Issue 36 May 2024

Issue 35 February 2024

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
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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
Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Harper's Gallery
Hashimoto Contemporary
Heavy Manners Library
Helen J Gallery
Human Resources
in lieu
LaPau Gallery
Lisson Gallery
Louis Stern Fine Arts
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)
University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Interview with Cauleen Smith

Leer en Español

Cauleen Smith: Give It Or Leave It (installation view) (2020–21). © Cauleen Smith. Image courtesy of the artist and LACMA. Photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA.

“It is impossible until it is done!”

Artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith writes this mantra on blue paper in chunky, cursive lettering in COVID MANIFESTO 8 (2020), one of a series of videos displayed in London last summer that questioned the selfish norms of the Western world—many of which have exacerbated the horrors of the Covid-19 pandemic. In many ways, Smith’s words and intention here are a summation of her entire practice, which advocates for a kinder, more careful world and argues that things are only “impossible” because the powers that be deem them as such.

Smith’s work, across video, performance, and installation, is about envisioning these better worlds and uncovering the fact that our ancestors have already given us the tools and knowledge to create them. Since the release of her debut feature film Drylongso (1998), which follows two young women as they grapple with the intersections of gender and race in Oakland, Smith has crafted an oeuvre of immersive films and videos that dive into the utopian possibilities of community, showcasing the ways Black women have historically made spaces for themselves and built their futures outside of capitalist and white supremacist systems. 

Sojourner (2018) and Pilgrim (2017)—two videos that serve as the focus of Smith’s current exhibition at LACMA, Give It Or Leave It—explore places such as Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum, and the ashram of jazz musician and swamini Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda. Smith’s footage of these locations is hazy and beautiful, focusing specifically on the radical potential each of these communities hold. Sojourner is a cross-country view of sites built by communities that were proponents of radical generosity, while Pilgrim moves from Turiyasangitananda’s (Alice Coltrane) ashram in Calabasas to the Watts Towers and the Watervliet Shaker village in New York to the soundtrack of Alice Coltrane’s 1977 track “One for the Father.” By visiting and filming these locations, Smith places the thoughts of modern-day and historical abolitionists in conversation, combining the past and the present to show how communities that truly liberate Black women can be—and have been—created in spite of it all. The world-building that Smith creates onscreen is echoed in her installations: the LACMA exhibition space is bathed in swaths of colored light, with the occasional flicker of a disco ball. Smith’s videos are framed by ephemera, lovingly fabricated objects, and snippets of text culled from Smith’s research. The title banner, Give It Or Leave It, inverts the colloquialism “take it or leave it,” suggesting that conflict might be better resolved by determining what can be given, rather than what can be extracted. In early March, Smith and I talked over the phone about the new exhibition, her films, and the importance of experiencing art collectively, particularly in this lonely moment. 

Madeleine Seidel: Since your exhibition Give It Or Leave It has been shown at so many different arts institutions across the United States, what is it like to bring this show to LACMA, considering that so many California landmarks are included in your videos? 

Cauleen Smith: Yeah, it’s been a treat for me to have it here. I never expected it to have such a perfect landing in California, and I can’t think of a better institution than LACMA for that. 

MS: So many of the locations in the Sojourner and Pilgrim videos revolve around the idea of utopia and how these locations consider futurity for Black women. These are spots like the Watts Towers, Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum, and, most importantly, Alice Coltrane’s Sai Anantam Ashram. What was it like being in these spaces filming and interacting with their legacies? 

CS: The best was visiting Alice Coltrane’s ashram… I happened to be living in Los Angeles and teaching at CalArts for a semester, and I [decided] to go when I heard they were open on Sundays for service. It was really an incredible experience, and I’m so grateful that I got to be there before it closed and later burned down [in the 2018 Woolsey Fire].

MS: You preserve her ashram so wonderfully in your video. I keep thinking back to the opening shots in Pilgrim where you see Coltrane’s organ so perfectly encased in plastic. Despite that, it still really feels alive—yes, it’s closed off, but it’s still such a part of the space.

CS: Yeah, I’m really grateful to the people living there to let us film that. They had a sense of urgency to let people record the space and document it, knowing that it wasn’t going to be there for much longer.

MS: One thing that I have always really admired about your work—and I think this really holds true with Sojourner and Pilgrim—is that it feels like your videos are engaged in a spiritual conversation between the past and the present, while working toward the future. What is the process for you in bringing all of these voices and ideas together from very disparate places all into one?

CS: You know, it’s funny because I don’t think of it as a “spiritual” process—I think of it as an active process through imagination, like an active conversation through imagining what’s possible or using your cognitive abilities to create connections through things, making deeper understanding. I think I want to start making that distinction. A misunderstanding about art-making in general is that it isn’t really bound in reality and real faith—and it very much is, at least for me. It’s not so much a pious exercise of trying to connect spiritually with the figures I feature in these films. It’s more like recognizing the things that they did and built in their lifetimes as models for how to live now.

