Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Opie

Chapter 1 (Update): MOCA Drama

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When I began writing this update to my previous post, I thought a list of bullets with links to the LA Times would suffice, but then I realized a crazy amount of MOCA drama has occurred in just over a year.  At least Vanity Fair journalists who love to write about the LA art scene have plenty of material.

CELEBRITY:

Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

It’s easy to make accusations about MOCA’s obsession with celebrity considering the museum’s galas.  Following Francesco Vezzoli‘s Lady Gaga gala in 2009, the museum hosted a gala directed by Marina Abramovic in 2011.  The Abramovic gala drew the ire of some for being exploitative of performers who served as live centerpieces… Debbie Harry also performed, and the whole shebang culminated in Harry and Abramovic hacking into cake-effigies of themselves…  Last this year’s gala happened on 4-20, and was themed appropriately – Cheech Marin attended and guests wore Hawaiian leis for some reason.

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Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

As promised, part two of the “gay” shows at LACMA.  But first, let’s discuss the gift shop that bridges the Eakins exhibition with the Opie exhibition.  LACMA, it seems, has been getting more and more brash with their gift shops, Pompeii’s gift shop was a smorgasbord of Italianate tourist crap, at least the Baldessari giftshop had some integrity with those clever erasers.  Let’s let the pictures speak for themselves.

Porn set or museum gift shop?

Okay I’m not really going to let the pictures speak for themselves; just look at those lockers! This is no longer a museum giftshop but a cheap set from a gay porn that takes place in a lockerroom.  Yes you can buy some related books on the two artists, and yes you can purchase some limited-edition Opie prints, but you can also buy LACMA jerseys and LACMA gym bags (sorry you can’t buy them online).  Why would anyone want to buy these items, especially when they don’t even have Baldessari’s logo on them?  When I asked the giftshop attendant if anyone had purchased a LACMA jersey, she said that to her knowledge no one had.  Hope they didn’t order too many of those LACMA jerseys.

Figure(s) and a landscape.

Out of the gift shop one enters into the Opie exhibition.  I don’t know whether I came in through the end, or should have gone through the other way, but I don’t think it mattered.  The first landscapes I saw were a series of surfers from 2003.  Several large framed photos were hung together to create a long horizon; the images practically disappeared into the muted blue walls of the gallery. In another gallery, sunlight (through glass bricks, a building material I think is SO eighties, but is apparently LOVED here in Chicago) illuminated the space and several river and forest landscapes. Sort of boring, where’s the gay stuff?

Contemporary symbols of masculinity waging battle.

In the last room, a cavernous space in the Art of the Americas building, which is usually arranged with temporary walls, was the “gay” stuff: photographs of football players.  High school football players, so let’s be careful because some of these jocks are still jailbait.  This is the major content of the show.  Wide compositions of helmeted players attempting firstdown look like epic battle scenes in this scale, especially compared to TV coverage of games which is usually areal views.  These large landscapes (with figures in them) are punctuated in the room by close up portraits the young men.

My friend who accompanied me (and who also has a thing for highschool football players) was torn between his attraction to these young men with their virile athleticism, and the fact that most of them had disgusting braces, and bad cases of acne.  I wondered if the subjects of these portraits know who Catherine Opie is, that she’s a lesbian, and that she had turned them into objects of homosexual desire, or at least objects of my friend’s homosexual desire.  Like a good blogger, I also wondered where all these photos had come from.

Hot and on loan: Tyler and Sean J.

Tyler (2007) and his farmer’s tan had come from across town, from the Hammer, many of the photos were here courtesy of the artist and her gallery.  Two of these portraits are on loan from private collectors.  The Justin-Bieber-haired Dusty (2007) had been loaned from Gerry Rich, and the ab-displaying Sean J (2008) had come from Eugene Sadovoy. Here is a funny headline about Rich considering this discussion, as well as some shots of his abode.  And Sadovoy seems to like California artists despite being an Eastcoaster who works for the Guggenheim.

The exhibition was curator by the still-new-ish Wallis Annenberg Photography Department curator Britt Salvesen.  I must say I much prefer this show to some of her previous work at LACMA.  Compared to New Topographics the scale of the works compared to the scale of the space is much more appropriate.  No tiny black and white photos on huge white walls here.

– H.I.

Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

This is what the fuss is all about.

To my readers: No more posts on LA exhibitions for a while (other than this one and the one to follow); I am now curled up next to a space heater in Chicago, while the rest of you complain about the amazingly hot weather in LA, boohoo.

