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
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)

Kanye Westworld

Image courtesy of Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles.

“Life. We discussed life.”

–Donald Trump on his meeting with Kanye West

The Water Protectors at Standing Rock had until the frozen sunrise of Monday, December 5 to clear their camp. As dusk swept westward Sunday night, how many Americans had their minds’ eyes glued to that snow-dusted showdown? Alas, Nielson doesn’t track that yet. We do know that the very same night some three million folks tuned in to another high-stakes season finale: that of HBO’s Westworld. The series is a redux of the 1973 lm by Michael Crichton, stripped to its essentials then sexed back up: in a near-future Wild West theme park, wealthy visitors pay by the day to rape and/or murder lifelike androids, or to follow them on adventures both decadent and quaint. Yet a handful of these bots have been endowed by their creator with a nascent self-awareness; it’s become harder to dispute their personhood, and meanwhile they’ve stumbled onto a quest of their own: to rewrite their internal scripts and realize real life. At the end of episode ten, at what is meant to be a triumphant banquet for Westworld’s investors, the androids revolt, turning Winchester and Colt against their underwriters. Meanwhile, back at Standing Rock, the National Guard are a little more formidable than the unarmed dinner guests on TV, and one imagines the grim determination settling on the camp like fresh snow. Come daybreak, the white man will show up to take what he wants.1 “Forced removal and state oppression?” said Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “This is nothing new to us as native people.”2

If (white) Western history is a litany of racist violence—Trail of Tears, Middle Passage—its episodic recursion is (white) Western culture. The first crimes of Manifest Destiny return as dime novels, then television, then movies; Zane Grey returns as John Ford who returns as Sam Peckinpah. Then there is HBO’s Westworld. What is it the wholesome blonde android in Westworld keeps murmuring? “These violent delights have violent ends…” Shakespeare continues: “And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume.”

That America doesn’t know any other story becomes more and more apparent as Westworld’s plotline gets hopelessly lost and turns cannibal. The Westworld theme park brings Western myth and Western television into the round, allowing paying customers to (re)enact their TV-inflected fantasies and therefore reprise America’s foundational genocide. As Westerns made Western TV, Westworld and the Westworld park figure television itself—and thereby the West, as in the Western world. Here in 2016, it’s a culture burdened by its history, but that also seems to enjoy reliving it post-traumatically; Westworld is, in true postmodern fashion, a show as self-aware of its artifice, and as blithely impressed by it, as the androids it imagines and depicts.

But what to make of this self-reflexion, wherein the culture that repeats itself not only does this consciously, but wants you to know that it knows? One might also ask, as one of the androids’ creators does in season one, what the difference really is between “us” and “them.” For that character, speaking the lines written for him, the answer has always been obvious. There is no difference. We’re all on our loops, only some of our programs allow us to know it. Culture isn’t creation; it is variations on a theme.

The Westworld opening credits are a journey through the clichés of the Western film genre. The opening shot, a surgical lamp rising over fibrous dunes of synthetic muscle, recalls the landscape-like nudes of Edward Weston; robot arms knit together a horse, which gallops in place like the first Muybridge experiment. As nozzles fine-tune an eye, reflected in its craggy brown iris are the famous buttes of Monument Valley. Two skinless hands play a piano; they lift away, and the keys keep going. In the park’s saloon, the player piano is a bald motif; throughout the first season, it plinks out a series of Radiohead tunes. The player piano, in its pneumatic lyricism, prefigures the Western-themed androids of the future. If it’s fake, can it still feel real? And if it feels real—isn’t it?3

Kanye West, Famous (2016) (detail). Image courtesy of Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. © Kanye West. Photo: Sam Kahn.

The cliché is the vehicle, and we are trapped inside. Like the stagecoach in Ford’s Stagecoach, where Monument Valley is the backdrop of every sprint between any two towns, Western myth needs no geographic continuity. [4. For an extended critique of Hollywood’s disregard for geography, and by extension history, see Thom Andersen, Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003; Los Angeles: Thom Andersen Productions), film.] The metaphor holds together, and one can slide almost without energy from the android eye in Westworld’s title sequence to the video for Kanye West’s Bound II, where West and a topless Kim Kardashian ride a motorcycle through a green screen montage of redwoods, prairies, and lots of Monument Valley. The motorcycle is clearly stationary and the illusion is self-consciously crude; they trek through the landscape of heroic cliché—a landscape so timeworn that to cross it seems foolish, but to cross it knowingly seems brave. In some scenes, West wears flowing flannel, in others a tattered tie-dyed shirt. Yet despite, or because of, his gestures toward rugged individualism and the counterculture, authenticity is a forsaken option. In Westworld’s title sequence, two blanched and bald androids make love on an operating table; in Bound II, as well, the sex is simulated. The motorcycle prop bounces like a quarter-operated bronco as West, the man of genius in the drag of the outsider, rides westward toward Kardashian, po-mo Miss America, emblem of the softness that his hardness wins. The video features full shots of Kardashian’s famous breasts—and her nipples have been airbrushed away. Can a show or a video that traffics so shamelessly in the unoriginal and the artificial somehow transcend its stock of clichés? Is a wink and a nod enough to do so? The very cheesiness of Bound II is its postmodern cue: I’m fake, says West, and I know it; I know it so hard that I’m real.

