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Los Angeles
Group Exhibition
Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90024
June 12, 2016 - August 28, 2016

Made in L.A. 2016: Wipe Your Feet on the Way Out
by Lauren McQuade

Cracked and imperfect, resting atop a section of otherwise crisp white marble floor, is a carpet of gridded reddish dirt.

At the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, in a biannual exhibition tasked with representing local creativity, a portrait of the region’s artistic practice takes shape—installed alongside the very firmament from which it was excavated. The earth, the grit, the material of the city—literal and imagined—makes its way into the museum.

“It's a dynamic moment in Los Angeles,” said Hamza Walker, standing on the rough terrain. Walker is Director of Education and Associate Curator at the Renaissance Society of Chicago and was brought in to co-organize this year’s Made in L.A. biennial with in-house curator, Aram Moshayedi. 

“We were working well within the wake of Pacific Standard Time,” continued Walker, speaking of the 2011 effort funded by the J. Paul Getty Trust to document the history of art activity and movements in Los Angeles after World War II. The six-month exhibition was shown in dozens of arts institutions across the city. The newer biennial, initiated in 2012 and now in its third edition, aims “to both be mindful and respectful of that [effort] but also just to acknowledge a new day…an acknowledgement of Los Angeles as a very big place and a cosmopolitan town and not have the artists necessarily be answerable to older, more stereotyped notions of what Los Angeles is.”

“So that was really, I think, what we had in mind in terms of looking at these artists,” said Walker. “And a kind of scale of ambition,” Moshayedi added. The co-curators are synergetic in their ability to pick up and expand the other’s talking point. Their voices echoed across Lindbrook Terrace, a breezy outdoor space and the last stop on a tour of Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only.

This year is the first time the Hammer brought in a curator from outside of the city for the biennial. In preparation—and with the muscle of the Hammer on their side—Walker and Moshayedi visited about 200 studios throughout Southern California over the course of 12 months. Their search spanned as far south as San Diego, east to Joshua Tree, and back up just north of the city to Ventura.

The first iteration of Made in L.A. featured a whopping 60 artists; the 2014 biennial showed 35. This year the exhibition features work from 26 artists and offers more in-depth presentations of individual bodies of work than previous iterations, extending beyond visual art into such disciplines as dance, fashion, literature, music, film, and even those which defy categorization. Todd Gray’s contribution, for example, is not physically present at the Hammer but instead exists in his day-to-day life. The curators asked the artist to “remount” a memorial gesture he made to his late friend and collaborator Ray Manzarek (co-founder and keyboardist for The Doors) when he wore the musician’s clothing for a year after his passing, not at all certain whether or not he could call it a work of art. 

For the duration of the biennial, Gray will be wearing Manzarek's actual wardrobe. “So if you happen to see him, there's the work,” Walker said with a laugh.

Guthrie Lonergan, Screengrab of the Hammer Museum website with widgets by the artist, June 2016


The 26 artists occupy the entire museum, down to the Hammer’s website, which incorporates widgets by Guthrie Lonergan. The artist also created an explorative, tonal soundtrack based on popular reality television shows—Top Chef, the Real Housewives franchise—that recurs at five separate points throughout the museum, spliced with other artists’ work.

The highly compartmentalized exhibition is laid out as an extension of the Hammer itself, meandering in and out of its every pocket, each room like a mini solo show. These in-depth surveys of individual bodies of work function like condensed retrospectives that effectively give artists who have been producing work in Los Angeles for many years their due.

Labor Link TV, Installation view, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only, June 12–August 28, 2016, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest


There’s an entire room full of viewing stations playing episodes of Labor Link TV, a initiative of artist Fred Lonidier, which produced public-access television programs about Southern California labor movements and union activities from 1988 to 2011; we find walls lined with new paintings by Rebecca Morris; there’s a presentation of Arthur Jafa’s “cookbooks,” which were used to develop an authentic black aesthetic for his 1991 film Daughters of the Dust. Jafa, a director and cinematographer, collected hundreds of clipped images in over 200 notebooks never meant to be shared, let alone put on display until Walker and Moshayedi suggested it.

“ was something of a revelation that there had been somebody who had been so prolific with his output but not had any career recognition...”

Kenzi Shiokava, one of the older artists featured in the biennial, moved to Los Angeles in 1964 from Brazil (he is ethnically Japanese). At the Hammer, the artist is exhibiting part of his large collection of timeworn found objects, carved wooden totems, and assemblages in a display that mimics his long-time Compton studio.

