Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
Launch Party August 19th at Blum and Poe
Object Project
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Broken Language
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Artists of Color
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Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
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Home
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Analia Saban at
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Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures: Alice Könitz and LAMOA Catherine Wagley
Interview with Penny Slinger Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
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Young Chung
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Letter to the Editor
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Jennie Jieun Lee
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Trisha Baga
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Jimmie Durham
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Parallel City
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Jason Rhodes
by Matt Stromberg
Generous
Structures
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Launch Party
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
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Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
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Reviews Creature by Thomas Duncan
Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler by Stuart Krimko
Karl Haendel by Aaron Horst
Wolfgang Tillmans by Eli Diner
Ma by Claire de Dobay Rifelj
The Rat Bastard Protective Association by Pablo Lopez
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
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Catherine Wagley
The Rise
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Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
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Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
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Jessica Simmons
Launch Party Carla Issue 6
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
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Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews:
Made in L.A. 2016
Doug Aitken Electric Earth
Mertzbau

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
Mark A. Rodruigez
The Weeping Line
Molly Larkey, Aaron Horst,
Keith J. Varadi, Katie Bode,
Stuart Krimko, Matt Stromberg
Non-Fiction
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
at REDCAT
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.
Featuring:
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Hana Cohn, Eli Diner,
Claire De Dobay Rifelj,
Katie Bode, Molly Larkey,
Keith J. Varadi
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
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj,
Matt Stromberg, Hana Cohn,
Lindsay Preston Zappas,
Simone Krug, Keith Vaughn,
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
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
with Amalia Ulman
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
Reviews Eli Diner, Jonathan Griffin,
Don Edler, Aaron Horst
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
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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
Parker Ito
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Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Reviews Benjamin Lord, Aaron Horst, Stephen Kent
Top-Down Bottom-Up Jenny Gagalka
Snap Reviews Aaron Horst, Char Jansen, Randy Rice, Lindsay Preston Zappas
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
MEAT PHYSICS/
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Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
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SOGTFO
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#studio #visit
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VESSEL // CINS and
VESSEL // PERF
Ben Medansky
I've been a lot of places,
seen so many faces
Nora Slade
Launch Party Carla Issue 1
Slow View:
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Anna Breininger
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Reviews Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal, Catherine Wagley, Keith Vaughn, Aaron Horst, Kate Wolf, Mateo Tannatt, Evan Moffitt, Cal Siegel
We’re in This Together Lauren Cherry & Max Springer
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Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Le Louvre, Las Vegas

Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach

Pageant of the Masters (2015) (backstage). Live recreation of Edward Percy Moran, The Birth of Old Glory (Betsy Ross Presenting Flag) (1917). Image courtesy of Pageant of the Masters.

Pageant of the Masters (2015) (backstage). Live recreation of Edward Percy Moran, The Birth of Old Glory (Betsy Ross Presenting Flag) (1917). Image courtesy of Pageant of the Masters.

I’m pointing at the moon, and you looking at my finger! – Bruce Lee

In 1985 Jean Baudrillard arrived in the warm, verdant hills of Orange County. It was a land of soymilk and honey, humming with sprinkler water and gasoline. He had come at the end of a trip across the anti-Europe, to see a young country that bewildered him.

He was delighted and horrified by America. It was everything he expected. The Pacific was a “crystal prison” wall; the desert a “cinematic vision.”[1] Santa Barbara was filled with “funereal” villas and beaches where joggers prolonged death through a “morbid…semi-ecstatic cult of the body”.[2] Los Angeles, the capital of cinematic illusion, was for him no more than a Hollywood metonym, a real city sloppily slathered with artifice. “For us the whole of America is a desert,” he wrote in his travelogue, which later became his book America. “Culture exists there in a wild state: it sacrifices all intellect, all aesthetics in a process of literal transcription into the real.”[3]

I thought of old Uncle Jean last September, when I found myself in Laguna Beach fifty years after his visit. I had come for the Festival of the Arts, a commercial art fair on the grounds of an outdoor amphitheater. It was a warm weekend showcase of Sunday painters with aspirations of Dale Chihuly—pleasantly middlebrow family fun. The real draw, though, was a staged performance at nightfall unlike any in the world, a spectacle known as the Pageant of the Masters.

Since 1933, an all-volunteer cast and crew have assembled each summer to recreate famous masterworks in exacting tableaux vivants. From unsigned Roman sculptures to Edward Hopper paintings, the program is a broad survey of art history. Each figural subject is a live human posed motionless in an elaborately painted set. No curtains are ever drawn, but in a pall of onstage darkness props are placed, gigantic frames are cinched, and bedecked models take their places. The hyperreal results I witnessed would have given Baudrillard an aneurysm. When the lights went on, those deep sets seemed truly flat; painted shadows on costumes perfectly mimicked blocks of shade in oil. Live actors, frozen still, became statues. Poses were held for only a minute or two, while a narrator described the work being imitated; then the flattened set was dismantled and the next artwork patched together. The whole stunning sequence was set to a live orchestral score. This was a museum with intermission and buttered popcorn, its prep team black-clad stagehands.

Pageant of the Masters (2015) (backstage). Live recreation of Edward Percy Moran, The Birth of Old Glory (Betsy Ross Presenting Flag) (1917). Image courtesy of Pageant of the Masters.

Pageant of the Masters (2015) (backstage). Live recreation of Edward Percy Moran, The Birth of Old Glory (Betsy Ross Presenting Flag) (1917). Image courtesy of Pageant of the Masters.

