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As we celebrate our five-year anniversary, we wanted to look back over each year of the magazine, tracing our growth along with the major exhibitions and events that have shaped our L.A. art community. Museums and galleries have opened and closed, unions have rallied, and beautiful exhibitions have come through our city. We asked five of our writers to look back with us, prompting them to remember a Carla article from each of our five years. Alongside this, each writer highlights major events and influences that have impacted both the art world in L.A. and their own personal engagement with the city.
Catherine Wagley captures a nuanced, complex, contextual, and above all local picture of a neighborhood in Los Angeles with both rich historical weight and an unclear future. Wagley deftly unspools the intertwining realities of power, history, real estate, and the public good that the contemporary art world has a hand in shaping, for better or for worse.
Vengeance, film noir tics, Cronenberg-ian assemblages, and flashing lights comprised John Bock’s installation Three Sisters. Bock’s 40-minute film centerpiece both chews and is chewn by the film’s scenery, which filled up Regen Projects’ main room as if flung out by the film’s intensity. Drama of my favorite sort.
2015 saw several banner exhibitions—in Los Angeles at least—spotlighting influential, overlooked, and up-and-coming female artists, from retrospectives of Sturtevant at MOCA and Frances Stark at the Hammer, to François Ghebaly’s (obnoxiously-titled) group show SOGTFO (Sculpture or Get the Fuck Out). But discovering Faith Wilding’s Fearful Symmetries at the Armory Center for the Arts was a special thing: a series of beautifully crafted, singularly evocative drawings and installations that felt both timeless and out of time. This, from an artist I only knew from seeing her early performance Waiting (1972) on video once at my university library. The editor of this magazine dragged me to the Armory before I could change out of my gym clothes; the last time I wore a tank top in public, but well worth the trip.
I have a weakness for new age—drones, sustained notes, and the hopelessly delicate. The middle passage of this song, beginning around 1:45, is a shifting, dual crescendo of voice and synthesizer; wordless, somewhere between the end of a yoga class and blinding, pure white light. I tried perhaps too hard in 2015 to time this with poignant moments, if I could see them coming.
Eliza Swann, whose own work as an artist and teacher I deeply admire, spoke to artist Penny Slinger at the Goddess Temple where Slinger then lived, a home in the redwoods specially built to honor the divine feminine. Slinger has since left the Goddess Temple for the same reasons many artists have since left their homes: financial hardship, rising costs. She spoke to Swann about the difficulty of doing sincerely spiritual, sexual work in the contemporary art world (a dealer had recently told her, of a new series called Reclaiming Scarlet, 2016, “It’s very strong and it’s very real, but I don’t know that there’s a market for it”). Such thinking led to our “immature, materialistic society,” Slinger said. “We need to melt the deep freeze of the collective numbness.”
Trump’s terrifying election made many of us realize how complacent we’d all been— why were we only outraged now, when there had been so much to outrage us before? Soon after Trump’s inauguration, I went to a very strange panel at Art Los Angeles Contemporary, self-importantly titled “Art in the Age of Donald Trump.” Mostly it was awkward and half-baked, but painter Christine Wang said some things I still think about. “My paintings can’t vote,” she acerbically pointed out— being political through art alone would never be enough. “We have a certain kind of organizing debt that we have to pay for,” she noted. Trump didn’t invent alternative facts and refugee-related policy disasters. “Reagan made up this alternative fact of trickle- down economics,” said Wang. “I really hope that we can ride our feeling into action.”
Art world news: Boyle Heights protests
Protests of galleries in Boyle Heights began in earnest in September 2016, as certain mid-size galleries that had opened in the 2013–2015 L.A. boom were already losing their spaces thanks to greedy landlords who had only rented to them while waiting for Soho House or Google to arrive in the neighborhood. Evictions of everyone, including artists, became so much more a part of daily conversation. We still have to think and work harder to safeguard the diversity that has made our communities exciting places for both life and art.
Album or book: The Dark Tree: Jazz and Community Arts in Los Angeles, Steven L. Isoardi (2006) and Les Guérillères, Monique Wittig (1969)
I read two books in this time period that I wish I’d read earlier. The first was Steven L. Isoardi’s 2006 book, The Dark Tree: Jazz and Community Arts in Los Angeles, largely about the virtuoso musician Horace Tapscott’s choice to make his art in and for his own community (not for some other global market, or bigger recognition). The second was Monique Wittig’s 1969 political novel, Les Guérillères, about a feminist commune, the members of which are as militant about their pleasure and togetherness as they are about their revolution.
Carla article: “She Wanted Adventure: Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley,” Catherine Wagley (Carla, issue 10)
Catherine Wagley’s article on these four female gallerists smartly goes beyond the reductive trope of the powerless, overlooked pioneer. Drawing on archival sources and interviews, she documents their historical importance and innovative practices, positing that their absence from the official story may have been in part a result of their subversive strategies that were at odds with both their male counterparts and conventional efforts of historicization.
L.A. exhibition: Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (September 2017–January 2018)
The Getty’s multi-venue initiative exploring Latin American and Latinx art in Los Angeles offered a refreshing alternative to traditional Eurocentric art historical models. With exhibitions spanning pre-Columbian masterpieces, feminist artists throughout Latin America, and Chicano muralists in L.A., PST: LA/LA suggested a reorientation that extended southward, tracing lines of influence across the Americas instead of back to the Old World.
