Another Thing Coming – New Sculpture in LA
Here's The Thing.
The seductive, tactile appeal of material things continually overcomes ontological, political, and conceptual challenges to return again and again in the form of objects of legitimate aesthetic contemplation. Our ability to project our consciousness on an object in the form of ownership is a familiar and ubiquitous appeal — this forms part of the reaction of more dematerialized conceptual art works, as well as their perceived opacity in the presence of un-initiated viewers. Between Christopher Miles’ essay for the 2005 Hammer Museum exhibition Thing, and the stance taken by the curators of the 2007 New Museum exhibition Unmonumental, two poles of thought for what sculpture may have become in the 21st century emerge. On the one hand, Thing seemed to identify a return to physical objects as a concern of sculpture, a reaction to the Krauss and Lippard-influenced era of the dematerialized expanded field. On the other, the Unmonumental exhibition in 2007 put forth an evolution that begins with Duchamp and finds sculptural work that seems like the realized results of Google-searched fragmented appropriating.
Another Thing Coming at the TAM looks in on “things” in LA and finds artists drawing upon both and neither of the notions presented by the Hammer and the New Museum. Indeed, there are some notions of figurative monumentality in the work of this group of artists (Miles, Callaghan, Batura, Thomas, Handel), just as some of the pieces take form as disembodied, process-oriented situations (Hoy, Tse, Aliabadi), and a slim overlapping majority producing discreet, precious, fragile items (Lewicki, Landrum, Wood, Rios, Hill, Thomas, Miles). A shared point of reactive departure can be identified as defining sculpture as a separate line of inquiry from the practice of designing fabricated conceptual vessels a lá Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, et al. This particular phenomenon is heir to the permissions granted by Minimalism, whose practitioners did not consider their dictated efforts as sculpture, but as “specific objects”, with a relationship to the artist that is akin to the way buildings are related to their architects. The idiosyncratic, specific decision-making in the work of Another Thing Coming (as well as Thing and Unmonumental) present an experience for the viewer that is more human in scale, concept and execution. Though Krauss’s expanded field has since come to articulate the language of high-end designer art, a “contracted field” of sculpture, taking as its limits the formal concerns of art in three dimensions, looks inward towards a center of hands-on conceptualization that is altogether different from the alienated labor employed to create editions of luxury eye-candy.
Notions of object-making abound in LA, and, as usual, such attempts to glean a specific pulse in regards to an entire idiom at any one time reveals only a tip of the iceberg. Some branches of 3D art lineage within SoCal (Studio Ceramics, Mike Kelly, Paul McCarthy) are present directly and indirectly in Another Thing Coming, while others (Light and Space, Hollywood) are less so. Tanya Batura’s undeniably Classical visages; shades of Claus Oldenburg in the work of Mary Hill; Josh Callaghan’s Margritte-esque visual disconcertedness; Michelle Carla Handel’s Franz West-meets-Philip Guston artifacts; these give an indication of the many threads of inspiration brought together by the TAM. Within the phenomenon of people making stuff for the sake of the phenomenon itself, the investment in it by LA artists forms a rich pool that Another Thing Coming builds, sews, attaches, mounts, gathers, and glues together to form a thing that is far more than the mere sum of its parts.
Jason Ramos is an artist, curator, and writer based in Los Angeles. He earned an MFA in painting from Cal State Fullerton in 2007. He is the current director of Eastside International and former assistant curator of the Torrance Art Museum. His art work has been included in numerous exhibitions in Los Angeles and beyond.
Between States: New Sculpture in LA.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: Los Angeles is a city known for the entertainment industry: video, film, and more digital these days than ever. Within both this environment and the art world community--a community in which video and performance work is increasingly prominent--new sculpture in LA is thriving.
While it’s common within the entertainment industry and the art world to focus on the environment and experience that these forms create, these media provide an experience but don’t necessarily require the audience to participate in its construction. More “traditional” forms of making—those in which the artist’s hand contributes to a tangible object or product, like painting or sculpture—in reality require more of its audience. The audience must seek out an object’s artistic essence, creating an experience through discovery, the experience is not provided to take or leave on encounter.
Los Angeles is encountered. It is a backdrop, a giant green screen for other places, and a projection of the many worlds we imagine. LA is a fabricated fantasy, a vessel of intentions. It is within this experience and environment that the artists in Another Thing Coming have constructed dimensional works that contain and require the audience not just to pass through, or to project onto, but to actively engage and discern the distilled properties of each one.
Let’s state another obvious: the object of art continues to baffle us. Like Los Angeles, the harder we seek to identify the “real” Los Angeles, the more difficult it becomes to discern. The artistic impetus cannot be defined, and yet we continue to seek it out, to develop weights and measures to adequately explain the phenomenon of art, as if its essence, distilled, bottled and possessed, could be administered in doses as needed. Painting may illustrate the artist’s distilled effort, or seal it under layer upon layer of paint. But through the creation of dimensionality, sculpture houses this essence, becomes a reliquary vessel of sorts for the artistic impulse.
The works on view in Another Thing Coming display a spectrum of approaches to the creation of form--some draw on classical forms while others are completely abstract. Some forms are familiar while other, random patterns create less of a volume than a blueprint, and yet the tangibility of each of these works, whether they evoke or repel, create an embodied grounding around which the viewer’s own environment is created.
The 14 artists included in this show incorporate vast media--everything from ceramics to found objects, metal, synthetic materials and electronics. If LA is everything and nothing all at once, a massive tabula rasa at the ready for the world’s desires, and if we can imagine sculpture as a vessel, a conduit for the artistic energy put into it, then the medium conveys the message. The “real” LA can only be understood through our different approaches to and projections onto it. The variety of approaches we see in this show speaks not only to the individuality and creativity of the artists in this city but to the power they possess in creating forms that shape the creative environment of LA.
That which cannot be defined, those things that exist between states are the tangible environments in which the artistic impetus in LA exists--between each person’s own fantasy and reality of this city.
Megan Sallabedra is a curator and writer living in Los Angeles.
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