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
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)

Laughing in Private:
Vanessa Place’s Rape Jokes

Vanessa Place (2018). Photo: Nicholas Alan Cope.

“I laughed in private,” said psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster, after Vanessa Place performed her Rape Jokes on stage in Brooklyn in 2015.1 I read, Place’s book version of the performance, out this past November and called You Had to Be There: Rape Jokes, cover to cover, while still in bed, then went back to sleep, not entirely because of its weight or crude violence (for instance: “My wife was raped by a mime. He performed unspeakable acts”). It was more the effectiveness of the book’s structure, which made it digestible, so that its readability contradicted its offensiveness (my own impulse to consume pitted, exhaustingly, against any impulse to condemn). The cover is yellow-tan, the serif font inside bigger than usual, a white page placed between each page of text—a needed break that makes continuing easier. No images, special punctuation, or line breaks—except occasional indentations—interrupt the jokes.

Place, a longtime L.A. poet, artist, and criminal defense attorney, took her jokes mainly from crowd- sourced websites, like Reddit’s humor page. When she delivers them in person, she keeps inflection to a minimum. The content is conveyed through form, particularly the way she strings one joke into the next. “Rape…it’s not a walk in the park” to “Rape…it’s a walk in the park” to one that blurs the hypothetical into violent pragmatics: “What’s small shiny and makes a woman want to have sex? A penknife.”2 Later, pedophile jokes transition to fair trade jokes, the slippage between bodies and products intentional but not didactic.

Place’s performance-as-book arrives not just at a moment when the culture protecting powerful sexual offenders is notably fracturing, if too slowly, but as we are learning how to work and live while acknowledging the nature and prevalence of such offenses. The understandable, easier tendency, already playing out in certain spheres, is to congratulate one another for weeding out the Harvey Weinsteins and Matt Lauers, then pretend the problem away. The question of “what to erase” in order to keep the status quo intact can too easily overshadow the more generative, and interesting, questions: how to recognize our complicity in abuse, protect those around us from it, share knowledge of offenses and offenders responsibly, puncture the cults of personality that allow single individuals so much impunity.

Late in November 2018, David Edelstein, film critic for New York Magazine and WNYC Radio’s Fresh Air, made a rape joke. The filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci had died and Edelstein posted on Facebook, “Even grief is better with butter,” alongside a still from the anal rape scene in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972). The late star Maria Schneider said a few years before her 2011 death that the butter used as a lubricant in that scene had been a surprise, a scheme cooked up by Marlon Brando and the director—the script included simulated rape, but she had no warning that butter would be used on her body; some of her onscreen anguish was real. After Fresh Air fired Edelstein, he said he’d never heard Schneider’s account, but how could he miss that the culture industry had collectively stopped laughing at blatantly sexist products of a patriarchal power skew? Laura Kipnis, the feminist critic often critical of feminists, wrote a Guardian op-ed about Edelstein, identifying in his firing an unstated rule: “jokes and flubs will be treated as diagnostic instruments, like those personality tests sometimes administered to prospective employees.”3 She was indeed pinpointing a trend, to terminate rather than interrogate, one that often appears more motivated by damage control than desire for difference.

In her article, Kipnis quoted Place, whose You Had to Be There had just arrived in print. Place, Kipnis said, helped her understand how highlighting Edelstein’s offense might make him a proxy for our own cultural guilt (hadn’t many more of us once readily admitted to enjoying Last Tango’s transgressions?). Kipnis then argued that it’s “time to stop hiding behind the ‘speak truth to power’ mantra, when women […] can wreck a guy’s career with a tweet!”4 Her pat conclusion seemed to suggest that rapists, jokers, and angry victims all equally need to cool down and collect themselves. But Place’s book, by giving gratuitous attention and pages of space to “jokes and flubs,” rejects just this kind of easy equivocating.

Place does not parse the degree of an offense, moralize, or single anyone out for defense or critique. Instead, her project provides a controlled stage to a chorus of uncomfortably familiar (and sometimes very dumb) abusive sentiments. Case in point: “The way my new girlfriend responds to me, I’d almost swear she was conscious.” The jokes’ lack of specificity makes them infectious, like they could morph to fit and then violate in any context, given the chance. The platform Place offers the predatory makes no move toward absolution, for audience, performer, offender, or language; her project is instead a symbolic, over-the-top stand-in for something we haven’t yet figured out how to do in the public arena: let offenses exist, unelided, while we figure out what to do about them.

From You Had to Be There by Vanessa Place, published by powerHouse Books.

Ten months after he admitted to harassing five women and said he’d take a step back and “listen for a long time,” comedian Louis C.K. made a rape whistle joke (something about not being “clean as a whistle”), frustrating women in the audience. Before his fall, his jokes about men-as-predators more often came off as empathetic (“we’re the number one threat of injury and mayhem to women,” he said in one set).5 But perhaps that was just because we weren’t paying close attention. After comedian Daniel Tosh made that infamous “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now?” joke about a female heckler, C.K. told John Stewart how much he’d learned from the controversy. “[R]ape is something that polices women’s lives,” he said. “That’s part of me now that wasn’t before.” Yet he added, “I can still enjoy a good rape joke.”6 Unfortunate that the jokes he told when he started forcing his come- back—the rape whistle one, or one about how Parkland survivors would be better off finger fucking than testifying in Congress—didn’t use as fodder his own first-hand experience with sexual predation and its consequences. A well-structured, honest set about posing as a feminist while still chasing all the problematic perks of celebrity male privilege? I’d stay for that, and, likely, laugh harder, because it would be raunchy and revealing in the way only smart comedy can be.