Cauleen Smith, Sojourner (video still) (2018). Single-channel video (color, sound); 22 minutes, 41 seconds. Image courtesy of the artist, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, and Kate Werble Gallery, New York.

MS: You connect figures like Shaker elder Rebecca Cox Jackson and members of the Combahee River Collective to modern-day activists through various voice-overs that play over scenes of women exploring sites like the Outdoor Desert Art Museum, and it really amplifies the ways in which their ideas are in conversation with today’s fight for Black feminist ideals. You’ve also centered the voices of contemporary theorists, like Christina Sharpe, in your work. Do you feel like you and your work serve as an active conduit between the methodologies of the past and present-day?

CS: That’s what I’m hoping, because I think it’s through engagement and interpretation that new ways of doing are learned. I really depend on people like Christina Sharpe and other writers and theorists to help me think, figure out what to make, and determine what materials to use to make those ideas. That’s very much where all the energy comes from: through these ideas, through music, or theoretical writing, or performance. It’s the synthesis of the conversation between them for me that’s the exciting thing, you know?

MS: Absolutely. I was reading an interview that you gave in Art in America right at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. You talk about the importance of viewing your work “collectively” and in public space so that there can be interactions not just between the viewer and the film, but also among the viewers in the space. Now that we’re a year into this pandemic, have you found some ways to encourage collective viewing—even as we’re so separated—be it through technology or the COVID Manifestos you’ve been posting to your Instagram page?

CS: You know, no. I don’t mean to sound so curmudgeonly, but Instagram or viewing video online is a substitute—and I’m hoping it’s a temporary one. It’s lovely to get a bunch of likes, but I think it would be even lovelier to not have to use Instagram to lament the passing of friends, family, people, and the difficulty of living in this age. I think that these formats encourage a kind of individuality that I’m really trying to undermine with my work. I hear people who are really embracing Zoom and all these new technologies, and there are some things about them that are fantastic—like not having to hop on a plane to go give a talk. That’s great. But on the flipside, I’ve realized it’s really difficult to give a talk over Zoom, because you’re just talking into a void. To me, that’s not a collective engagement. I just don’t see that as really being a substitute for what happens when you actually engage people in shared space. We’re just human beings, we’re just little animals, and it doesn’t appear to me that we’re designed to live like that. I’m not able to offer optimism in that regard. It’s not something I’m interested in. 

MS: This feels especially true considering how attentive you are to the spaces you create to view your videos within exhibitions. I’m thinking of your recent Whitney Museum exhibition [Mutualities, which closed in January] and that fantastic blue couch you [and exhibition designer Jared Huggins] made for viewers to sit on while viewing Sojourner! You create such inviting and immersive exhibitions, and it seems counterintuitive to experience these spaces by yourself.

CS: That was one of the painful things with Covid—even with the blessing of having the Whitney open [last fall], they had to take out the giant blue couch, which we called the Cookie Monster. That was for safety, I guess. I don’t know. To me, that’s a component of experiencing the work—that’s just not something to sit on. These are the kinds of things that make it difficult for me to talk about the discovery of this new technology as having some potential for liberation, because I’m just not sure what is liberatory about spaces that have to deny hospitality and comfort like technology does. I’m just not sure what that means. I’m not blaming the institutions, obviously. They’re doing what they can to make art accessible, but it’s really about the fact that these are components I built into the work, so I feel that without those components the spectator is not really experiencing the work. They might as well maybe look online if they can’t sit down, you know? 

Cauleen Smith was born in Riverside, California, in 1967 and grew up in Sacramento. She earned a BA from San Francisco State University and an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her films, objects, and installations have been featured in group and solo exhibitions across the country, including at the Studio Museum of Harlem and the New Museum, New York. She is the recipient of multiple awards, grants, residencies, and fellowships, including the prestigious inaugural Ellsworth Kelly Award of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Smith recently relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles where she teaches at CalArts.

This interview was originally published in Carla issue 24.

Cauleen Smith, Give It Or Leave It (installation view) (2020–21). © Cauleen Smith. Image courtesy of the artist and LACMA. Photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA.

Cauleen Smith, Give It Or Leave It (installation view) (2020–21). © Cauleen Smith. Image courtesy of the artist and LACMA. Photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA.

Cauleen Smith, COVID MANIFESTO #8 (video still) (2020). Video, colour, and sound, 2 minutes Image courtesy of the artist, CIRCA, and The Showroom, London.

Madeleine Seidel is a curator and writer based in Brooklyn. She has previously worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art and Atlanta Contemporary. Her writing on film, performance, and the art of the American South has been published in SSENSE, frieze, The Brooklyn Rail, and others.

More by Madeleine Seidel