“The density we wanted to reflect was the density we encountered when we first visited Kenzi in his studio, where he's lived since 1994,” said Moshayedi. “I think for both of us it was something of a revelation that there had been somebody who had been so prolific with his output but not had any career recognition or any attention per se; we were completely mesmerized.”

Rebecca Morris, Installation view, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only, June 12–August 28, 2016, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest


“This potential, to not only introduce the work of emerging artists but also important artists that have not received adequate exhibition opportunities in recent years, is a real strength of this exhibition and a major reason I am thrilled to be a part of this iteration,” biennial artist Kelly Akashi told me. “I have always admired Aram’s pursuit of finding artists working with new ways of communicating meaning through their work, and how to bring the energy of the artist's studio to an exhibition.”

The 2016 biennial brings the outside into the museum space, in both material and historical registers.

Akashi is among the younger, emerging artists participating this year. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she chose the Hammer’s courtyard to represent a relationship between bodies, objects, and architecture. Her two sculptural works comprise objects modeled after her own hands and enlarged layers of onions, molded in rubber. These are bound together and suspended above the courtyard by rope as a means to enhance its corporeal qualities.

“Hamza and Aram were excited by the space I chose, but also wanted to challenge me to push the temporal and handmade qualities of my previous work,” said Akashi. “They encouraged me to push my materials, process, and the defining boundaries of the work itself.”

This pushing of boundaries is a defining characteristic of the 2016 biennial, which in many ways brings the outside into the museum space, in both material and historical registers. Emblematic of this script flipping is Rafa Esparza’s la tierra, an elevated walking surface paved with 1,900 square feet of adobe bricks.

Looking down toward my feet, I can see handprints and finger marks in the solid chunks of hardened dirt. The bricks themselves were “Made in L.A.” by Esparza and his father with dirt sourced from South L.A. and the Eastside communities of San Fernando and the San Gabriel Valley, and mixed with water from the L.A. River.

Rafa Esparza, la tierra, 2016, Adobe bricks, found objects. Installation view, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only,
June 12–August 28, 2016, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
 Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Brian Forrest


Leading up to the installation, Esparza invited Walker and Moshayedi, along with close friends, to unearth various objects he had buried back in January around the historic region of Chavez Ravine, partially located in Elysian Park. Largely recognized today as the home of Dodger Stadium, the site was once a multigenerational Mexican-American town that has since become a classic example of displacement by development.

What you'll find in la tierra are four different pieces that live atop the adobe surface—including a cactus still sprouting new growth from a royal blue upholstered chair excavated by Esparza and Moshayedi. Another object is an old mailbox, unearthed by Walker and the artist. It’s from Esparza’s childhood home in East Pasadena and still has a bullet hole from a drive-by shooting pierced through its corner (despite his father’s best efforts to repair the hole over the years with Bondo).

“I think of [the objects] as sort of synchronous site-specific actions or gestures,” Esparza told me the day after he finished installing the work, “meaning that when they were being made, they were conceived as a peek into the physical aspect of Elysian Park, its history, the place of home, as well as each individual that would be invited to dig each object up. The site was simultaneously like a psychic and physical space, both materially tangible as well as fleeting and ephemeral.” 

“There's layers and layers to this work,” said the artist. “I was interested in approaching or treating the Hammer as a site, and incorporating or thinking about archaeology as a practice we use to consider how museums apply value to found or discovered objects and then designate where they exist after they're brought up from the ground.”

Galleries and traditional art spaces should never be a default designation for artworks.”
                        —Rafa Esparza

Esparza had initial apprehensions about participating in the biennial. He typically works and performs in public sites across the city, rather than museums or institutional spaces, and he doesn’t believe artwork needs biennial or museum recognition to validate it. “For me,” he said, “what it meant to agree to participate was the opportunity to speak to museum culture, to speak to the institution directly. I was critical of the two prior exhibitions and I feel like here's an opportunity where you could speak directly to what you see is problematic about how museums function; I'm excited to see what the presence of this work does.”

He went on: “I'm also interested in the sort of conversations that can happen about displacement and the sort of role artists, art spaces, and art in general—this like capital “A” art—and how that impacts communities that are facing and fighting gentrification.”

“I feel like there are communities that have historically been marginalized from the mainstream art world. I'm thinking about the Chicano art community and the Eastside.” The artist mused about how such communities might participate in future biennials: “It would be really interesting to make those invitations and invested inquiries into practices that have been formed, made, and evolved through a lot of resilience in Los Angeles.” He wondered what those conversations would look like, and how artists might respond. “Galleries and traditional art spaces should never be a default designation for artworks.”