Admittedly I coerced my best friend to come with me to see these shows (Opie next time) by selling them to him as the “gay shows at LACMA.”  They’re not really “gay” shows, but both have material that might be characterized as homoerotic, and maybe that’s why LACMA curators felt they needed to include the following at the entrance of the Manly Pursuits:

Warning Adult Material. (No joke.)

This begs to question—where!? I don’t see any adult material, unless you mean those paintings and photographs that have naked nude male figures in them.  Is this warning necessary?  Is it there because they’re naked guys? I don’t see labels warning about the naked women elsewhere in the museum.  Where’s the warning sign in the renaissance galleries for that painting of that slut Danae and the golden shower?

Try explaining what a golden shower is to your kids.

Moving on from that unnecessary warning, the always clever exhibition designers at LACMA have come up with inventive signage.  In the entryway a large title banner is hung from a complex rigging of ropes and pulleys.  The didactics in the exhibition are printed on thick canvas (this sailboat not the canvas you paint on), and hung from punctured grommet holes. Very wood shop and very manly I supposed.

Heterosexual exhibition design.

The exhibition is organized into genres of sport: rowing, swimming, hunting and sailing, equestrian, boxing and cycling, and wrestling.  This method is both user-friendly and functionally allowed for smaller and larger spaces.  This is not a full-scale retrospective, but a focused exhibition on one genre of Eakins’s work; this does not mean this is a small show or that it is lacking in works.

The first room, on rowing, had a plentitude of works: completed paintings, preparatory works, and sketches.  Eakins fascination (even obsession) with accurate perspective is evident in these works and the combination of works showcased the artist’s anal-retentive process.

No dick in this pic.

The swimming room is the room that I guess warranted the warning label (maybe also the wrestling room).  There is only one completed oil painting in the room, The Swimming Hole (1884-85), the only Eakins work on the subject matter. The canvas wall text informs that Eakins relied on photographs for this composition; this is obvious since the painting is accompanied in this room by so many photographs.  The photos are of “real” (LACMA’s word choice not mine) naked men, instead of idealized nudes (is that why we need the label?).  All of the photos are preciously small and require close proximity to view them properly.  The photographs come from various places (oh hey a loan from the Getty!) and are labeled as modern inkjets from original glass negatives.  I call them soft-core-porn (kidding, kinda).

Porn so small, you can barely see it.

The main attraction, on loan from the Amon Carter Museum, has chairs placed in front of it (chairs I’m pretty sure came from a conference room inside LACMA).  The wall text also explains that Eakins himself is one of the men in the painting, making this a clusterfuck of viewer-viewed-exhibitionist-voyeur-spectator-participant relationships.  I would like to point out that the finished oil painting has no visible penis in it, so what is the big deal?

Eakins was apparently an avid swimmer, or avid skinny dipper.

I blew through the hunting and sailing room, and the equestrian room, in pursuit of more adult content slash gay porn (still kidding LACMA), which I found in the boxing and cycling room.  This room had more naked photographic studies to satiate my desires (haha) and several large finished works in it including Saltut from the Addison Gallery of American Art (which has been linked to Gerome’s Police Verso which was just in LA), Between Rounds from Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the largest work, Taking the Count from Yale.  Pat on the back for being responsible and looking at where all these loans came from. This room was set with a series of benches arranged as they might be for a spectator sport like boxing (oh yeah that’s the topic of this room).

Art-viewing arena.

On to the wrestling room: This room is organized around LACMA’s The Wrestlers, it is a new acquisition and the central reason why LACMA organized this show.  More chairs from a LACMA conference room were set in this gallery to allow for longer views (also so viewers could get their rocks off) of the works, which include preparatory paintings (one owned by LACMA prior to the acquisition), and more steamy photographs. Damn LACMA I’m all hot and bothered now, all this adult content.

Porn from the permanent collection.

And after I’d already jizzed my pants LACMA really delivered with Tad Beck’s installation Palimpsest.  In a separate room, several works from Beck’s Palimpsest series were displayed, acting in dialogue with Eakins’s work. The subject matter of the male nude (the adult content remember) is not the only similarity Beck explains in an Unframed post.

Palimpsest 1, un(?)arguably homoerotic.

