Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
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The Collaborative Art
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Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
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Exquisite L.A.
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Fiona Conner
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Show 2
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Deborah Roberts
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Mimi Lauter
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(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
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Poetic Energies and
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Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
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Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
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Ashton Cooper
Object Project
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Lindsay Preston Zappas
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Chris Kraus
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Ben Sanders
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iris yirei hsu
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Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
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Adrián Villas Rojas
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Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
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Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
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David Hockney
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Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
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The Offerings of EJ Hill
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Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Generous
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Put on a Happy Face:
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The Limits of Animality:
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Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
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Wolfgang Tillmans
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Ma
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The Rat Bastard Protective Association
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Kenneth Tam
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The Female
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The Rise
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Art Witch
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Interview with
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Made in L.A. 2016
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Mertzbau
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Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
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Mark A. Rodruigez
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The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
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Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Non-Fiction
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Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
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Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Launch Party Carla Issue 5
Exquisite L.A.
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Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
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Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
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Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
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at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Reconsidering
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
at LACMA
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Launch Party Carla Issue 4
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Char Jansen
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Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room
at LACMA

Evan Holloway
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Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
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(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
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Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
F.B.I.
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
and LOUDHAILER
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
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Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Launch Party Carla Issue 3
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
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at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
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Trisha Donnelly
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Bradford Kessler
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Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
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White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
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Tongues Untied
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No Joke
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(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
MEAT PHYSICS/
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
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SOGTFO
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#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
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Photographs
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Launch Party Carla Issue 1
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
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with Julian Rogers
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at LACMA

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
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Pat O'Niell
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A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Interior States of the Art

Ivana Bašić, I will lull and rock my ailing light in my marble arms #1 (2017). Wax, glass, breath, weight, pressure, stainless steel, oil, 126 x 128 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary.

“I am writing this in a Schrödinger cat box in high orbit around the quarantined world of Armaghast…. It will be my entire world until the end of my life.”1

Dan Simmons

In the mid-1990s, the Argentine-born artist Eduardo Costa began a series of what he called “volumetric paintings”: foods, figures, and shapes made entirely of acrylic paint. The illusion, he claimed, was thorough; he had dispatched the substrate for good. Hardboiled eggs had yolks, watermelons were filled with red flesh and black seeds, portrait busts sometimes had brains. But folks doubted his word. This was something they could not—could never—lay eyes on, and so, as with the biblical Thomas, they tried to call Costa’s bluff. He met the challenge with a series of public demonstrations. At a table on a stage, he and his assistants cut paintings open to reveal the stringy orange cavity of a squash, the blue ribs of a blue triangle.2

An artwork’s story can’t usually be verified with a knife. We have to trust the label, and trust the surface. Demanding proof of a work’s stated nature goes against the fundamental promise the viewer makes to the artist: “I won’t ask you to prove it, so long as it’s true.” The artist promises in return: “I will tell you it’s true, so long as you don’t ask me to prove it.”

Is it “avant-garde” and/or “de rigueur” to probe exactly this tenuous contract? Take Stories of Almost Everyone (Hammer Museum, 2018, curated by Aram Moshayedi with curatorial assistant Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi), an ensemble group show that would disintegrate without the “stories” surrounding each piece. For instance, on the floor are two locked suitcases from the series Lost and Found by Lara Favaretto. Inside each one is the lost luggage of an anonymous airline traveler, as well as some of the artist’s own personal effects. There are no keys. Or so the story goes: each is a time capsule with no final date. And it’s this unknown and unseen, unknowable and unseeable contents with no scheduled reveal that gives the work its tension—not the suitcases’ shells.

Stories of Almost Everyone pends in the space between art objects and their supporting texts. There is hardly a work on view that doesn’t ask to be explained. (Rolls of caution tape along the gallery baseboards—a Lutz Bacher piece called DANGER (2017)—are a smart counterpoint, insofar as this intervention leaves nothing to unpack…) The show seems to luxuriate in the certainty that we will never know the truth. A glossy yellow McCracken plank leaning against the wall, as they do, is not a McCracken; read the label and you learn it’s Sculpture #3 by Darren Bader (no date given). “McCracken famously filled his sculptures,” reads the exhibition catalog, “with a variety of supernatural pretenses.”3 Bader’s ersatz plank, though, is more like Favretto’s suitcases. It literally has unseeable contents: according to the curator, it is filled with trash. The label and the catalog don’t tell you that.

But what if there isn’t anything inside after all? Sometimes there probably isn’t. A vintage globe on a wooden stand, Lot 34. Replogle Thirty-two-inch Library Globe (2013) by Danh Vo, matters mostly because it once belonged to Robert McNamara. Telephone poles sent to the museum by Christodoulos Panayiotou (Independence Street, 2012) are (probably) wooden through and through, but the kicker is that they used to line Independence Street in Limassol, Cyprus, and symbolize that country’s march of time. A diamond made by Jill Magid from the ashes of Luis Barragán, Mexico’s most famous architect, proves its alleged provenance with nothing beyond several notarized documents, letters, and an artist’s text in a nearby vitrine (The Proposal, 2016). Diamond or not, the work exists primarily as paratext—more so than the work with physical secrets, since such work could be physically deconstructed and disproved. Such paratext-dependent pieces must be taken on their own self-evidence. Their interiority has no substance.