“Museums tend to be happy when things are static and quiet and don't talk back.”
                        —Aram Moshayedi

Like Esparza, Made in L.A. 2016 thinks hard about museum value systems and their roles as repositories and presenters of culture. With a reach extending beyond art world pre-approved candidates—and beyond the visual arts more generally—the curators acknowledge the responsibility they have in bestowing value, in representing a city. Inevitably bestowing institutional recognition, the curators nevertheless allow artists working primarily outside of traditional art spaces to continue to work on their own terms—expanding on previous work while showing a more complete portrait of themselves to a new audience. Walker and Moshayedi were also thoughtful in their attempt to bring some essence of the artists’ studios into the exhibition, pushing work forward toward new audiences—in some cases, early in the artists’ careers and as the work evolves in real time. Lauren Davis Fisher, for example, works her large-scale installation practice into the Hammer, integrating sculpture and architecture. Fisher will alter her installation weekly throughout the run of the exhibition, reflecting the changing of forms and the types of labor that are key to her practice.

Lauren Davis Fisher, Installation view, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only
June 12–August 28, 2016, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Brian Forrest


Moshayedi considered bringing practices like Esparza’s into the Hammer. “In some ways it was a push I think for artists like…Rafa to push their practice, to think about how things that they had done in more experimental contexts could happen within a museum,” Moshayedi said. “Most often, museums are resistant to this kind of work because of the challenges that it obviously faces for every single department within here…Museums tend to be happy when things are static and quiet and don't talk back.”

“We really have to thank [Director] Annie [Philbin] and Co. for allowing this much dirt to be brought into the museum,” said Walker. “On that note if we can all use the mats when you exit that'd be great.” 


Lauren McQuade

Lauren McQuade is an LA-based writer, photojournalist and editor with interest in social issues and the representation of culture in the city of Los Angeles.


(Image at top: Kenzi Shiokava, Installation view, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only, June 12 –August 28, 2016, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest)

Posted by Lauren McQuade on 6/27 | tags: performance installation sculpture Made in L.A. 2016 biennials Los Angeles Art hamza walker aram moshayedi rafa esparza

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Nathaniel Mary Quinn
612 N. Almont Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90069
May 13, 2016 - June 25, 2016

Piecing It All Together: Nathaniel Mary Quinn Transfigures a Shattered World
by Sola Agustsson

Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s fragmented portraits recall his childhood growing up in the Robert Taylor Homes, a notorious housing project in Chicago. His new series Highlights, now on view at M+B in Los Angeles, features highly personal works that reflect on his upbringing and the people he knew who were able to escape the violence and poverty so many experienced in the now demolished project.

Though his pieces resemble collages, they are in fact improvised paintings. Quinn does not do initial sketches of his works, preferring to paint using a process of free association based on internal visions and emotions that arise when thinking about a particular subject matter. He uses combinations of charcoal, pastel, gouache, and oil paint on vellum to create a pastiched style that is truly his own.

Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Lamont, 2016, Black charcoal, gouache, soft pastel, oil pastel on vellum.
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles


The abstract, distorted figures encompass both grotesque and innocent imagery reflecting many facets of the human experience. The works are intimate and embracing of binaries: good and bad, male and female, past and present. Quinn’s work gives reverence to all aspects of the individual experience. “The journey of those living in difficult communities like that of The Robert Taylor Homes is reflected in all of humanity. No human is impervious to pain and loss, to despair and grief, to suffering and longing. Such a disposition does not exist, and all experiences are, indeed, relative to one’s own unique set of circumstances,” the artist told me. 

Quinn was the youngest of five brothers born to illiterate parents. His father provided for the family with gambling earnings from pool halls. His brothers were all high school dropouts, many of who succumbed to addiction and alcoholism. Quinn, a precocious artist, received a scholarship in eighth grade to a prestigious boarding academy in Indiana. His mother, who was crippled from two strokes, died soon after he left, and when Quinn returned home from school one Thanksgiving, he found his entire family had abandoned him. He was 15 then, and he hasn’t talked to his family in the two decades since. He says he believes now their abandonment may have been a blessing in disguise. After graduating high school, Quinn received a BFA from Wabash College and an MFA from New York University. He is now lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Antoine Jackson, 2016, Black charcoal, gouache, soft pastel, oil pastel, oil paint, paint stick on vellum.
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles


The specter of childhood runs through Quinn’s work, with cartoon fragments spliced into many of his pieces. Quinn first began making art by copying comic books in his youth. He infuses superhero illustrations into his portraits because he thinks people he knew who were able to escape the projects are superheroes in their own right, saying:

One’s escape from a community akin to the Robert Taylor Homes is predicated on a mutant-like feat, where the psychological barrier and its very purpose were deconstructed and, somehow, rebuilt. The shapes and forms in my work, the works’ marriage of that which is beautiful and that which is grotesque, of a Frankenstein-like framework of cut parts and components by means of intense rendering and painting, all give rise to the journey of such a difficult, yet necessary, human transformation.