Standout artist: Lauren Halsey
I first encountered Lauren Halsey’s work in black is a color, a summer 2017 group show curated by Essence Harden at Charlie James Gallery. Into a grid of white-on-white carved gypsum panels she monumentalized images of black identity: from jazz musicians and the P-Funk Mothership, to Afrofuturist pyramids and elaborate hairstyles, to phrases like “black owned beauty supply” and “here nobody surrenders.” Etched into the boards like Egyptian hieroglyphs, the images reflected life as-lived in South L.A., but also viewed it through a celebratory, fantastical lens—a practice she has only made more spectacular in the ensuing three years.
Los Angeles has seen its share of institutional art spaces pop up over the past few years. But, unlike glitzy private museums that serve to show off their founders’ collections—such as the now-shuttered Marciano Art Foundation, which also opened in 2017—the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles opened 47 in fall 2017 as an independent, non-collecting museum. Not an entirely new museum, the ICA LA has a lengthy history as the reborn Santa Monica Museum, which was founded in 1984 by Elsa Longhauser. Already with an ambitious exhibition history including retrospectives on outsider artist Martín Ramirez, signpainter Norm Laich, and mercurial boundary-pusher Nayland Blake, the ICA LA is proving that the market need not be the only arbiter of curatorial decisions.
2018 was the year I left Los Angeles, so every art opening, party, and hang out took on an especially sparkly energy for me. I fell in love with everything and everyone in that way you do when you know you’re on your way out.
It was also a year of reckoning in the Los Angeles art community: tensions between gallerists and anti-gentrification activists hit a fever pitch and it seemed there was a protest every weekend of summer. Gallerists and artists alike scrambled to reinvent the wheel. Many of these endeavors lead to new and innovative uses of space, like Ceci Moss’ mobile GAS Gallery.
Her manifesto-like essay in issue 16 was a call to arms. During my time in L.A., Moss was someone I saw as a sensitive and conscientious titan of the art community and her essay was both a corrective and instruction for how we, a small wavering art world, should act when facing the future.
I SAW RED was the immersive installation Los Angeles deserved (in comparison to say, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors). From floor to ceiling, the gallery walls were plastered in color photographic prints of junk foods prevalent in the low-income South Central neighborhoods where Urrea worked. Starburst, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Tama Roca Paleta, Jolly Ranchers, and Jabalina papered the walls in nauseating patterns. (In case anyone forgot, the entire floor at SADE was covered in three inches of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.)
I had the pleasure of visiting Trulee Hall’s studio while she was preparing for a full gallery installation at Maccarone— she was in the final stages of a sprawling, multimedia solo exhibition months before it was expected. I was floored by her warmth, candor, and vulnerability, as well as her aesthetic and technical prowess. She was primed for the spotlight, and it’s still well deserved. The Maccarone show was a break-out hit; Hall was and is the woman to watch.
We smoked under the fluorescent lights of a low-ceilinged parking garage and all your exes were there. A spare cigarette was a wink away. The bathroom was daunting and the dance floor overflowed into the industrial kitchen. This was Leroy’s Happy Place: an abandoned Vietnamese restaurant with everything left intact, turned, overnight, into an art bar helmed by artist Ian James. The pay phone on the wall had no dial tone. The blinds were always drawn. I routinely showed up in a bath- robe draped over my bathing suit after pool parties and stayed way too long. “There were some lovely exhibitions there, and I wish I remembered them,” writer Christina Catherine Martinez texted me recently. “It felt like the last heterogeneous social imperative that brought different circles of the L.A. art world together before the ever- expanding archipelago of ‘spaces’ dotted across Los Angeles and coalesced into more definitive cliques.” All that’s to say: everyone hung out there and no one was turned away.
I found one of the most engaging articles of 2019 to be Catherine Wagley’s examination of work by Carmen Winant in relation to the womyn’s land movements of the ’70s and ’80s. Her essay coalesced around questions crucial to both photography and feminism—invoking gaze, authorship, intimacy, and agency—while also suggesting the limitations of a feminism that isn’t wholly intersectional.
This exhibition was a perfectly poetic and subtly haunting exploration of Hijikata’s work as the avant-garde pioneer of butoh (a form of dance that evokes the body as a mutable site of passion, violence, genesis, and decay) as well as his filmic and photographic collaborations with Eikoh Hosoe. (Navel and A-Bomb, 1960, is particularly unforgettable). I found it wildly refreshing to see a contemporary gallery execute a thoughtful exhibition of such dark, strange, and vivid work, which remains largely unfamiliar to American audiences.
Two of the most notable local art world events of 2019— the successful unionization of MOCA employees and the attempted unionization of Marciano Art Foundation employees (which spurred the Marcianos to abruptly shutter the museum)—reflected larger national debates, highlighting deepening divisions over workers’ rights and echoing growing calls for institutional transparency and accountability. The pandemic that as-of-then did not exist has only made these issues more urgent and acute— when the world opens again, it will be telling to see where the chips fall.
One of the most memorable and thought-provoking pieces of media that I experienced in 2019 was a Broadway play: Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, which presented a biting, lurid, disturbing, and uncomfortable visualization of the ways in which the poisonous legacy of antebellum slave/ master power dynamics can silently infiltrate modern inter- racial relationships. It offered a sharp reminder that all white people—even romantic partners, family members, and progressive allies of people of color—are implicated in the disease of white supremacy.
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