“Where Art Comes to Life!” the Pageant website promises. “Why just look at art when you can experience it.” What distinguishes the act of looking at art from a true perceptual experience isn’t clear—though I doubt the fair organizers were consciously making phenomenological claims in their advertisement. The experience they sell is a spectacle for awed yet passive consumption. The program is what Baudrillard would call “a mark of cultural ethnocentrism”[4]—an art-historical drive-by from the safety of an air-conditioned safari Jeep.

The Pageant’s theme, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” washed each work with sunny, patriotic pep that made art history cozy and communitarian rather than dangerous and dysfunctional (as I believe it to be). The field felt foreign as I sat there listening to the cheerful story of Norman Rockwell. The syrupy sentimentality of Currier and Ives—an audience favorite—went down like an inedible concession stand sweet. No opinions were necessary but a profound admiration for traditional notions of beauty.

The narrator’s soothing baritone lubricated our effortless glide from Mughal India to Rococo France, not unlike those pacifying headsets available at museums for a sizeable surcharge. Lulled by his omniscient tone, audience members’ studious gazes glossed into vacant stares. Look away from the frozen corpses strewn before our first President’s victorious steed in Washington’s March (Thomas Ball, 1869); think not on the vicious proclivities of Shiva, Lord of the Dance (Anonymous, 950-1000). Cyrus Dallin’s Native American Scout (1910) knew nothing of the Trail of Tears. In that amphitheater, art history was a pleasantry enjoyed by the rich, cleansed of politics and other nasty blemishes. It was a story of victors; losers don’t sit for portraits.

This was Reagan country, and the show could’ve been mistaken for a late summer Fourth of July extravaganza. In Laguna Beach, recreations of 19th century pioneer paintings felt self-referential, celebrating a Manifest Destiny fulfilled on the Pacific shore. Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour (1756), plopped awkwardly between Revolution-era American artworks, and was cast as a lush celebrant of aristocratic capitalism. The mercantilism of Louis XV seemed suddenly close to the austere economics of Orange County, Le Petit Trianon a Neoclassical summer villa on the shores of Emerald Bay. The pursuit of happiness ended in projected fireworks at the show’s pre-intermission peak, while an actor dressed as George Washington rode a live white steed before a plaster and bronze-painted flesh facsimile of the Jefferson Memorial.

Pageant of the Masters (2015). Live recreation of Edward Percy Moran, The Birth of Old Glory (Betsy Ross Presenting Flag) (1917). Image courtesy of Pageant of the Masters.

Pageant of the Masters (2015). Live recreation of Edward Percy Moran, The Birth of Old Glory (Betsy Ross Presenting Flag) (1917). Image courtesy of Pageant of the Masters.

What is a pageant but a striptease, a cakewalk, a Christmas play—a parade of beauty or patriotism or faith? Pageantry means values presented with panache, ideology displayed with celebratory flair. Its propagandistic spirit makes history into myth, the dialectic of civilization into a precession of simulacra.

Baudrillard believed our modern world to be a stream of copies without originals. America—and especially the West—was founded on this simulacral premise, a desire to resurrect the dead for the pleasure of the living. “One of the aspects of [Americans’] good faith,” he wrote, “is their stubborn determination to reconstitute everything of a past and a history which were not their own and which they have largely destroyed or spirited away. Renaissance castles, fossilized elephants, Indians on reservations, sequoias as holograms, etc.”[5] For him Disneyland was the consummate simulacrum, a fabricated world that refers only to the realm of fantasy. On his visit, Orange County’s infamous theme park cast a shadow of fakery over the entire sunny region, one that gave me chills as I sat in my amphitheater seat that night.

As I watched history’s classic artworks shamelessly reconstituted, I sympathized with the departed French curmudgeon. Larger than life, these tableaux were actually nothing like the art they aped, a fact made inscrutable by distance. My opera glasses grew foggy with body heat as I clutched them close, trying to spot the cracks in the Pageant’s narrative. I felt like a kid on a Disneyland ride looking for exit doors, safety valves, and track lighting; I yearned to dismantle the artifice. But everywhere I turned, it was there to face me off: nothing hid behind its mask but another mask, another layer of illusion.

All of a sudden, I wondered if maybe we were in a museum after all. The narrator could be reading wall labels. Our vantage point was framed by a proscenium not unlike a cordon. The lighting was precisely controlled to amplify a specific perceptual experience.

Both museum walls and theater stages are contextual frames within which work performs; even static objects are full of motion, engaged in a parallax with the bodies that perceive them. Perhaps the Pageant illustrates the way art really behaves before our senses, less a stable material to consume at will than a living force to contend with.

The Pageant tableaux are mimed performances more than faithful recreations, but they transmit images and concepts to viewers the same way paintings do—and ultimately that merits just as much study or casual enjoyment as any Manet. In the end I resisted Baudrillard’s postructuralist panic: though overwhelmed by the ideological spectacle my field of study had become, I was fearful of being too rooted in the discipline. The faces around me were alight with wonder; art most of them probably knew from dry textbooks felt suddenly dynamic and alive. Their excitement might be worth the whole simulacrum. If we were in Las Vegas or the Louvre, it didn’t really matter. I decided relax and enjoy the show.

[1] Jean Baudrillard, America, Trans. Chris Turner (London: Verso, 1988), 30.

[2] Ibid., 35.

[3] Ibid., 28.

[4] Jean Baudrillard, America, Trans. Chris Turner (London: Verso, 1988), 101.

[5] Ibid., 41.

2016-07-12 (1)

Originally published in Carla Issue 3.