In what has become a canonical argument, the art historian Arthur Danto defines art as “embodied meaning.” (“The whimpers of god and of a baby are indiscernible,” he writes, “though the difference between them is momentous.”)4 He dwells on the example of Warhol’s Brillo boxes and other cartons: Warhol’s pieces look like the real thing, but they aren’t—and therein lies the art. One thing has always bothered me about this argument: Warhol’s “embodiments” don’t stand up upon closer inspection; they are obviously ink on wood, not on cardboard. Danto admits that some of Warhol’s boxes bear visible drips of paint—but then waves this problem away. Like Costa’s acrylic produce, they are paintings in the round. “Andy’s boxes had no such contents [actual Brillo pads],” Danto writes, “but he could have filled his boxes with the pads and they would still be art.”5 But the transformation Danto describes—the embodiment of meaning as an object—is closer to what happens with the diamond or the poles: a minor alchemy that hinges on belief.

Candice Lin and Patrick Staff, LESBIAN GULLS, DEAD ZONES, SWEAT AND T. (2017). Image courtesy of the artist and Human Resources Los Angeles. Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber.

Did someone say alchemy? For Torture of Metals (2017), a work by Miljohn Ruperto included in Stories, the artist took a gold nugget and 3D-printed it in each of the alchemist’s sextet of elemental metals (lead, iron, copper, tin, silver, mercury). It is as if Ruperto has distilled gold back into its secret ingredients, using the latest technology to both take up and reverse the alchemist’s impossible task. It is not such a leap; art and alchemy have intertwined in the popular imagination since the middle ages. A 2017 exhibition at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alchemie: Die Große Kunst (Alchemy: The Great Art), connected the chemistry of pigments and films to the inner science they are used to depict. Alongside inscrutable medieval diagrams of demigods in glass vials were Sarah Schönfeld’s microscopic photographs of various drugs, from caffeine to meth to LSD. Then as now, the pursuit itself of an “inner truth” or underlying law is its own self-evident ritual. What art hasn’t shaken, and won’t shake, is the idea that an illusion can have the same effects as the real thing; that meaning, if not matter, can be effectively created and destroyed. (If it looks like gold, tastes like gold, transacts like gold—)

And so, something chemical—if not quite alchemical—persists even in the Information Age. Elaine Cameron-Weir’s sculptures, like Victorian medical apparatus, suffuse galleries with heated amber scents. Hayden Dunham’s work combines resins, screens, containers, glass, and clay in arrangements that look like they do something, but don’t. Lately, Nicholas Bourriaud, who coined “relational aesthetics,” thinks a new cohort of artists has turned to “molecular art,” expressing a certain ecological concern through their attention to natural or nature-like materiality.6 Even here, the artwork lives or dies by paratext—or else the viewer may miss the fact that a Dunham piece contains not “charcoal” but “activated charcoal,” or that the rubber Ivana Bašic uses to make her fleshly alien blobs is the same kind used in human prosthetics.

We could rephrase the “molecular turn” as an “invisible” or “interior” one. An artwork may or may not be what it says it is, but the art disappears unless we act like it’s telling the truth. At Human Resources in 2017, Candice Lin and Patrick Staff assembled an ultraviolet installation of smoke machines, wooden wall frames, and texts (alchemical and plain chemical) carved into cross-lit plexiglass. The texts described age-old herbal hormone treatments known as anti-androgens, which inhibit testosterone. Meanwhile the texts gradually revealed that the smoke you were surrounded by and breathing was, the artists said, laced with this same plant-derived hormone. The transmission of knowledge became, or already was, a transmission of a biochemical kind—the paranoid corollary to the invisible cause/condition. The “secret magic” of art was no longer suspended between its probabilities, but bracingly present, infectious, and physical. Still, we have to take the artists at their word…

Artworks’ interior states host transformations that we can catalyze in our minds but not actually see, almost in the same way we supply our bodies with chemicals—food and drugs—and hope for the best. Charles Ray’s Yes (1990) is a self-portrait of the artist on LSD. No, from two years later, is a portrait of a realistic dummy of the artist, wearing the artist’s clothes. These two works mark a limit case for photography/art/representation’s ability to convey an inner world. In the latter, there is none; in the former, an unknowable surplus. No, like a Warhol Brillo box, is clearly wooden; Yes exists in the story of how it was made. What is art? Art is what sustains the contradiction.

 

Stories of Almost Everyone (2018) (installation view). Image courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

Candice Lin and Patrick Staff, LESBIAN GULLS, DEAD ZONES, SWEAT AND T. (2017). Image courtesy of the artist and Human Resources Los Angeles. Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber.

Elaine Cameron-Weir, Who are what looks out from behind you are is the thing that names what transforms…now, look what calms the captive by letting him sniff the perfume, like smell what smells like your masters crotch (2017). Leather, laboratory heating mantle, cast glass, labdanum resin, high altitude flight mask, transformer, stainless steel. 18 x 18 x 74 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles.

Originally published in Carla issue 12. 

 

 

  1. Lesley Wheeler, “Both Flower and Flower Gatherer: Medbh McGuckian’s ‘The Flower Master’ and H.D.’s ‘Sea Garden,’” Twentieth Century Literature 49, no. 4 (2003), 494–519.
  2. Sarah Ann Weber, e-mail message to author, March 25, 2018.
  3. Jenny Zhang, “The Right to Idle,” Rookiemag.com, July 18, 2014, http://www.rookiemag.com/2014/07/ vilnius-travel-diary/.
  4. Mark Savage, “Ibeyi: ‘They Tried to Bury us But We Were Seeds,'” BBC.com, September 28, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment- arts-41366656.