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Mona Bismarck, named the “Best Dressed Woman in the World” in 1933, was born in Kentucky. She skirted her more or less humble roots by successively marrying rich men—her third husband apparently the richest in America. She lived in a regal townhouse on the Seine, blocks from the Eiffel Tower, for part of her life. When she died in 1983, her will designated her townhouse the Mona Bismarck American Center, a place for American art and culture in Paris. But it has held relatively few exhibitions over the years.
Now, it plays host to Wasteland, a show organized by Los Angeles Nomadic Division in collaboration with the center’s new director, Raina Lampkins Fielder. The title comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem and the show features only L.A. artists. A multi-story work (A Private Stranger Thinking About His Needs, 2016) by Mark Bradford hangs along the winding staircase: strips of colored, weathered paper and canvas drape down from an armature crafted to perfectly fit the oval-shaped space between the staircase’s curves. Downstairs, in a parlor-like room with blue walls, Amanda Ross-Ho has installed paint-stained gloves larger than a human body, laying them on the floor between three sky-blue canvases on easels with strategically placed splotches of color on them. A boulder by Daniel Joseph Martinez blocks a gold-encrusted doorway into the next room. Upstairs, Edgar Arceneaux has built his Library of Black Lies (2016) inside the actual library; his functions like a maze, with racially charged books encrusted with sugar crystals, cut apart and recombined.
The other half of the show, at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac on the outskirts of town, includes good work—Analia Saban’s marble over sawhorses—but is familiar as a group show. At the Mona Bismarck, the works together feel like a realization of a weird dream. L.A. artists, many dealing with the overlaps between sincerity, artifice, and politics, fill the home of a girl from Kentucky who became a glamorous expat and then, for whatever reason, wanted fellow Americans to inhabit the remains of her wealth.
Wasteland, curated by Los Angeles Nomadic Division, runs March 12-July 17, 2016 at the Mona Bismarck American Center and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Pantin, both in Paris, France.