Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Collecting History: Highlighting Recent Acquisitions

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Museum of Contemporary Art

The wording of the title of the show “Collecting History” creates a convenient ambiguity.  Is MOCA presenting the history of its collecting?—probably not, since these are recent acquisitions, and therefore this is not a show displaying its history. More likely MOCA is claiming with this title that through these acquisitions MOCA is collecting (verb) history.

The introductory wall text is the only “educational” anything in the exhibition.  It has a nice tie-in to MOCA’s previous exhibitions, saying the museum acquired works from these amazing shows.  Some of these shows were critically well received, but these expensive shows were also one of the causes of MOCA’s financial problems.  The intro wall text provides catch-all terms such as “significant works,” “historical, mid-career, and emerging artists,” and also “local, national, and international artists.” So basically anything goes.

Titular Image: Öyvind Fahlström, Africa Banner

Titular Image: Öyvind Fahlström, Africa Banner

The first room featured works by three artists: Valie Export, Öyvind Fahlström, and John Baldessari.  The combination of these three artist together in the first room seemed to satisfy the claims in the wall text: a local, nation, and international artist: Baldassari being American, and Fahlström and Export being Brazillain and Austrian respectively.  Fahlström’s work Africa Banner is also the title image for the exhibition, and was used on MOCA’s website.

Gordon Matta-Clark’s Office Baroque was installed in a way to consciously separate it from the setting in the gallery.

Newly installed wood floors: Gordon Matta-Clark, Office Baroque

Newly installed wood floors: Gordon Matta-Clark, Office Baroque

The chunk of parquet floor from the project was installed in a way that the lines in the wood on the artwork, and on the lines in the gallery floor were unaligned.  This served to partition the artwork from the space even though, formally, they are the same thing.

Formal comparisons were evoked in the framing of two works, which were installed in close proximity.  Hanne Darboven’s Evolution photos were framed (by the artist) in silver/gold gilded frames which seemed overly ornate by themselves let alone when compared to the crude unfinished wooden frames of Richard Tuttle water colors, Tan Group #1-7.

Pretty Frame / Ugly Frame: Hanne Darboven, Evolution & Richard Tuttle, Tan Group #1-7

Pretty Frame / Ugly Frame: Hanne Darboven, Evolution & Richard Tuttle, Tan Group #1-7

Obvious formal comparisons were the reason for installing three artworks together in another room.  Square compositions united Robert Huot’s Nylon One, Hans Hacke’s Condensation Cube, and Larry Bell’s Untitled glass box.

The viewer was denied a close experience with Liz Larner’s Lash Mat, as a result of two things: First was the ugly grey tape on the floor that served as cautionary partition. Second, there was also a prominent security camera, which would not have been so uncomfortable had there been something else in the room other then the work of art, you and the camera.

Big Brother MOCA: Liz Larner, Lash Mat with partition & security camera

Big Brother MOCA: Liz Larner, Lash Mat with partition & security camera

Halfway through the gallery rooms there is a very obvious change in the architecture.  Before this point the ceilings of the rooms were much lower, after this point the ceilings rose dramatically. Almost like a ta-dah!—and now for the good stuff.  Also dividing the high and low ceiling spaces was an industrial space.  The floors changed from hard wood floors to grey laminate, large emergency doors, a staff-only elevator, and a storage closet made this space seem like it was not intended for displaying art.  The space was automatically different.  Hung in this space were two works:  A Luisa Lambri photograph Untitled (Banco Boavista #01), & Ruben Ochoa’s photograph What if Walls Vanished from the Freeways, Would It Make a Sound?

Nobody puts Ochoa in a corner, Ruben Ochoa, What if Walls Vanished

Why were these works displayed in this space?  An unspoken value system was operating in these rooms.  It was if these works had lesser value because they had been displayed in this space instead of one of the white cubes of the other galleries.  This also reminded me of LACMA’s Phantom Sightings show, which displayed the same Ochoa photograph.  In LACMA’s show the photograph was hidden behind a large work, also seemingly devalued.

A more traditional installation technique was used in the display of Matthew Barney’s CREMASTER3: Partition. The three images were hung in pastel, opaque acrylic frames, (not so traditional) but were hung at equal levels, symmetrically like a triptych.

More Frame Obsession: Matthew Barney, CREMASTER3: Partition

More Frame Obsession: Matthew Barney, CREMASTER3: Partition

Another sense was stimulated in this exhibition; sounds permeated throughout all of the galleries.  Christian Marclay’s Shake, Rattle and Roll (Fluxmix) features many small sounds, which when combined create a great din.  The sound can be heard at the front of the exhibition, and the whole time you walk through the rooms you anticipate getting to the source of this great commotion.  The room it is displayed in (it is the only thing in the room) is the only room in the exhibition with no lights.  Every other room is brightly lit, but in this room the only light comes from 16 white glaring TV screens.

Two artworks which reference similar subject matter were Lucy McKenzie’s Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii and Allan McCollum’s Dog[s] from Pompeii. Both works draw visual and literal references from Pompeii.  McKenzie’s work uses the Villa of the Mysteries as a setting, and McCollum’s dogs were cast from the original dog from Pompeii.

Villa of the Mysteries Cartoon: Lucy McKenzie, Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii

Villa of the Mysteries Cartoon: Lucy McKenzie, Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii

Neglectful Pet Owners: Allan McCulum, Dog[s] from Pompeii

Neglectful Pet Owners: Allan McCollum, The Dog from Pompeii

Even though these two works reference Pompeian imagery, they are divided by several rooms.  Pompeii imagery seems to be very inspiring across Los Angeles.  More Pompeian art is on display in LACMA’s current exhibition, which explores ways artists have been inspired by Pompeii.

All of the artwork that hung on the walls was hung at an accommodating height, except for one. Only artwork hung at strangely high height is Louise Lawler’s Pleasure More, which is a photo of floating Warholian silver balloons.  The height of the installation was based perhaps on the content of the photograph, a balloon.

I’m 6’4” Just for Reference - Louise Lawler, Pleasure More

I’m 6’4” Just for Reference – Louise Lawler, Pleasure More

The last installation feature which stuck me in the exhibition was the relationship between to works, and how they interacted.  The highly reflective glass on Suzanne Lacy’s Prostitution Notes, reflected the bright blue neon lights from Marlo Merz’s 610 Function of 15.

Working the Boulevard, light from Marlo Merz’s 610 Function of 15 on Suzanne Lacy’s Prostitution Notes

Working the Boulevard, light from Marlo Merz’s 610 Function of 15 on Suzanne Lacy’s Prostitution Notes

This was an interesting interaction because the neon lights are reminiscent of Hollywood, and Sunset Boulevards which are the settings for some of the stories in the Lacy’s Notes.

All in all some things I did like and some things I didn’t.  What I do like to see is a museum displaying its permanent collection, instead of storing it away for years, and instead organizing costly exhibitions of borrowed work.  Well done MOCA.

- H.I.

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2 Responses

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  1. “Allan McCulum” is a misspelling … the name is “Allan McCollum.” And the seires is called “The Dog from Pompei,” with one “i”, the modern-day city of Pompei, not ancient Pompeii with two i’s.

    Marcia Uderin

    January 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM


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