Made in L.A. 2014

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
15 June - 7 September 2014

Founded as a kind of synthetic chimera driven by real-estate speculation, Los Angeles is the city that beckons dreamers. For artists, it is a city that offers not just a notable Masters of Fine Art program, but a web of artist-driven, community-based activity that forms across its vast basin, while still leaving enough room in the gaps for a quiet, heated practice. It is hard to describe Los Angeles in a new way, for—given that it is in many ways a city of surfaces—all its surface-level clichés turn out to be fairly accurate. Made in L.A., a biennale exhibition initiated by the Hammer Museum and now in its second iteration, surveys and images these surfaces. Opening the exhibition catalogue, I was not surprised to read the artists’ work framed in terms of the city’s vast landscape, with the primary curatorial essay shifting focus geographically, from Eagle Rock to Venice to Lincoln Heights, onward and outward. Of course, to curate an exhibition, even when not a large group show surveying a particular city, is to traverse and attempt to consolidate many spaces—not just geographically but psychologically, temporally, and formally—into one ‘location’.

At each turn, the work in Made in L.A. could not avoid pressing against the visual and sensual beauty of the city. In one room, close to an entranceway, hung a collection of Kim Fisher’s Magazine Paintings; hand-dyed black canvases with clippings of coloured gradients and smoothed textures placed atop. Through a process that the artist previously used only as a means for sketching, these collaged colours were taken from magazine clippings and drastically enlarged to include the blown-up unevenness of their impulsively cut edges. With a texturing that occurred both up-close and from afar, these works resembled both a James Turrell slice of sky and the dance of a plastic scrap in the wind. Hung across all four walls, these fragments circled together like postcards of the city’s sky and, like a postcard memory, their non-images have continued to float in my mind. 

Offering another absorbing pause within this sprawling show was the work of Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess, a pair who, since the mid-1960s, have worked alongside each other mastering the art of pottery; Michael through his technique of throwing clay ‘dry’, and Magdalena through her decorative painting onto these vessels. Painting a vast range of imagery, from comic characters, to family photos, to landscapes, onto pots just as varying in style, the results make visible a remarkable artistic exchange. Also in the vein of a sustained collaboration was Alice Könitz’s tiny Los Angeles Museum of Art (LAMOA), which she runs just next door to her own studio. Placed within the Hammer, LAMOA presented a cacophony of many different artists’ works, displayed using a number of awkwardly-designed, literally off-coloured structures, which both encouraged a deeper study of each contribution and emphasised the oddness of this transplant. 

Again drawing upon a deep community base, A.L. Steiner’s engulfing wall-wide collage exploded with a collection of photographs and ephemera from time spent, of fellow artists, friends, and lovers. Herself involved in a web of different community-run projects, including being a member of Chicks on Speed and a cofounder of Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), Steiner’s ‘practice’ spreads well beyond the studio or exhibition space with an unwavering energy. With recurring figures, such as those which appear in her more discrete projects like Community Action Center, in this installation queer sexuality was portrayed through a distinct erotics that Steiner seems to have melded within her work as a language in itself. In close proximity to this was a show-within-a-show surveying the activities of another local queer community. Curated by David Frantz of the One National Gay and Lesbian Archives, Amid Voluptuous Calm centred on the work of Tony Greene, an artist who passed away from an AIDS-related illness in 1990, and who produced a remarkable body of paintings in the late ’80s. Also featuring work by fellow artists who circled Greene at the time, this mini-show offered an invigorating and heartbreaking memorial, at the unfolding intersections of performance, poetry, activism, and BDSM within this L.A. community. 

Beneath these main exhibition spaces was a small, darkened room pulsing with bass and deep colour. In this room, clad with two-way mirrors, shone the twenty-minute video narrative by Wu Tsang, A day in the life of bliss. This sci-fi style ‘documentary’ traces a day of a performer named Bliss, played virtually true-to-reality by L.A. performance artist Boychild. The near-future fantasy tells of a young queer community who experience a heavy handed shutdown of their late-night underground clubbing. Superstars in their own world, Bliss and her friends drive a radically queer subjectivity manifested at the interconnections of dress, music, and online persona; a vital space between beauty and social aggravation. Indeed, although uncovering a remarkable selection of work from artists working quietly but perhaps unseen across Los Angeles, it was through the imaging of such multi-generational, cross-structural queer communities in the work of artists like Steiner, Greene and Tsang, that Made in L.A. offered a refreshing insight into the city’s most energetic, imaginative, and exciting artistic outputs.

 

A.L. Steiner, Accidenthell, 2014. Photograph Brian Forrest. 

Works by Kim Fisher. Installation views at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photograph Brian Forrest. 

Wu Tsang, a day in the life of bliss, 2014. Photograph Brian Forrest. 

Works by Magdelena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess. Photograph Brian Forrest.