Issue 34 November 2023

Issue 33 August 2023

Issue 32 June 2023

Issue 31 February 2023

Issue 30 November 2022

Issue 29 August 2022

Issue 28 May 2022

Issue 27 February 2022

Issue 26 November 2021

Issue 25 August 2021

Issue 24 May 2021

Issue 23 February 2021

Issue 22 November 2020

Issue 21 August 2020

Issue 20 May 2020

Issue 19 February 2020

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
–Claressinka Anderson & Joe Pugliese
Reviews April Street
at Vielmetter Los Angeles
–Aaron Horst

Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
–Julie Weitz

Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
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Issue 18 November 2019

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Children of the Sun
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
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Issue 17 August 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

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Issue 16 May 2019

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
–Matt Stromberg

Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
–Christie Hayden
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Issue 15 February 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Rosha Yaghmai
Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
–Jonathan Griffin

Sperm Cult
–Matt Stromberg

Kahlil Joseph
–Jessica Simmons

Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
–John Zane Zappas

Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
–Colony Little

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
–Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 14 November 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 13 August 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
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Issue 12 May 2018

Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with Christina Quarles Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
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Issue 11 February 2018

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
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Issue 10 November 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 9 August 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
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
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects


Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Issue 8 May 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter to the Editor
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop

Issue 7 February 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
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
Exquisite L.A.
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
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Issue 6 November 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
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Issue 5 August 2016

Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Exquisite L.A.
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
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Issue 4 May 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

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

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 3 February 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
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Issue 2 November 2015

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:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
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
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(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
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Issue 1 August 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
Mateo Tannatt
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

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.)
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop
1301 PE
Anat Ebgi (La Cienega)
Anat Ebgi (Wilshire)
Arcana Books
Artbook @ Hauser & Wirth
Babst Gallery
Baert Gallery
Bel Ami
Canary Test
Carlye Packer
Charlie James Gallery
Château Shatto
Chris Sharp Gallery
Cirrus Gallery
Clay ca
Commonwealth & Council
Craft Contemporary
D2 Art (Inglewood)
D2 Art (Westwood)
David Kordansky Gallery
David Zwirner
Diane Rosenstein
François Ghebaly
Gana Art Los Angeles
George Billis Gallery
Giovanni's Room
Hamzianpour & Kia
Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Harper's Gallery
Hashimoto Contemporary
Heavy Manners Library
Helen J Gallery
Human Resources
Hunter Shaw Fine Art
in lieu
LaPau Gallery
Lisson Gallery
Lowell Ryan Projects
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
MAK Center for Art and Architecture
Make Room Los Angeles
Matter Studio Gallery
Matthew Brown Los Angeles
MOCA Grand Avenue
Monte Vista Projects
Morán Morán
Moskowitz Bayse
Nazarian / Curcio
Night Gallery
Nino Mier Gallery
NOON Projects
O-Town House
One Trick Pony
Paradise Framing
Park View / Paul Soto
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
Regen Projects
Reparations Club
r d f a
REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater)
Roberts Projects
Royale Projects
Sean Kelly
Sebastian Gladstone
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
Smart Objects
Steve Turner
Stroll Garden
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
The Box
The Fulcrum
The Hole
The Landing
The Poetic Research Bureau
The Wende Museum
Thinkspace Projects
Tierra del Sol Gallery
Tiger Strikes Astroid
Tomorrow Today
Track 16
Tyler Park Presents
USC Fisher Museum of Art
UTA Artist Space
Various Small Fires
Village Well Books & Coffee
Outside L.A.
Libraries/ Collections
Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Bard College, CCS Library (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
Charlotte Street Foundation (Kansas City, MO)
Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis, MN)
Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA)
NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University (Alfred, NY)
Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)
University of California Irvine, Langston IMCA (Irvine, CA)
University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)


Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu (1919). Oil on canvas, 59 × 51.5 inches. Photo: Nasjonalmuseet/Høstland, Børre.

