Issue 36 May 2024

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Issue 27 February 2022

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Issue 24 May 2021

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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.)
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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)
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Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
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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)

More than Not: LACMA’s Not I and the Necessity of History

Leer en Español

NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE-2020 CE) (installation view) (2021). Image courtesy of the artists and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: © Museum Associates/LACMA.

Not I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE–2020 CE), a recent exhibition at LACMA, was in thrall to its ideas. Though ventriloquism was its central theme, curator José Luis Blondet’s vision went well beyond puppetry. Ten sections, each defined by that which it was not (“Not Double,” “Not Treachery,” etc.), gathered over 200 works—originating from all corners of the globe, and spanning three and a half millennia—under a breathless array of concepts associated with voice, sound, and objecthood. Among this motley assemblage, we might have marveled at the correspondence between the two- to three-thousand-year-old open-mouthed Colombian or Ecuadorian Gritón Figure Jar and five of Josefina Guilisasti’s similarly yawning bronzes, Resilientes/Resilients (2017). We may have savored the resonance between a late 15th-century Afghan bowl (inscribed in Persian with “My ear discerned a voice reverberating from the bowl”) and Robert Morris’ self-reflexive Box with the Sound of Its Own Making (1961), a wooden cube outfitted with audio of the sawing and hammering of its creation. I guffawed over a bubble-themed section that gave reason for Chardin’s Soap Bubbles (after 1739) to be in the same room as Goya’s etching, Sopla (Blow) (1799), which commemorates a powerful fart.

As much bemusement-by-association as Not I brought, the exhibition also played a high-stakes game. It experimented with the “thematic cores” that LACMA’s curators have been charged, increasingly, with fleshing out since at least 2013. These “cores” constitute the brief for reorganizing the permanent collection in time for the 2024 unveiling of Peter Zumthor’s new buildings,1 but their definitions have long been vague. Recently, Zoë Kahr, LACMA’s deputy director for curatorial and planning, alluded to some brainstorming around galleries, ranging from “single focus, single-artist presentations to looking at a single medium, to looking at a theme, to looking at a place across time or time across a place.”2

Not I was one of the two exhibitions LACMA has thus far offered that reveal a glimpse into these proposed strategies of “looking.” The museum’s 2018–2019 exhibit, To Rome and Back: Individualism and Authority in Art, 1500–1800, took a first crack at a thematic curation of the permanent collection by way of a newly united department of European and American art.3 Compared to Rome, Not I gathered a much more ambitious set of objects from a cosmic swath of time and space, which meant that the question of the colonial gaze was all the more present. And, the question of what an encyclopedic museum is—what it collects, how it serves its publics—felt all the more charged. 

Not I responded to the scrutiny by attempting to foreground its cleverness, sometimes with real success. During my second visit, another visitor chuckled at Gordon Matta-Clark’s photographic mural Pipes (1971), which led to three display cases containing pipes from across space and time, punctuated by Eleanor Antin’s photograph This is not 100 BOOTS (2002). All of these works were grouped together because of their relationships—literal and metaphorical, oblique and loose—to Magritte’s The Treachery of Images (Ceçi n’est pas une pipe) (1929). Like a voice-throwing trickster, Magritte’s puzzle about visual representation—a cornerstone of LACMA’s collection—didn’t make an appearance. Instead, it hovered over the show, less as an object and more as an echo. 

But that’s the thing. Not I’s objects were brought together to propel a thematic conceit that derived a rather self-regarding amount of pleasure from the intellectual connections it made. Here were 3,500 years’ worth of objects from dozens of cultures, all invited to speak to one another. But enthusiasm for ventriloquism’s associations obscured the complexity of the objects themselves. Hung in a section called “Not Johns,” Jasper Johns’ lithograph Ventriloquist II (1986) depicts a number of artworks in his collection, including George Ohr ceramics; a Barnett Newman lithograph; a lavish edition of Moby-Dick. It seems Johns’ prodigious interest in representing Americana was here cause for presenting Glenn Ligon’s Rückenfigur (2009), a neon work that spells “America” in reversed all-caps lettering. Perhaps the fact that Johns’ last name is slang for toilet became reason enough to present Robert Gober’s Single Basin Sink (1985) in this section. But by this logic, each of these objects became a prop to the Johns picture and so many of the curator’s free associations. For all of the exhibition’s good intentions about cross-cultural display, a more troubling conceit emerged: that putting words in the mouth of an object is more important than a rigorous historical understanding of the object itself. Ventriloquism indeed. 

NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE-2020 CE) (installation view) (2021). Image courtesy of the artists and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: © Museum Associates/LACMA.

This became especially worrying in the section “Not Duck, Not Hare” whose organizing device was the rabbit-duck illusion. What exactly does an 1892 German humor magazine illustration—which has since morphed into a psychological investigation of perception and a philosophical object lesson—have to do with ventriloquism, embodiment, or disembodied voices?4 I’m not sure. The gallery mixed a total of 33 works related to perception— many depicted either rabbits or ducks, such as European painted still lifes featuring just-hunted hares, Nayland Blake’s Bottom Bunny (1994), and Ed Ruscha’s lithograph Rabbit (1986). But this overstuffing subordinates non-Western works to a white, Western game of telephone. Consider Ryūryūkyo Shinsai’s Woman Making Rabbit Shadow for Small Boy (1807). The curator, Blondet, argued in the gallery guide that “it only took 189 years and a good dose of chance and luck for the distant gesture of a Japanese woman to produce the shadow of a rabbit on the surface of a Ruscha print.”5 Such “chance and luck” are, in fact, the dynamics of a historically colonial art market that conspired to bring these items into the same collection. And explaining Shinsai’s print as a consequence of Ruscha’s is not only ahistorical—it creates a reprehensible relation whereby Shinsai’s print has meaning only because it looks like something made by a contemporary white American male artist whose work is regularly auctioned off for eight figures. (It’s difficult not to believe that Ruscha’s lithograph serves as the exhibition’s favorite paradigm when it graces the cover of its publication.) What may at first have been fun bunny-spotting is, in fact, cultural appropriation. 

This is not a call for curators to reject playfulness. Rather, it’s an invitation to take the histories of objects seriously, and press those histories to creative ends. Due attention to history is especially vital at encyclopedic museums like LACMA, where curators steward objects acquired through death, plunder, munificence, and so many other events in between. They are also responsible for drawing out the wonder that an object evokes—not just because it’s well crafted, but because it has lived through histories that have helped it endure. That task isn’t easy. The historicization of an object is a fine triangulation between (1) the historical circumstances in which an object was made; (2) the itineraries of the object between the time of its making and the moment of its display; and (3) the contemporary circumstances under which a curator puts that object on display, including the constellation of other objects—each with their own histories. This creates a rhizomatic set of possibilities. As squirrely as history may be, museum curators serve as sensitive filaments, attentive to the moments when so many pasts resonate with the concerns of the present.

The associative, thematic curatorial mode isn’t necessarily the issue—it has worked in other contexts. It’s the logic of the biennial, where, from Seoul to São Paulo to Istanbul, curators choose to gather works of contemporary art under conceptual umbrellas. The annual rotation of curators for these exhibits are subject to the pressures of the art market and the tectonics of global politics. Meanwhile, the colonialist origins of the museum collection linger, but mostly from afar. (For curators at encyclopedic museums, those origins form the matrix out of which they must continuously wrestle.) What’s more, thematic organization has had the most success in museums with stricter chronologies, and, thus, works of art that have a mutual set of creative questions. Under those circumstances, curators are also usually careful to ground their themes in the objects on display. For instance, the Tate Modern’s Material Worlds in 2016 was divided into subthemes like “Texture and Photography,” “Assemblage,” “Expanded Painting,” and “Between Man and Matter” (itself based on the 1970 Tokyo Biennial).6 The point was to recruit objects from the museum’s permanent collection to examine how artists have stretched, pressed, refuted, and indulged the materials with which they work. Each object extended the theme; the theme did not overwhelm the objects. 

