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)

To Crush Absolute: On Patrick Staff and Destroying the Institution

Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glenndinning.

What is commonly known as Hyde Park—central London’s largest public park—is actually two parks conjoined. To the west, Kensington Gardens contains Kensington Palace, currently home to Britain’s future king and his family, while Hyde Park, to the east, was once Henry VIII’s hunting estate. Both—as with Regent’s Park, Green Park, Richmond Park, and several other of the city’s major green spaces—are officially Royal Parks, which means that the public’s longstanding access to them is courtesy of the monarchy, which nowadays does most of its animal-rearing and animal-killing on more expansive estates further afield.

Kensington Gardens also contains the Serpentine Gallery, where Los Angeles-based, British-born artist Patrick Staff recently presented On Venus. This exhibition was specially commissioned for the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, an extension of the original gallery that opened in 2013 in an 1805 gunpowder store and was renovated and expanded by architect Zaha Hadid. It was the young artist’s most significant exhibition to date following their exhibition Prince of Homburg, at Dundee Contemporary Arts, Scotland, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, earlier in 2019. 

The Serpentine is a non-collecting, kunsthalle-style space which has been free to the public since it opened in 1970; it is a popular destination for weekend park strollers and for the denizens of the affluent neighborhoods that surround it. Despite being considered one of the U.K.’s most progressive art institutions, last summer it was embroiled in controversy after it was revealed by The Guardian that its CEO, Yana Peel, was, along with her husband, a major stakeholder in an Israeli cyberweapons firm. Within a week, Peel had resigned. (Soon after On Venus opened to the public, Los Angeles art maven Bettina Korek was announced as Peel’s successor.) Furthermore, in April of last year, exhibiting artist Hito Steyerl spoke out against the institution’s acceptance of (and prominent acknowledgment of) support from the Sackler family, who’ve been called to account due to their ownership of the OxyContin-producing Purdue Pharma. Though the institution is no longer accepting funding from the family, the Sackler name remains on the building.

“The show is a very direct response to being asked to make an exhibition for the Serpentine, which in my mind occupies such a large position in the London—and British, and even European—art consciousness,” Staff told me recently. Given the newly perceived toxicity of the institution, however, the offer was not the straightforward accolade it might once have been. Staff, whose training at London’s Goldsmiths College embedded them in the Marxist, leftist, European intellectual tradition, had previously made work that was critical of both the medical industrial complex and orthodox systems of military, class-based, or penitentiary control. “I needed to accept and acknowledge the complicity of making a show there, but then also find a way to act within that.” 

On Venus was comprised, essentially, of three distinct though interrelated installations. With Acid Rain for Serpentine Sackler Gallery (all works 2019), Staff transformed the building—and by implication the institution it houses—into an ecosystem and a body, with veins in the form of steel pipes fixed to its walls and ceilings that dripped a mysterious acidic liquid into steel barrels, from whence it evaporated back into the atmosphere. Mirrored laminate covered the gallery floors and colored gels rendered the space a sickly yellow, leaving the viewer with the—not unpleasant—sensation of floating in piss. 

A photograph of an eroded church gargoyle welcomes visitors to On Venus, recalling the damage that acid rain does to limestone and marble—materials often used in the construction of civic buildings. Staff explains: “You realize that what was really coming under threat (in the U.K. at least) were churches, banks, museums, prisons. On the one hand, I’m trying to grapple with the erosion of public institutions, but maybe also reveling in the ecstasy of these melting walls, ceilings leaking acid, maybe destroying the Serpentine altogether.” 

If Acid Rain for Serpentine Sackler Gallery transformed the building into a poisoned (or maybe medicated) body sustained by jerry-rigged pipework and pumps, what was the nature of its malady? The notion that the institution depended on the recycling of a toxic substance was deliciously appealing, given that its major funder’s fortune was partly made from an addictive opioid. But for Staff, who identifies as non-binary, the body supported by a pharmaceutical regime also suggests affinities with the trans body. In past works, the artist has regularly described states in which the dichotomy of health versus debility is impossible to parse. In the video Weed Killer (2017), for example, the protagonist describes the life-saving but devastating effects of chemotherapy; in Staff’s 16mm film depollute (2018), the gruesome surgical technique of removing one’s own testicles is reframed by its title as a cleansing, restorative, and even emancipatory action. Staff says that gender dysmorphia is “the main way I interface with the world.” In On Venus, the dysmorphic body was evoked by a space that felt discombobulating and unnatural. 

Encased within the Serpentine Sackler Gallery are two brick-walled spaces, relics of the armory’s original architecture known institutionally as the Powder Rooms. In the first, Staff’s installation On Living drew on a story published in April 2018 by British tabloid The Daily Star (and recycled by other newspapers) which alleged that the notorious child murderer Ian Huntley was seeking to transition from male to female while in prison. “Soham beast Huntley,” shrieked the paper, “seeks sex swap on tax payer.” The virulently transphobic—and baldly fabricated—story was later quietly retracted. Staff etched both the original articles and their retractions (using another, much stronger kind of acid) into steel plates that were mounted on large grey boxes in the darkened space.

In the second Powder Room, Staff projected the title video On Venus, a collage of abstracted footage showing various forms of industrial farming, from the milking of cows to the collection of urine from pregnant female horses—the latter of which is used in the manufacture of the estrogen- replacement drug Premarin. The film crescendos through increasingly unwatchable forms of animal cruelty, progressing from slaughterhouses to the skinning of live raccoons and snakes. Mercifully, it eventually segues into a poem by the artist describing the condition of living on Venus where “there is pressure / enough pressure to crush absolute.”

