this is how Lecia Dole-Recio's work always seems to satisfy in both form and concept.
On the other hand, there could also be something that I may not instantly like,  but yet there's something about it that compels me to take another bite. So, in this instance, it would somehow be less familiar but something in it, I would know.  Perhaps Gabriel Kuri's exterior pieces work for me in this way, particularly the marble ones.

Gabriel Kuri
After that might come something familiar but somehow off. This was my response to Brian O'Connell's work.  While I am interested in his work, I found his plate too full in terms of similar ingredients (one or two wall pieces with the brise soleil would have been enough) and in other places superfluous (the weighty glass signified but didn't have much flavor profile).  Don't get me wrong, I revel in similar ideas.  Towards the other end of the taste spectrum, and there are many places along such a continuum of thought, there is something I may reject immediately as disgusting and foreign or perhaps less dramatically just ignored. I'll try to keep things positive here.  This last version, I would I have no a priori knowledge and not enough of anything close to draw me in. By and large, very little falls at this extreme for me.  Something that I think about a lot in my reception is how, over time, I may start to cultivate a taste for even the most foreign of substance; I have experienced this at many points in my life, especially as it has pertained to music.  Of course, my palette could also grow weary of things, and then they need a rest.  So, the way I would look at this show is that anything is fair game, it's up to the individual's taste and timing (readiness for what lies in front [in the viewing experience]), especially as it pertains to his/her background in Art.  So, it seems for us, that we might think about reception in terms of prior knowledge, repetition, and willingness/openness to change.  I think in order for our conversation to be fruitful, we may choose to establish some criteria, a lens by which to look at this show.  Of course, I realize that this conversation is likely shaping the criteria as we go along.  At some point, I think it's a good idea to explicate the terms.  Perhaps even using the continuum model thereby aligning works by degrees would be useful.

Wu Tsang
In the meantime, I'll share some other thoughts about works in the show that have been "pulling" on me, as you say. Btw, that is a very unusual way to think about it, but I assume you're thinking gravity and attraction, to put it in material terms.  The work I enjoyed more than any other from this show and considered to be the most vital for our moment is Wu Tsang's.  It's provocative, meticulously orchestrated in real/virtual space, and addresses what's complicated about what it means to be human in 2014.  Ambiguity plays out successfully in several ways and points to value systems that seem antiquated at best.  This work asks the toughest questions about biological variation, especially as it plays out in culture, alas, subgroups that are pushed so far aside that their quest for freedom (which is to be thought about as fluid acceptance within the mainstream), even when articulated directly falls on deaf ears.  In my first viewing, I sat alone on a beanbag thrown to the floor, and watched from an odd position of voyeurism as I felt it.  Part of me enjoyed that feeling and part of me felt it inappropriate somehow. Again, the ambiguities I mention pull emotionally with this one.  When I experienced this piece a second time with my entire family, it was very different, though reasserted my appreciation of its provocations.

A museum patron @ Sarah Rara
Sarah Rara's video was enjoyable to watch, and I appreciate her attention to detail within the projected image (color and sound, obviously) and within the space (painted, shaped benches and specific lighting strategy).  Micro level attention for micro climates.  The only thing I could have hoped for with her work was a more hermetic viewing space, perhaps more like Judy Fiskins's (which I also liked until the architectural model tour started).  Rara's was a family favorite, especially as Jack and Joseph oscillated between sitting still watching and rearranging the hexagonal benches (not unlike the attention spans of insects actually).  I think this work with it's emphasis on hyper-nature landscape could be an interesting counterpoint to Wu's portrait.

A museum patron @ Sarah Rara
Overall, I found the time-based media installations to be the most compelling.  I have sat through Mariah Garnett's twice now, the second time with my two boys.  Jack really liked it. I'm sure I can connect his attraction to your "masculine anxiety" comment from earlier.  What male sixth grader is not going to be compelled by the image and commentary of this one, jargon, expletives and all?!

Let's see... What else, perhaps static works... Max Maslansky's palette and deft hand at paint was enjoyable. The subject matter could have been anything for me and almost was while standing nose-length to the sheet.  I think Barry Johnston's hand sewn banners could have been his whole show, though I do like the sort of basement, Elk's club vibe to the whole thing where it seems to suggest that a certain kind of patriotism is upheld by a minority in that clubby sort of way.  Well, this seems like a good short list.