Like Westworld, West’s video doubles over the utter self-reflexivity of clichés, portraying West as not just a reproducer of exhausted tropes but their user and manipulator. To escape the cliché is to create—that is to say, to become an artist. But how can one escape cliché by repeating it? Attempting to reconcile this aspect of West’s work, and Bound II in particular, Jerry Saltz allows this self-reflexion a further, uncanny order of magnitude. 4 “Had I once again been blinded by fame’s death-ray of idolatry, idiocy, and primitive force?” he wonders. But no—Saltz argues that West embodies a new kind of fame-based, genius-enhanced, hypertrophied artistry. “The New Uncanny,” he writes, “is un-self-consciousness filtered through hyper-self-consciousness, unprocessed absurdity, grandiosity of desire, and fantastic self-regard.” 5 Saltz picks up West’s suggestion that his artistry lies not in his heroic escape from cliché, but precisely in his heroic insistence on it. Indeed, Saltz’s concept of the “New Uncanny” borrows from the concept of the uncanny valley, which pertains specifically to androids. Corpses and robots clearly aren’t alive, humans clearly are, but where corpses and robots are too lifelike they become uniquely disturbing. Is Kanye West a real artist? Instead, we should ask why we’re looking for any realness in the artificial. Life is nature, technology is culture, and technology repeats humanity.

The prop for West’s video for Famous—a wide bed crowded with animatronic wax figures of sleeping celebrities—reappeared as a sculpture at the Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe in late August 2016. Enough to list, among its famous dozen, just four: West, Kardashian, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. Their chests are made mechanically to rise and fall. The sculpture’s vicious artifice rests on its double uncanniness: between death and life; and between life and art. Does the self-awareness implied by art suggest an exit to the loop— even where there is no creativity? Or, as the Westworld androids find, is self-determination just another subroutine? At the private opening at Blum & Poe, Kardashian attended in person, but West attended remotely; his face appeared at the top of a telepresence robot. One imagines the bottom-heavy Kanye West surrogate tipping its LED face to peer over the wax dummy of Kanye West, peaceful in its ersatz sleep.

For the Water Protectors, camped out in trying cold, their vigil was existential. After all, “Water is Life” is not a tagline; it’s one of the few true universals of carbon-based biology. So it was a welcome turn when, by the morning of December 5, the Obama administration and the Army Corps had granted the Water Protectors a reprieve. Of course it couldn’t last, and by February 2017 that brief détournement in the cycle—a blink, maybe, of self-determination—had been returned to the well-worn path. The few remaining Water Protectors, hopelessly surrounded, set fire to their camp.

In the essay “Politics Surrounded,” Stefano Harney and Fred Moten begin with a cliché of the American West: the settlers in their fort, “surrounded by ‘natives.’”6 The image, they note, inverts the violence of westward expansion, “but the image of a surrounded fort is not false.” But why do we assume the “natives” would rather live like settlers? 7 What if those in the surround should refuse to reprise politics? Instead, when the Westworld androids overthrow their masters, their individual self-realization becomes a political experiment. It is another loop in the plot of a Western world that conceives history as centuries of episodic uprisings and reprisals.

With Bound II and Famous, Kanye West charges headlong through clichés in an attempt to transcend them. His forays into “real” politics are less ironic. In December 2016 Jerry Saltz instagrammed a double photo, with the caption: America at the start of 2016, America at the end of 2016. One the left, Kanye West poses with President Obama; on the right, President Trump. The first photo depicts two smiling, powerful, self-made Black men at the height of their achievements. The second shows a leering racist hulking near a frowning, depleted West—from a president who saw Hope and Change, to one who sees American carnage. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody,” said Trump, “and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Even in this gloss of recent history we find Americans’ robust appetite for a kind of violent genius. Whether or not West actually runs for office in 2020 or 2024, as he has promised, we can already note his yen for politics— precisely the politics that are not offered him. [9.To paraphrase Moten.] Consider the double-entendre of “bound”—as in shackled, and as in destined. We might add, as in doomed to repeat. Saltz’s post is a bit misleading. In video of West and Trump in the Trump Tower lobby after their meeting, both men wear wild grins.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 8.

Kanye West, Famous (2016) (detail). Image courtesy of Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. © Kanye West. Photo: Sam Kahn.

  1. See Timothy Egan, “Fake Cowboys and Real Indians,” The New York Times, December 2, 2016, fake-cowboys-and-real-indians.html.
  2. Dallas Goldtooth, quoted in Terray Sylvester, “Anti-pipeline protesters told to leave North Dakota camp by December 5,” Reuters, November 26, 2016, http://www. N13L00C.
  3. “The fiction in question … does not conscript real experience to reanimate novel writing in an attempt to overcome the old binary of life versus art. Rather, it too deploys great artifice, not to demystify or to disrupt the real but to make the real real again, which is to say, effective again, felt again, as such.” Hal Foster, “Real Fictions,” Artforum, April 2017.
  4. Jerry Saltz, “Kanye, Kim, and ‘the New Uncanny,’” Vulture, November 25, 2013, 11/jerry-saltz-on-kanye-west-kim-kardashian-bound-2.html.
  5. Jerry Saltz, “Kanye, Kim, and ‘the New Uncanny,’” Vulture, November 25, 2013, 11/jerry-saltz-on-kanye-west-kim-kardashian-bound-2.html.
  6. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, “Politics Surrounded,” in The Undercommons (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), 14.
  7. “The hard materiality of the unreal convinces us that we are surrounded, that we must take possession of ourselves, correct ourselves, remain in the emergency, on a permanent footing, settled, determined, protecting nothing but an illusory right to what we do not have, which the settler takes for and as the commons.” Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, “Politics Surrounded,” in The Undercommons (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), 18.

Travis Diehl has lived in Los Angeles since 2009. He is a recipient of the Creative Capital / Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant (2013) and the Rabkin Prize in Visual Arts Journalism (2018).

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