Another metaphor in the exhibition for what Staff describes as “a kind of ambient pressure, ambient violence” is acid rain, which hasn’t been high on our growing list of environmental crises for over a quarter of a century. Staff explains, “I remember as a kid thinking if I went out in the rain it would burn my skin, that I’d melt like in a horror movie. But then learning that it wasn’t as direct as that, that it was more complicated, more structural.” Staff has created enveloping systems that imply the threat of physical harm in past installations too. The presence of acid in the pipes around the gallery is akin to the vicious security spikes installed around the walls of Staff’s recent exhibition Prince of Homburg, where it was not clear whether viewers were being kept in or out (out of what?), and whether they were being protected or controlled. Staff’s assignation of meaning to symbols is always multi- layered, inconstant, and subject to reversal. In hatefull to the stomach, harmefull to the braine, a 2018 exhibition at Commonwealth and Council, Staff presented several sculptures incorporating public drinking fountains that recycled water in self-evidently closed systems, undoing the fountains’ typical association with good health by introducing the possibility of pollution, toxicity, or, in the case of one work, Public Drunk (2018), messy inebriation—a state that Staff associates with a queer mode of being. 

Throughout the Serpentine show, Staff challenges viewers to wrestle with ideas that are contradictory, confusing, and uncomfortable. Taken together, the three parts of the exhibition seem to dangle some simplifying analogies (the institution as a body; the animal body as an incarcerated body; the trans body as an incarcerated body; the trans body as an animal body). But these connective themes soon start to fissure and splinter apart. That’s intentional. “The assumption that I’m making a point about whether it’s good or bad to kill animals, or whether Huntley is a victim or not, says something about what we think artists do— particularly those who are seen as other in some way—what we think my, their, or our art does, what the museums do who show that work, what we think we’re getting out of engaging with culture.” (When I ask if Staff is vegan, they laugh and say that everyone asks them the same question. They are not.)

Staff makes us aware that so much of our interpretation of contemporary art is based on the decoding of analogies in order to arrive at the moral position that we guess the artist—and by extension the institution—is advocating. But here, that doesn’t work. Animal cruelty is abhorrent—but what about if it helps trans people self-actualize with drugs like Premarin? Why is animal cruelty unbearable to witness, but human cruelty sells newspapers? As Staff puts it: “The difficulty of being asked to have compassion for someone who is positioned as being beyond compassion,” or “asking when we’re okay with violence and when we’re not okay with violence. Whether certain images, certain models, for killing are tolerable while others are not.” 

The questions that challenge us, the viewers, also challenge Staff; the artist scorns what they describe as “most artists’ obsessive relationship to their own individualism—myself included!” As a trans person, Staff is expected (by the public, by the host institution) to deliver some kind of message derived from—or likely about—their exceptional experience of the world. “That is about how museums and institutions package the lives of trans people,” they say. It might be tempting to assume that trans issues figure as the connective tissue of the exhibition. But in equal measure the show engages with incarceration, animal rights, biopolitics, environmentalism, austerity politics, social and structural violence—all wrapped up in a critique of the function and limitations of the institution itself. Staff says they are ultimately most interested in creating situations in which the artist and the viewer “go somewhere together”—even though Staff immediately confesses that they are “repulsed” by the phrase’s implied optimism in the art-making process and its promise of a clear destination. 

The comforts of civic beneficence, of class, of criminal justice, of public health, of human sovereignty over the natural world, and of the improving effects of culture: all are Victorian principles that anachronistically endure even in the most seemingly enlightened institutions. While Staff’s first anarchic impulse might be to tear the entire system down and start from scratch, through their varied and thoughtful artwork of the past 10 years or so, they have tended not to outwardly attack, but to inwardly complicate: to revel and rejoice in moral ambiguity and the collapse of logic. Many aspects of On Venus—the acid, the excruciating footage of animal cruelty, the citations of media transphobia—might seem like incendiary devices deployed with transformative intent. What one leaves the exhibition with, however, is a sense of how issues are enmeshed within broader structural problems. What more poignant example than the Serpentine itself: a free public institution on royal land, supported by the financial spoils of past and present violence and exploitation, hosting artworks that suggest the possibility, at least, of its own destruction but through which it paradoxically becomes more prestigious, and therefore more stable and secure as a consequence? Staff gives the example of science, which might seem to offer a totalizing explanation of the world, but “the deeper you dig into it, the more you try to understand it, the less sense it makes. That is such a relief to me. Because my experience of the world is not binary, not coherent.”

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 19.

Patrick Staff, Public Drunk (2018). Oasis water fountain, water, pump, vinyl tubing, aluminum bucket, PVC pipe, chain, plastic sheet, sock, snail shells, temporary tattoos, tape, 44.5 x 17 x 18 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles. Photo: Ruben Diaz.
Patrick Staff, Public Drunk (2018). Oasis water fountain, water, pump, vinyl tubing, aluminum bucket, PVC pipe, chain, plastic sheet, sock, snail shells, temporary tattoos, tape, 44.5 x 17 x 18 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles. Photo: Ruben Diaz.
Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.
Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glenndinning.
Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glenndinning.
Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glenndinning.
Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glenndinning.
Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glenndinning.

Jonathan Griffin is an art critic and writer based in Los Angeles. He writes for Frieze, The New York Times, the Financial Times, ArtReview, Apollo, and others.

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