The last room of the exhibition is a reading room.  A really sad little reading room, which had a book on Eakins’s Grafly Album (sexy stuff), some terribly cheap Xeroxed essays, but oh wait, two iPads to read the pseudo-exhibition catalogue on.  This is a big show (in scale and importance), with lots of loans—I can’t believe there isn’t an accompanying exhibition catalogue (is one is in the works?), maybe the organizers didn’t have any funds left for publications.  But they had funds for those iPads…

The unfortunate gift shop and Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape will have to wait for next time.  But believe me the gift shop was UNFORTUNATE and less noteworthy the Opie show did have figures and landscapes (and more gay stuff).

– H.I.

Collection: The First 30 Years – Part 2 (Geffen Contemporary)

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Museum of Contemporary Art

Like the banner says.

After seeing the first part of Collection [link to part one post] at MOCA’s Grand Avenue location I was surprised to see that the seemingly meticulous chronological organization used there, had been abandoned at the Geffen Contemporary portion of the exhibition.  At Grand Ave. a single narrative was created with a series of rooms leading one to another.  The architectural space at the Geffen does not have a series of rooms, and instead has an open floorplan of a warehouse, which does not lend itself to a singular viewing path.  The experience at the Geffen is less rigid but also has little direction.

Burden’s Big Wheel keeps on turnin’.

Because of the lack of a set path, I was free to choose my own, and the first thing I was drawn to was Chris Burden’s Big Wheel.  It’s a large moving object and set right next to the admission counter, so it’s hard not to be drawn to it.  From there I followed a rampway up, passed an awkwardly placed Richard Hawkin’s painting Disembodied Zombie Skeet Pink, and continued on.

(Oh look! A zombie head I completely missed.)

You don’t want this Santa coming down your chimney.

The special installations, like Ruscha’s Chocolate Room at Grand Ave, continued in the second part at the Geffen.  Paul McCarthy’s installation of tarnished Christmas trees festooned in dust-covered flowers and ornaments, along with worktables and photographs of creepy, pervy Santa’s made up the piece Tokyo Santa, Santa’s Trees.

This is not to be looked at, but it kind of is; it’s an exhibition catalogue.

The usage of artists quotes for artworks was carried out again at the Geffen, MOCA’s best attempt at education.  In an additional attempt at education several benches were placed in the galleries with exhibition catalogues.  I wonder how many people actually read a single essay out of the catalogue.  The cover of the exhibition is Baldessari’s work This Is Not To Be Looked At, which is featured at the end of the of the Grand Ave portion of the exhibition.

Varying access to details, from left to right: Hirschorn, Altmejd & Sone.

Large sculptures were placed with enough space for a viewer to completely circumnavigate them.  This was necessary for examining the details of complex works like Thomas Hirschhorn’s Non-Lieux and David Altmejd’s The Egg.  The exception was with the installation of Yutaka Sone’s Hong Kong Island, which was surrounded widely with by black tape and kept the viewer too far to really appreciate the tiny details of the piece.

Outside-in, portals to the video art.

Underneath the platform of the previous galleries one could find creepy little tunnels leading to the video works.  Spelunking into the caves created a sensation of tension that overwhelmed the works; I was more freaked out than really concentrating on the works themselves.

Big, bigger, biggest.

In one room issues of scale were played with.  The attempt to balance large works within the same space, and not have them compete with one another, was successful.  Thomas Struth’s Pergamon Museum II, Berlin seemed large until viewed next to Thomas Demand’s Space Simulator, and that even seemed small with Fred Tomaselli’s Hang Over down the hall. And then the leviathan Khedoori Untitled (Seats) was right next door.

BIGGEST- Khedoori

Certain artists were featured in multiple places in the Geffen.  Baldessari was hung at the very back and also at the very front.  A series of Opie photographs was hung far from another self portrait.  Why do this? The artworks from the same artists did not necessarily speak more to the works they did hang by, and would have been more informative of the artists careers to compare earlier and later works.

Finally, after all of my meanderings, at the end of the exhibition, I came to the introductory wall text.  The bland and uninformative sentences were accompanied by Bruce Nauman’s colorful work Welcome.  The work’s title was appropriate for this placement, but that was about all that was appropriate about it. Now I understood the content warning label at the entry of the exhibition.  I also realized at this point that I had traversed through the show in the wrong direction.

What a Welcome.

I had made it through the show with little direction, which seemed to sum it up.  At the Grand Avenue portion of Collection, it seemed MOCA was presenting a cannon of contemporary art, explicitly creating a narrative.  Where as at the Geffen Contemporary Grand portion, MOCA allowed a visitor to create one’s own narratives.

– H.I.