One subject who made it out of the housing projects cycle is “Rosey,” a nickname for the artist’s best friend, who won a scholarship to the same boarding school he attended. “It was rather strange meeting a chap like Rosey; most of the boys in the Robert Taylor Homes were incredibly tough and, at times, rather dangerous, although, obviously, they were not born this way: the interlacing factors of the community were efficient enough to bring about a certain conditioning that made empty the sanctity of life and optimistic prospects of one’s future. Rosey never succumbed to such conditioning, which could, perhaps, be attributed to a collective set of influences: the love, compassion, and discipline of his mother,” Quinn said of his friend. Rosey now enjoys a successful career in the Midwest.


Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Rosey, 2016, Black charcoal, gouache, soft pastel, oil pastel, oil paint, paint stick on vellum.
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles


Though these portraits are singular depictions of people Quinn knows personally, they relate to larger universal themes of human resiliency. The collagist structure conveys the fragmentation inherent in an individual’s collective experiences. Influenced by Cubism, Francis Bacon, and Neo Rauch, Quinn is drawn to artists who meld seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive whole.

“My aim is to, firstly, create, but to also reflect human capacity for all that exists,” says the artist. “The various structures in my work—the layering of shapes and forms, of color and tone, of lines and that which may be described as decorative—are reflections of the complexity of human existence, of presenting such reflections on the same plane, all at once, to be fully embraced by the viewer, and by which the viewer will be confronted.”  


Sola Agustsson 

Sola Agustsson is a writer based in Los Angeles. She studied at UC Berkeley and has contributed to BullettFlauntThe Huffington PostAlternetArtlogKonch, and Whitewall Magazine.


(Image at top: Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Elaina, 2016, Black charcoal, gouache, soft pastel, oil pastel, oil paint, paint stick on vellum. © Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles)

Posted by Sola Agustsson on 5/31 | tags: mixed-media figurative painting portraiture Nathaniel Mary Quinn

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Group Exhibition
Christopher Street West / LA Pride
8687 Melrose Ave., Suite BM48, West Hollywood, CA 90069
June 10, 2016 - June 12, 2016

At LA Pride, Muse Durk Dehner Talks Tom of Finland’s Popular Resurgence
by Neil Vazquez

Meandering through West Hollywood’s crowded streets—filled with trendy boutiques, coffee shops, and upscale salons—it’s difficult to come across vestiges of the city’s queer roots. Long gentrified by high rents is a rich history ensconced in leather bars, tea rooms, sex shops, and the like. It’s a history that while obscured, is still vibrantly alive in the memory of Tom of Finland Foundation Co-founder, Durk Dehner. Since 1984, Dehner served as the official head of the organization meant to promote the work and aesthetic of Touko Laaksonen (aka Tom of Finland), the Finnish artist responsible for drawings and sketches of muscle-clad leather men that embody a pre-AIDS gay archetype.

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1961, Graphite on paper.Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation


Dehner first came across Tom of Finland’s work in a New York leather bar. He was immediately captivated by the explicit imagery, fetishized depictions, and idealized renditions of the male form. It was something he’d never seen before and the work pierced him in a way no other piece of art had. Though not shown at a traditional art venue, Dehner knew he was gazing upon the work of an artist keenly aware of, and able to capture, the social-sexual milieu of the era. He wrote Lakksonen a letter and soon enough the pair were sharing Dehner’s Echo Park home. It was a complex relationship, built on friendship, collaboration, and mutual support, but also fraught with the unending tensions between artist and muse. 

(left) TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1979, Graphite on paper. Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation
(right) TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled,
 1988, Graphite on paper. Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation


For years after Lakksonen’s death in 1991 the Tom of Finland name fell into obscurity, buried under the weight of the AIDS epidemic and its overwhelming effects on the libertine sexual atmosphere of the 1970s. The hedonistic days of consequent-free casual sex were over. In their place a more sanitized queer archetype took hold over the community.

Yet, for the past several years his work has experienced a resurgence, especially among younger men who matured in a world where preventative medicines are readily available. With the stigma and fear of AIDS long gone, and mobile apps putting casual sex right at their fingertips, gay men are undergoing a sexual revolution. The old norms are out and new ones are established daily. For the Tom of Finland Foundation the artist’s popular comeback translates into a wellspring of opportunities situating the practice in dialogues and spaces ranging from high art to kitsch. For the first time his work has been represented by major galleries and museums like MOCA-Los Angeles and New York’s Artist Space. Simultaneously, the recognition also spawned a number of product collaborations from rugs, t-shirts, plates, linens, sex toys, postage stamps, and even coffee.