April 5, 1815: On the lush Indonesian island of Sumbawa, poisonous plumes of ash and molten lava began spewing from the cone of a once-dormant Mount Tambora. Five days later, the tip of Tambora exploded and collapsed; its peak folded into a concave crater, reducing its height by nearly a mile.1 This staggering detonation is regarded as the largest volcanic eruption in recorded human history—its violence even surpasses that of fellow Indonesian volcano, Krakatoa, the 1883 explosion that emitted the loudest bellow ever measured by humans.2

While the immediate death toll from the Tambora eruption was grievous (an estimated 10,000 people perished), the chain reaction of environmental devastation that it unleashed proved even more ferocious, claiming the lives of some 100,000 people. Miniscule particles of volcanic ash infiltrated the stratosphere, blanketing the Earth’s atmosphere with sulphurous matter that obstructed sunlight in both hemispheres for years. The year following the eruption, 1816, is referred to as “the year without a summer,” a time when snowfall and darkness oppressed the otherwise routinely balmy skies.3 What began as a local calamity mush- roomed into an encyclopedia of global catastrophe: temperatures plummeted, tempestuous storms raged, economies collapsed, crops floundered, famine ensued, and the world’s first cholera pandemic took root.

Today, almost exactly 205 years after Tambora, I am confined to my home in balmy Los Angeles under a statewide shelter-in-place order—a desperate decree aimed at mitigating the local repercussions of our current global catastrophe (this one in the form of an insidious virus). As of this writing, similar lockdowns affect approximately 95% of Americans;4 tomorrow, these measures will surely swell. From here, I see the Tambora eruption and its aftermath as an ominous, unnerving, and fascinating parable–one that presages how our own surreal narrative might soon unfurl. The Tambora incident reveals that a catastrophe can stir up profound cultural effects that stretch far beyond the initial point of crisis. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate with unimaginable velocity, the social and cultural ramifications, which may presently elude us, are certain to be vast. In the meantime, we remain fearful and disoriented, terrified of others and of contagion, and unaware of what shape reality will take when we finally emerge from this nightmare. This pathos finds echoes in pandemics of the past, from the plague to the Spanish Flu and the HIV/AIDS crisis—all of which similarly fractured and reoriented artistic thought.

The Tambora eruption elicits breathless awe in part because of the ways in which it can be viewed as an origin point for what, on the surface, would appear to be completely unre- lated cultural phenomena. In July of 1816, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and several others were confined together in a villa near Lake Geneva, their leisure time stifled by the ceaseless, malevolent storms that characterized “the year without a summer.”5 As the group reveled in the exchange of sanguine ghost stories, two canonical narratives emerged: Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein and John Polidori (who was also present) wrote The Vampyre,6 a gothic thriller credited with anointing the modern vampire tale. In London, meanwhile, artist J.M.W. Turner’s wispy sunset paintings7 immortalized the extraordinary colors caused by the infinitesimal veil of volcanic dust that filtered the sun, creating a luminescent halo that lingered for years.8

With contagion, the instant of catastrophe occurs in multiplicity, fissuring our relationship to intimacy and rechoreographing our bodies’ relationship to communal space (here, the communal, creative intimacy shared by Shelley and Byron becomes an utterly impossible romance). Disease differs from other natural disasters in that it invasively assaults the body, making physical proximity to other humans the locus of crisis. Today, this manifests as social distancing, a form of which can be traced back to the plague epidemics that blighted Medieval Europe.

Sophie Nys, Altofts (2014). Photogram. Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Greta Meert.

The contemporary notion of social separation as a tactic to deter disease transmission originated in 14th century Venice, where ships were forced to isolate in port for 40 days as a means to temper the bubonic plague, which spread through populations like wildfire. (As such, the etymology of quarantine stems from the Italian word quaranta, meaning forty).9 The disease decimated somewhere between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population, with additional outbreaks occurring over several centuries (infections still persist to this day).10 Solidified as an abject horror, the plague’s ghastly, seemingly biblical pestilence made close physical contact perilously radioactive.

Still, amidst these histories of forced seclusion, creativity found peculiar ways of manifesting. The phenomenological history of the plague’s isolating reality can be traced to the existence of plague stones, sculptural oddities that, despite appearing modernist in form, reflect Restoration- era attempts to mitigate physical commingling as a vehicle for contagion. Erected by several English municipalities in the 17th century, these idiosyncratic, humble stone monuments were intended to function as sanitized sites of commercial exchange during periods of rampant infection.11 Often called vinegar stones, they were topped with small hollows that cradled pools of vinegar or citrus juice, thought at the time to be potent disinfectants. Hoping to purge their exchangeable goods of festering bacteria, townspeople would place coins and other objects directly into the bath, thereby outsourcing direct human touch to these strange surrogate totems.