Since we took this conversation more or less quickly to the deep end, I'm wondering if we could step back a bit to some questions that I had envisioned would have been closer to the beginning, questions regarding background and intent?  I think it might help sew together and enhance where we seem to be currently.  How/when did things “get going”? When did things start to come into focus for you? As a curatorial team?  After your initial set of thoughts in the fall of 2012 regarding the exhibition, what guided the subsequent ones? Quite often the best performances begin with a false start.  How did your team change due to Karen’s withdrawal from the show affect its evolution? What was the transition like? How did your working relationships evolve over time? Not just Karen and Connie but the greater museum staff as well? We both like Venn diagrams to consider parts and whole.  How much of Made in L.A. 2014 is Connie Butler, how much is Michael Ned Holte, and how much is the overlap? Beyond a crude percentage (which could be fun to try), give examples of what parts belong to what parts.  Of course, I realize boundaries can often be hazy.

MNH: I think I can respond to some of these questions at the same time. Speaking of Venn diagrams, the areas they cover--and answers they might provoke--seem to overlap quite a bit. 

The question of "getting going" is a good one, but unanswerable in some way. Contractually, I started work on the show in January 2013, but pragmatically I started working on it a day or two after getting the initial invitation from Annie Philbin. That's when I first met with Karin Higa to discuss the show. The 2012 version of Made in L.A. was just closing, and I had already filed my review of it.  So that was the inevitable place to begin a conversation with Karin about the show--and what organizing the second edition would mean. I think it's also fair to say I started work on this show many years ago, when I first started writing criticism for Artforum's website in 2004, which is about the time I started visiting artists' studios. I suppose I could have started developing my perspective on the Los Angeles art world when I first moved here in 1995. You took me to MOCA [The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles] for the first time; that seems formative. I think if you were to ask Annie why she invited me to do the show one answer would be my familiarity with the Los Angeles art world or community. I had no familiarity with curating a show in the context of a museum, but I knew a hell of a lot of artists--and had written on many of them and put quite a few of them in my previous shows. I have a history with many of these artists, and a few of the artists in Made in L.A. were in previous shows I've done. (For example, this is my third show with Alice Konitz, though her inclusion as Los Angeles Museum of Art [LAMOA] is a different guise--and an exciting one.) Some of these artists I had written about, some I got to know as students, and so on. (Connie brought a similar set of historical connections to the table. More on this--and Venn diagrams--later?) So, I probably started working on the show a long time ago--long before I knew I was working on it.

Karin and I began with a few givens--the name of the show, the fact that it was a biennial, the site, an award or awards--and a lot of questions. A lot of "whys" were asked before we got around to questions of "who." I think we quickly knew it would be a smaller show, meaning there would be fewer artists. The first show had 60, so what if we did a show with 16, or 24, or 35? That question wasn't answered until Connie and I arrived at 35 artists--or entities, really, because the number 35 accounts for the participation of hundreds of individuals.

Karin and I developed lists of artists we should visit or talk about. We solicited advice from a number of colleagues including the curators of the previous [version of] Made in L.A. We each brought our lists of artists that we were interested in thinking about for this context. One of the wonderful things about Karin was her rigorous criticality--she had one of the best bullshit detectors I've ever seen, typically with some serious scholarly argumentation to back it up--but she was also incredibly generous as a viewer (or reader) of works. She would go the distance with something that came on her radar. At some point I became amused because I wondered if we would ever be able to cross an artist off the list, given Karin's willingness to interrogate the artist's work, but also--and even more importantly--her willingness to interrogate her own critical assumptions. It was inspiring, really. We were seeing things and meeting artists on our own, but we had a lot of conversations and exchanged a lot of notes about who we and what had seen. We developed a very good list of artists, many of whom were eventually in the show, but more importantly we had developed a set of critical questions and had outlined a process to begin answering those questions together. 

Karin became ill very quickly and given the seriousness of her illness had to leave the show just a week or two after our contracts were in place. I still can't believe she's gone; it's unreal. It's a huge loss. Of course it was devastating for me she couldn't work on the show--and it was a big moment for her, every bit as much as it was for me, I think--but the loss to the Los Angeles art community is tremendous. Karin touched many, many people. I learned so much from her in such a short amount of time. 

But I also felt it was crucial to keep moving. I was just getting started teaching a new semester at CalArts [California Institute of the Arts], and had my hands full. I was suddenly the only curator for Made in L.A., and that was the case for well over a month. I had a conference call with Annie and the Hammer's curators about how to move forward. I was standing in the CalArts parking lot. I said my first choice to replace Karin would be Connie Butler. Annie told me to give Connie a call and see if she'd be game for it. After several conversations and meetings with Connie, she indeed agreed to do the show with me, and then she quickly became Chief Curator of the Hammer. 

Like Karin, Connie came to curatorial work from art history; she's a scholar. Connie was a friend of Karin's and, to be honest, a big influence on me. Her WACK! [Art and the Feminist Revolution] show at MOCA in 2007 is one of the most important exhibitions I've ever seen. Period. But her work on post-minimalism and [Robert] Smithson were also very influential for me. Before I knew I would be in need of a new co-curator I had been at a dinner with Connie, and we had a good talk about Made in L.A. and my review of it. She clearly shared some of my concerns about the show. I also knew she was in L.A. while on leave from MoMA [The Museum of Modern Art], and thought she might be game for a project like this. Thankfully, she was. 