Some may argue that we now live in a canon-less world, where everybody’s Instagram feed looks different and no one narrative can tie together our disparate experiences. By that logic, it might make sense to connect LACMA’s collection to a wider audience through a curatorial mode that, like a Google image search, presents things that resemble one another, totally divorced of context. One could even double down and say that this is a less pretentious way of exhibiting art because it doesn’t require the viewer to bring an art historical background to its objects. Such arguments not only obviate the need for curators (I shudder to think of the exhibition generated solely by an Alphabet algorithm), they presume that because most of us are on the internet all the time we’ll want our museums to replicate that experience. But as this year has shown, we go to museums to hold space for different kinds of texture, different feelings of community—and these can only emerge in a place, supported by the work of many people, that centers objects with how they came to be placed in front of us.

So how to generate a theme that speaks to something shared between a museum’s objects and a large audience like LACMA’s? We are living under the weight of numerous collective difficulties. The traumas of 2020 and 2021—deadly waves of a global pandemic, constant re-capitulations of the racist hierarchies on which this country was built, assaults on democracy—continue to haunt us. Perhaps these unwished-for experiences might provide interpretive opportunities. What if, for instance, today’s curatorial inquiries started from what it means to rebuild and remake? Could objects from a collection as wide and as deep as LACMA’s animate how makers across time and space have recovered from loss, isolation, and abrupt disorientation? How have notions of justice and repair made their way into art made across cultures? Could the histories embedded in LACMA’s objects help us grapple with the very idea of a shared world? 

Not I’s missed opportunities ultimately make an important, if inadvertent, case for historical explanation. We go to places like LACMA not only to be dazzled by extraordinary objects and the wonder of their making—we go to look with greater sensitivity. We go because of a curiosity and a spirit of discovery. We go to learn why we’re surprised by such objects, to better understand how things from the deep past could possibly speak to our jolted present. We need the pasts that these objects can reveal— the ones that shaped them—to ultimately help shape us. 

Otherwise, we get an exhibit where a curatorial voice overwhelms the objects on display. Where a visitor talks distractedly into their iPhone, happy in the belief that throwing voices this way and that is enough; all the while ignoring so many marvels because context just doesn’t matter.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 25.

NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE-2020 CE) (installation view) (2021). Image courtesy of the artists and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: © Museum Associates/LACMA.

NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE-2020 CE) (installation view) (2021). Image courtesy of the artists and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: © Museum Associates/LACMA.

Ryūryūkyo Shinsai, Woman Making Rabbit Shadow for Small Boy (1807). Gift in memory of Mary Thayer Gruys. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: © Museum Associates/LACMA.

  1. The Presence of the Past was exhibited at LACMA from June 9 to September 15, 2013. The didactics for the show hint at these “thematic cores” but don’t define them. “(V)isitors begin their visit through an outdoor space—the existing plaza—which extends under the new building to reveal eight thematic cores that appear as independent volumes on the park level and rise into the exhibition level above.” And later: “Entering the museum through one of the thematic cores will offer visitors various starting points to the exhibition level…. A visitor can stay within the chosen core, journeying inward to formal galleries; decide to walk beside the façade to find entrances to the other five collection areas; or go to the restaurant facing the plaza.” LACMA, The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA Didactics, May 31, 2013. Accessed June 1, 2021.
  2. Carolina A. Miranda, “What will LACMA’s new building look like inside? Here are the long-awaited gallery plans,” Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2021.
  3. Christopher Knight, “Critic’s Notebook: Troublesome signs in LACMA’s risky reorganization plan,” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2019. Accessed June 1, 2021.
  4. Chloe Farand, “Duck or rabbit? The 100-year-old optical illusion that could tell you how creative you are,” The Independent, March 24, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2021.
  5. LACMA, “Exhibition Didactics: Not I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE–2020 CE),” 2021.
  6. Judith Spijksma and Ann-Sophie Lehmann, “Flattening Hierarchies of Display: The Liberating and Leveling Powers of Objects and Materials,” Stedelijk Studies 5 (2017). Accessed June 1, 2021.

Melissa Lo is a feminist historian of early modern science, medicine, and visual culture. She writes about the politics of art, cultures of images, and histories of contentious knowledge. Based in Los Angeles, she serves on the board of the Feminist Center for Creative Work.

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