Comedian Emily Joyce, dressed in a 14th-century bonnet and dress, rolls her eyes, hard. Sticking her thumb out in a gesture of one-dimensional 1990s sarcasm, she paces KCHUNGtv's makeshift set in the lobby of the Hammer Museum. The on-site camera editors are hushed. I walk in just as a big laugh is dying down.
“But seriously folks," she continues, "you gotta watch out who you're makin' out with these days ‘cause we got this Black Plague going around. Nothing more embarrassing than having your nose fall off in the middle of a date, am I right?" The crowd, some bouncing babies on their hips, others half-dressed, slipping into costumes for the next segment, bursts forth again.
The biennial is a slightly more comely cousin of the world’s fair; here, themes subordinate to geographies. At best it can map out some points on a shifting topology. In many of the galleries, artists’ sections imbricate one another, even if the flow is primarily formal.
Wu Tsang, A day in the life of bliss, 2014, Two-channel HD video, color, sound, Approx. 20:00 min.; Courtesy Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin, and Clifton Benevento Gallery, Los Angeles.
Wu Tsang’s installation A Day in the Life of Bliss (2014) is hived away in its own louche, pitch black space with floor cushions and mirrors, bouncing the 2-channel film off itself and the walls and the babies bouncing on hips that quickly turn tail as the queer post-apocalyptic tale obliquely unfolds. The production value is unadulterated Hollywood, in contrast to Samara Golden's Thank you (2011-), a self-contained world of portraiture and thrift shop pastiche that documents her engagement with Los Angeles even as it documents our engagement with the work. The two children inside the installation with me were so enamored with their multiplied visages they had to be literally dragged away from it.
If this year’s show fails to cohere into a snapshot of the contemporary art "scene" in Los Angeles, the likely culprit is a scene constantly shifting, changing the game, the objects, and the characters even within the three months of the exhibition. Of course, failure enamors and entertains more than success. In these vicissitudes, Made in LA 2014 blurs the line between the work and the viewer, or more broadly, the museum-going public and the art world. KCHUNG's platform is the most direct—live tapings run every weekend, and the public is encouraged to participate. The taped weekend shows will be aired during the quiet weekday hours, opening up a side door to the museum space (though it’s literally the front door), rallying participation as opposed to merely engagement, a word that connotes Q&A sessions and social media campaigns.
I'm reminded of Ray Johnson sneaking himself into the MoMA permanent collection—via donating a book of his to the museum's library—but here, subterfuge and ego are supplanted by cooperation and fun. Things are alive, and no space is off-limits. Both KCHUNG and Public Fiction are camped in the lobby galleries; Harsh Patel’s graphic statements, which can linger precariously on the verge of reading as window displays, are confidently situated in the front windows. Piero Golia’s work stands in stacks of uncarved foam on the Hammer balcony, eventually to be carved during the exhibition into a one-to-one replica of George Washington’s nose on Mt. Rushmore. And I’m hard-pressed to think of a corner of the museum where Emily Mast’s ENDE (Like a New Beginning) (2014) isn’t on display; while fingering the tote bags in the gift shop, two performers erupted into a brief wrestling match on the floor, then immediate parted ways, leaving only a few yellow feathers in their wake. The sophisticated shoppers cheered as if we’d seen an actual street fight.
Emily Mast, ENDE (Like a New Beginning), 2014, HD video, color, sound; live performance; and objects, 7:30 min; Photo: Stefanie Keenan; Courtesy of the artist
The nature of these projects being time-based, prone to transform, perform, accrete, and disappear makes it impossible to get a real impression from a single visit. Whether the projects suffer individually because of it, I don't know. Exploring Alice Könitz's Los Angeles Museum of Art in the context of a well-lit, high-ceilinged gallery registers it as a large-scale installation, as opposed to the teeny weenie, self-sufficient structure/space that it is. Though it's significant that Könitz used her exhibition-within-an-exhibition to bring yet even more Los Angeles artists into the museum, none of whom were formally invited by the Hammer to be participants.
To call this constellation of micro-communities and mini-institutions a metaphor for the cultural landscape of Los Angeles itself would be a bit too cute.
So I won’t.
But it’s true.
(Image on top: KCHUNG, KCHUNG TV, 2014, Stage, props, video cameras, two-channel video, and live-streaming on kchung.tv; Photo: Stefanie Keenan; Courtesy of the artists)