But alas, offenders’ fear of transparency is muddling their eloquence. Harper’s and the New York Review of Books served as mouth- pieces for alleged predators in fall 2018—respectively, John Hockenberry, a public radio personality accused of harassing multiple coworkers, and Jian Ghomeshi, a radio host and musician accused of non-consensually choking female sexual partners. Both penned extremely long personal essays about their relatively short time as social pariahs, the poor quality of the writing among the many problems with allowing them such prominent outlets. Both introduced themselves in passively self-promotional, innocence-emphasizing ways (“Not so long ago, I spoke to hundreds of thousands of listeners across North America every day on a public radio show,”7 wrote Ghomeshi, adding that he makes his most public appearances now at a karaoke bar, where even women who know of his foibles soon realize that he is quite nice). Hockenberry compared himself to Nabokov’s character Lolita—“her innocence lost along with any identity other than sexual,”8 just like his! Theoretically, open letters from predators could be informative, and maybe these were, in that they showed how eager even publications associated with the liberal elite were to embrace the “let’s move on; we’re better now,” narrative.

Place also had her own “social pariah” moment. She started a Twitter account in 2009 through which she retweeted all of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, letting its racism hang out, in order, she said, to tempt the litigious Mitchell estate to sue her. In 2015, six years into the account’s existence, activists and other artists criticized her for repeating a racist text, and using an illustration of Hattie McDaniel as “Mammy” as the profile picture. Her appearance on a panel at The Whitney and a talk at CU Boulder, among others, were cancelled. Place made few excuses for the project and did not demean her critics. Then, weirdly, outrage diffused, allowing her to come back with another project that uses her same old strategy, of repeating the indefensible. “A work of art can feel like a violation,” Place says in the artist statement at the end of You Had to Be There,9 though too often art violates through its failure to acknowledge its own stakes and complicity in an oppressive culture.

In contrast, dark humor from someone who fears, or knows the danger of, those stakes has a different kind of edge: Wanda Sykes joking about a detachable vagina (“some crazy guy jumps out of the bushes, and you say, ‘oh, I left it at home!’”). Comedian Cameron Esposito released her comedy special Rape Jokes on her own website in June 2018. There is no joke about the sexual assault she experienced, just a quick description, but she lyrically pillories the circumstances that allowed, exacerbated, and followed it (her lack of sex education, conservative Catholic college, closeted lesbianism, suspicion of heterosexuals, cultural assumptions about survivors).

Performance artist and comic Adrienne Truscott debuted Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! in 2013, pre-#MeToo groundswell. She performed nude from the waist down, a joke in itself about what “asking for it” means. An MSNBC anchor interrogated her about this choice—didn’t it invalidate her arguments, distracting audiences from otherwise valid points about sexual objectification? No, answered Truscott, she had structured the performance to take into account about ten minutes of discomfort around her “outfit,” but after that, the nudity became banal, the audience free to engage with other content. “I do not doubt that you are talented,” interrupted the anchor, missing the point.

Place too inures her audience to her project’s salaciousness before bringing it to its conclusion: “People shouldn’t make jokes about rape. It’s funny enough as it is. If you didn’t want to hear a rape joke, why did you come? I’ve got this really funny joke about rape. Actually, nah, you had to be there.”10 It stings in the end by reminding of both how close and how far the words are to the real thing.

Notorious novelist Norman Mailer once said that giving Diane Arbus a camera was “like putting a grenade in the hand of a baby.”11 He disliked the photo she’d taken of him, manspreading but looking silly, soft and floppy rather than commanding. He would have preferred to be the romantic, dashing hero, but he wasn’t, and Arbus wasn’t a baby— she was a fully formed artist who, all her personal complications aside, knew how to explode unhelpful pretenses. Her photograph is a little like Place’s book, which is not so much a grenade as a sharp autopsy of naked awfulness. It blows nothing up. It just shows what’s there.

Place, herself recently labeled problematic, excises and represents the problematic without suggesting any road map out, but perhaps our search for solutions is prematurely distracting us from the nuances and depths of the problem.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 15.

Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For it: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring her Pussy and Little Else! (2013) (press image). Photo: Sara Brown Photography.

Vanessa Place, If I Wanted Your Opinion, I’d Remove the Duct Tape (2016). NU Performance Festival, Tallinn, Estonia. Photo: Silvia Pärmann.

  1.  The Ontology of the Rape Joke, with Vanessa Place, Jeff Dolven, Gayle Salamon, and Jamieson Webster, Showroom, Brooklyn, January 22, 2015.
  2.  Place, You Had to Be There: Rape Jokes (Brooklyn: Power House Books, 2018), 22-24.
  3. Laura Kipnis, “A Man Lost His Job to a Rape Joke. Are You Cheering?”, The Guardian, November 28, 2018.
  4.  Ibid.
  5. Louis CK, “Oh, My God,” stand up special on HBO, April 13, 2013.
  6. Louis CK on “The Daily Show with John Stewart,” Comedy Central, July 16, 2012.
  7. Jian Ghomeshi, “Reflections from a Hashtag,” New York Review of Books, October 11, 2018.
  8. John Hockenberry, “Exile,” Harper’s, October 2018.
  9. Place, 155.
  10. Place, 136-138.
  11.  Patricia Bosworth, Diane Arbus: A Biography (W.W. Norton & Company, 1984), 227.

Catherine Wagley writes about art and visual culture in Los Angeles.

More by Catherine Wagley