I could keep going... but let me know if you want or need to interject with a follow-up.

JL: No, please continue if there's more. 

MNH: I tried to provide Connie as much backstory and context as quickly as possible to get her caught up on where Karin and I left off--and what I had done on my own since then. Of course she has far more curatorial experience than I, and is a very quick study! One of the most compelling things about Connie coming to this show is her deep contextual understanding of Los Angeles and an understanding of how its art history might be situated in a larger context. We talked a lot about the paradox of a regional global biennial, which is what this is. She was born and raised here, and had been at MOCA for a long time, and did some very important work there. But she was coming back to LA after seven years of living and working in New York. I think she was eager to get in the trenches and visit studios here. I was also eager to test some of my assumptions about who or what was worthy of our collective attention---as somebody who had been working in those trenches here, during that same period of time she was away. She inherited our lists, and our set of concerns, but she brought her own sensibility and knowledge into the conversation. I was excited whenever she was convinced by the same works or artists who had already won me over. We didn't agree on everything, but thankfully we agreed on a lot, from selecting artists to questions of installation. 

We did our own work with separate studio visits but came together to discuss what we were seeing and what excited us. I'll also admit that I always felt that one biennial curator visiting a studio creates less pressure on that artist than both curators at the same time, so we tended to make the rounds on our own and encouraged one another to make visits if we had seen something or someone promising. There's an economy to this too, of course. We were able to cover more ground quickly. 

I think very early on we acknowledged there were some important new projects in Los Angeles that were collaborative or collective in nature, including artist-run spaces and self-styled museums--many of which started or became especially vital since the 2012 version of Made in L.A. The inclusion of Public Fiction, Los Angeles Museum of Art, KCHUNG, and James Kidd Studio all result from this perception, and their inclusion in many ways provided a context for the entire show and the way we've talked about it.

stage for James Kidd Studio
Connie and I certainly brought our own interests and biases to the shared conversation, but I have to say every artist in the show is "our" artist, not "Connie's artist" or "my artist." So, I'm going to say the Venn diagram is two circles that are quite nearly stacked. This reflects an ethic that drives the show. We agreed on everyone in the show. Which is not to say there wasn't disagreement in the process of arriving at the show, or what works to show, but the final list of artists was arrived at as a consensus rather than a political compromise. I feel fortunate we agreed on so much. With the 2012 show, each of the five curators eventually took the lead on a dozen of the 60 artists. This is logical, given those numbers, and the various venues, but we were each committed to being there for each artist, and speaking for each artist, as much as that was logistically possible.

As I mentioned before, we often selected artists for the show, and the work developed for the context of the show. This is true of much of the video work, for example. We didn't know exactly what it would be until pretty deep into the process.  You invite artists, and you trust them and support them to do good things with the opportunity. That's a big part of what the context of a show like this means. Nowhere is this more true than with our inclusion of Public Fiction, LAMOA, KCHUNG, and James Kidd Studio--all of these little institutions developed their own curatorial program for Made in L.A. 2014. Connie and I were eager to defer as much as practicable to the subjectivity of these artist-run projects, and as a result dozens if not hundreds of artists became involved in the show beyond our own curatorial choosing. This brings a certain amount of unexpected content to the show, of course, but it also reflects how many artist-networks are working now. We're not the first people to do this, nor is it unique to Los Angeles, but some of the ways in which it played out in our show seems quite true to Los Angeles in the present. Or so I hope.

Speaking again of Venn diagrams, I was very curious to see what would happen when we put one of these microinstitutions into the context of the Hammer--which is not a huge museum, but in comparison to LAMOA or the Museum of Public Fiction it is the institution. I was curious to see how the audience for these endeavors would intersect or overlap with the larger audience for a regional biennial. What I also discovered is that these artist-run projects are used to working according to their own tactics and resources, often in a very casual or last-minute way that is nearly impossible in the context of a big museum show. This forced new ways of working; there was a learning curve. Of course I could empathize because there was a huge learning curve for me too, having never worked in the museum context before. I was used to doing things at the 11th hour too--often with my own hands! I had to learn to work with a whole team of individuals, from marketing to installation.

The conclusion of this conversation for Made in L.A. 2014 will appear in dayoutlast later this month.  In the meantime, to view more images from the exhibition, see the following links:

*All photos appear courtesy of Justin Lowman unless otherwise noted.
**Made in L.A. 2014. Works by Max Maslansky and Barry Johnston is an installation view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. June 15-September 7, 2014. Photography by Brian Forrest

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