Recently, they’ve collaborated with LA Pride for the festival’s art fair, entitled Cruising, curated by Nathaly Charria. While initial plans for the festival were met with a fair share of controversy from the local community, the organizers are unperturbed in their mission to queer public space, an endeavor deeply tied to Tom of Finland’s core guiding principles. On the eve of the festival I sat down with Dehner at the foundation’s Echo Park home to get his perspective on how the organization, and the art it supports, sits in the ever shifting dynamics of contemporary gay life.

Neil Vazquez: How did you first come across Tom’s work? What initially drew you to his images? 

Durk Dehner: I was 26, so I didn’t grow up with his work. I moved to New York to become a part of the leather scene there and I won a contest at the Eagle’s Nest. At the bar next door, Spike, I saw a little ad with Tom’s work. I never had a piece of art affect me before, but I had a physical experience with it. I had to have it.

I showed it to a friend of mine, who was also an artist, Dom Orejudos (aka Etienne) who was a contemporary of Tom’s, and told me about him. [Dom] had Tom’s address, and I wrote him a letter telling him how much I loved his work. We stayed in contact and he would see my name and picture in different magazines like the Saturday Evening Post because I was modeling for Bruce Weber at the time. A year later I’d moved back to LA and he wrote me letter telling me that he was coming to town for a show at one of the local gay-owned galleries. I hosted him on his first trip. That was 1977, and in 1981 after coming back and forth several times he moved here with me.

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1989, Graphite on paper. Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation


NV: What role did you play in his career?

DD: Immediately I realized what a big impact he would have on the community and how deeply he impacted their individual lives as gay men. I also saw how much he’d been abused by publishers who would reprint and copy his work without permission. So I offered, as a friend, to help promote him in America and it evolved from there. In 1978, I got him an exhibition in New York were he met Warhol and Mapplethorpe.

NV: How did Tom interact with the art establishment at the time? 

DD: One of the things that Tom has been honored for is as an example for artists to hold their own. He stood up to the galleries and museums and said, “This is what I’m doing and I don’t care.” Back then galleries were hesitant to show erotic art. So, we made our own galleries where gay artists could show their work. 

More than anything Tom’s work stood for freedom. That’s the universal appeal. I was in Paris a couple of years ago for the opening of one of Tom’s shows and there was this stylish woman at the entrance looking into the show and getting emotional. When I went up to her she told me, “this man was truly free,” and I completely agree with that.


TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1989, Graphite on paper. Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation

NV: What’s the appeal of leather?

DD: The pleasure of life is to present yourself in a different way, and see how people react to it. There are few things that evoke a certain sensuousness and mystique as much as leather. When you wear that hide you’re put in a different state of mind. When you put on a pair of boots you walk differently. Even on that level it’s one of life’s pleasures.  

You wonder, though, if it will sustain itself. I was so surprised when I was in Europe a couple of months ago that black leather and jeans are in right now. It’s super trendy again. 

NV: In a sense, it’s sort of a drag of its own?

DD: Well that’s a touchy subject in the leather community. There’s a difference between costume and gear. Costumes tend to be associated with parties, Halloween, and what not. Gear is something that is yours. If I give someone a vest or boots that belong to me, I’m not just giving them a used piece of leather; it’s an embodiment of everyone that’s worn it. When one man gives gear to another man, you’re getting something that has the energy of the person that came before you. 



TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1987, Graphite on paper. Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation


NV: How did the AIDS epidemic shape Tom of Finland?

DD: Before it we were freer than we are now in a sense. Now we have legal rights, but people are more hesitant to experiment and push boundaries. It’s not just sexual—you see it in art. Artists don’t make explicit pieces because they’re afraid they can’t sell them later on. It’s more of a commercial censorship. 

NV: Do you think new medications, like Truvada, are somewhat responsible for a resurgence in Tom’s popularity?

DD: Yes, AIDS was a war and it happened. Everyone that survived it became very safe. Where we are now we don’t need validation, we need to explore where the parameters are. But it’s not just gay boys—Tom’s work has a mass message and appeal. The thing about it is that sexy never goes out of style.


Neil Vazquez


(Image at top: Tom of Finland and Durk Dehner. Photo: Jim Wigler) 

Posted by Neil Vazquez on 6/7 | tags: drawing LA PRIDE erotica homoerotic gay tom of finland leather

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