In 2013, Belgian artist Sophie Nys began photographing England’s remaining plague stones. Her images, compiled in an artist’s book titled Vinegar Stones (2015),12 casually document these uncanny relics in their contemporary surroundings: some stand proudly erect in provincial town squares with commemorative plaques, while others have been exiled to mossy, overgrown corners of idyllic countryside. While initially functioning as sculptural buttresses against the perils of bodily contact, these stones now function as haptic indices of these very perils—lone bodies memorializing both the infected and the recovered. Their physical remnants solemnize the invisible virality of disease. As crumbling cenotaphs to a long-passed public health terror, these plague stones also offer a macabre reminder that the coronavirus pandemic will too become a calamity of the past, leaving a litany of material (and digital) ruin in its wake.

Like Tambora, the plague reshaped artistic output in Western Europe—the pervasive threat of death bled into the continent’s cultural psychology. The fact that the disease so viciously and viscerally threatened all social strata regardless of wealth, morality, and piety fed a burgeoning predilection with death as a persistent artistic and literary trope—and not necessarily in terms of religious salvation. The danse macabre (dance of death), for example, a dual visual and linguistic allegory that ruminates on the wretched terror of humanity’s shared mortality, traces its roots to the plague pandemics of the 14th century (with additional credit given to the myriad traumas of the Hundred Years War).13 Materializing as painting, poetry, or didactic morality play, danse macabre consists of an inauspicious yet gleeful skeleton marching or dancing its mortal victims (whether papal or plebeian) from their quotidian toils to their earthen graves. The horror of the dance ultimately resides in the imminent anxiety of waiting, consummated by the act of being summoned to meet your fate by a loathsome figure whose form you will soon take. Hans Holbein the Younger’s Danse Macabre, a series of 41 woodcuts created between 1524 and 1525, is regarded as one of the most renowned works in the genre, which remained popular through the 19th century.14

The plague proved culturally generative in other ways as well. For example, it catalyzed some of Shakespeare’s greatest works (he drafted King Lear while in quarantine,15 a fact that has circulated widely on social media in recent weeks, much to the dismay of artists struggling to be productive). It also facilitated in the development of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and gravity (he conceptualized both theories while isolating himself from the Great Plague of London in 1665).16 Historical anecdotes aside, there is danger in romanticizing the creative benefits of quarantine during a fatal pandemic (from inane Instagram memes to anemic articles dispensing productivity tips, this sentiment has circulated widely in recent weeks as well). While the cultural canon has certainly been enlivened by the inadvertent consequences of disaster, these catastrophes warrant, first and foremost, profound collective mourning.

Pandemics account for an utterly staggering loss of life, and such casual- ties also exert cultural tolls. The swift acceleration of the novel coronavirus has elicited comparisons to the influenza pandemic of 1918, also referred to as the Spanish flu, which eventually infected a third of the world’s population.17 A more invisible threat than the bubonic plague, the flu primarily suppresses breath and overwhelms the body with rushes of feverish delirium. These hallucinatory qualities infiltrated the works of the artists who suffered it. Edvard Munch’s 1919 painting, Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, depicts the artist, who long nursed a fascination with death and despair, in the midst of sickness: he stares laconically towards the viewer while sitting upright in a chair, swaddled with blankets that were perhaps dragged from the crumpled bed in the background. His mouth rests agape and his eyes appear hollow in his skeletal face. While the painting is surprisingly vivid and chromatic, the colors betray a palette of malaise—deep jaundiced yellows, bile-like greens, and febrile reds gesturally collide to impart the tone of a fever dream. Munch survived, emerging from convalescence to paint Self-Portrait after the Spanish Flu (1919), a looser and ironically less vibrant composition—a testament to the traumatic cellular assault that, even after the fact, the artist was likely still recovering from.




Viennese painter Egon Schiele, on the other hand, perished in the 1918 pandemic, as did his mentor, Gustav Klimt. Several months before his own death, Schiele—who already interpreted the human body as a twisted, agitated, sickly mass—sketched an image of Klimt on his deathbed, rendering only his disembodied head.18 In Gustav Klimt on his Death Bed (1918), Klimt’s recessed facial contours, stricken countenance, and bulging yet sunken eyes emblematize the brutal machinations of illness, as if Schiele had captured him postmortem. Both artists’ untimely demises (Klimt was 55, Schiele only 28) carved a wound in the trajectory of Viennese modernism, as they each left extensive inventories of unfinished and unrealized works behind. These were just two of 50 million deaths, each one an acute and bitter loss.

During the height of the more recent HIV/AIDS crisis (a pandemic ongoing since 1981), mass loss ravaged entire communities, with particular devastation befalling the art world. These communal losses were so great that psychologists began noting the prevalence of a condition referred to as “multiple loss syndrome,” a merciless combination of bereavement, anxiety, PTSD, and exhaustion triggered by the death of multiple loved ones.19 Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (1991) is one of the more poignant memorials to the stinging intimacy of this crisis. Originally installed as a billboard in various locations throughout Hamburg, Germany, and shortly thereafter in New York City, the work is a photograph of an unmade bed, with the tousled imprints of two bodies clearly visible on the empty, rumpled sheets. An oblique reference to his partner Ross, who died of AIDS that same year, the image eulogizes both the pleasure of love and the brutality of grief, an emotion that also infects the body. As a rite of private mourning made public, the work’s vulnerability was exacerbated by the fact that much of the American public exhibited cruel and inhuman disdain for both gay people and AIDS victims, from Reagan’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the disease to the Supreme Court’s abominable 1986 ruling that declared (as activist/historian Simon Watney bluntly summarized) that “American gay men have no constitutional right to privacy from direct police interference in their own homes.”20 Here, bodies bore a twofold assault—they were pillaged internally by disease and otherized externally by conservative bigotry and governmental malfeasance. In this sense, the photograph of the bed functions as a communal memorial for the multi- layered traumas of the crisis: it becomes a surrogate for both individual and collective loss, as well as a political monument to the war on intimate touch.

of our government’s bureaucracy, the debased tone of our political rhetoric, and our blatant devaluing of life in favor of capital gains. Like pandemics of the past, the threat of an invisible disease has also paralyzed our most human gestures, confining us to our homes (for those privileged enough to have them), and seeding suspicion of our neighbors as potential sites of sickness. Now, as public space and private space fold into one another, Gonzalez-Torres’ publicly displayed bed functions as another metaphor for the ways in which this catastrophe has seeped into the crevices of our intimate lives, suddenly vulnerable to loss.

In this moment, Gonzalez-Torres’ billboard also functions as a different kind of political signifier: it becomes an icon of intimacy, privacy, and security, its public display suggestive of the ways in which ownership of or access to a bed—a symbol but also a commodity—has become a wildly misplaced indicator of social value, an almost farcical metric of humanity. Recently, I thought of this billboard after seeing an image circulating that depicted authorities in Las Vegas corralling people to sleep in six-by-six foot “social distance” grids demarcated on the street, while the city’s sprawling matrix of empty hotels, home to 150,000 empty beds, loomed in the background.21 Here, the billboard can be reinterpreted as an ode  to, or a gesture of outrage for, our marginalized and un-homed neighbors, whose bodies will bear the brunt of this crisis. Like Sophie Nys’ images of plague stones, Gonzalez-Torres’ bed memorializes past tragedy while also viscerally reminding us of what trauma may come.

While, as in the past, artists and writers will surely mold our cultural responses to this blossoming catastrophe, many were already astutely and poetically navigating the waters of societal crisis long before the corona- virus became a black swan calamity. Now, as the formal institutions around us buckle and shutter, their once imposing facades betray fallibility. These fractures were already present. To be clear, catastrophe was too: we have been enduring (and willfully ignoring) a seemingly endless procession of environmental, epidemiological, and sociopolitical crises for decades, even generations. (The word crisis itself is a regular guest in discussions theorizing postmodernity). Here, however, as the pandemic’s brute force of disruption implicates our lives, bodies, and quotidian habits, this new, heightened meter of urgency demands a more cogent collective response (such as pushing to dismantle the faulty social structures amplifying the virus’ reach). For creatives, perhaps this means a more emphatic embrace of the community we’ve now been forcefully sequestered from. In the meantime, while disease, like volcanic ash, blankets and infests our structural supports, artists and writers remain present and the work continues. Catastrophe is crushing, yet it can often feed future regenerative acts: Tambora’s pyroclastic flows were fatally toxic, but the soil it seeded was wildly fertile.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 20.

Hans Holbein, Dance of Death: The Old Man (c. 1526). Woodcut. Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland, 1929. Image courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (1991). Billboard, dimensions vary with installation. © Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Courtesy of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. From the exhibition: Print/Out at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, NY. 19 Feb. – 14 May 2012. Cur. Christopher Cherix. [With outdoor billboards on display 20 Feb. – 18 Mar. 2012.] Installation location: 11th Avenue and 38th Street, Manhattan. Photo: David Allison.
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Jessica Simmons-Reid (MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; BA, Brown University) is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. She’s interested in the interstitial space between the language of abstraction and the abstraction of language, as well as the intermingling of poetry and politics. She has contributed essays and reviews to Carla and Artforum, among others.

More by Jessica Simmons-Reid