February 18, 2016

Guest Blogger Shuai Wang Escapes Berlin Winter for a Los Angeles Art Break

You know Shuai Wang. He's the art lover in my art lovers series! You might have seen him on my Instagram because we do gallery hopping and he's very photogenic when positioned next to the art. We even wrote a poem together after seeing an Agnes Martin exhibition at the Tate and you can also read our WhatsApp conversation about art. Now, I knew Shuai has a sharp eye, and when he came back from his trip to Los Angeles he surprised me with his first art review. I'm thrilled! And I just hope there will be more. 

South LA, aerial view

It was almost nine years ago when I took the morning flight down to Los Angeles. The plane flew towards downtown and took a sharp U turn, then descended towards the faintly gold sheets of city grids. This view of South LA below had this two dimensional quality that I have seen nowhere else since. During this exact same descent, but unlike the nervous fresh geology graduate I was, who dreaded the idea of having to start from absolute zero in a city of mostly single story houses and freeways, I had a sense that this time I was in for a treat. Partly perhaps I knew I could finally take a break from Berlin winter 2016, but mostly because I knew I would get to hang out with my good friend Alice, an LA based artist, who had already planned an exciting list of outings at various art locations in the city.

I first visited the main location of MOCA on Grand Avenue and the Broad. Similar to various upper-end institution shows I have been to in Europe and North America, this time I feel I am starting to recognize more and more names that appeared in many other shows before. I suppose once you have been written into art history, your work is a must have everywhere.

A piece from Barbara Kasten's Construct NYC series, 
one of the pieces that really got my attention at the MOCA.

The Broad is the new contemporary art museum in LA, located just across the street from MOCA. While the entry is free, to ensure a reasonable amount of waiting, I had to wake up and go there 30 minutes before opening time. The collection displayed in the museum is vast, filled with works from well known and familiar names. The works there have a very common theme: they all look great, shiny, have a good colour combination, are edgy but not too edgy, talk about interesting themes but not offensive. I suppose this is to be expected from a show sourced from, what I assume, a for-profit collection. I thought this can be a great place of learning for artists who are particularly interested in “making it.” I think there is a specific look that the art market is going after at any given time, this show provides a summary of those looks.

On the following evening, Alice took me to an exhibition at the Historic Southwest Museum, where Brock Enright and Thomas McDonell's show are being hosted at the entrance tunnel. The tunnel consisted of series of small display boxes, each containing a sculpture. One sculpture with a shopping cart, of which one of the wheels is constantly spinning, making a dim sound and a video sculpture streaming video captured from behind the TV display are the only two sculptures that I can still recall without looking at my photos. I thought the location was quite unique. The location is in the hilly residential Mount Washington area, which was very beautiful at night. 

Exhibition at the Historic Southwest Museum

The second opening of the evening was the much hyped outdoor Art Bandini. Prior to arriving, it was a struggle to find its location. I was informed later that their opening location and time are only revealed shortly before the opening. And the shows are usually on for a very limited amount of time. The location was packed, with a very casually dressed hipster crowd. The artwork was either presented outside or in very humbly constructed and brightly lit door-less structures. Though I gathered how it must be an important place for people in the LA art scene to socialize, I have failed to appreciate the quality of the works presented. This reminded of countless number of artist organized shows I have encountered in Berlin. 

Outdoor video projection and performance at Art Bandini

The start of the third evening was marked by the opening of the Jiro Takamatsu at the Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery. It is one of the most professionally curated shows that one can ever expect. But it was no surprise to find such show at one of the most prestigious locations in LA. The space was stunning. Hidden inside of a high walled compound, in the up and coming Midcity part of LA. From the entry garden, one is presented the view of the tasteful lit gallery space through its glass wall. The centerpiece of Takamatsu's show is his piece Rusty Ground, which was exhibited at the Documenta 6 (1977). Other works of his consisted of geometric drawings, ghostly/shadowy object paintings and a tilted ladder standing tilted on a brick with accompanying photographs. The photographs of the ladder and the brick stood out the most. Alice commented on how Takamatsu does not go deep into explaining why the work is the way it is, much of the creative process seems to rely on instincts. 

 Garden view of Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Rusty Ground by Jiro Takamatsu

Jiro Takamatsu

Jiro Takamatsu

We then headed towards Boyle Heights, which is just east of downtown LA. This is one of the most hyped up and coming areas in the creative scene, with rents going up quickly and tons of spaces are being taken for artist and gallery use. Driving after dark on empty and wide roads over concrete bridges with intimidating looking industrial complexes passing by, I thought this is one of the most mysterious but luring LA moments. This must be one of the reasons why David Lynch is such a big fan of LA. 

The first show we visited in this area is the solo show by Laure Prouvost at the Fahrenheit organised by the Flax Foundation. The main piece of the show consisted of a video projection, with the floor space in front of the video project coated with a layer of blue resin. Mixed in the resin are many small objects that seem to be related to the storyline of the video. A car that appeared in the video was also parked in the gallery parking lot, playing, in sync, the audio track. While the video did make me want to watch it for at least a couple minutes, it seemed like it was produced in less than a week. The whole video screamed “I want to be Ryan Trecartin.” I had the feeling that this is just another version of these semi-surreal video collages that you encounter in art shows everywhere these days. 

Video installation by Laure Prouvost 
at Fahrenheit by FLAX

The evening ended by a quick browse at the nearby Mitchell Syrop show at Francois Ghebaly, where we were chatted up briefly by the owner, mistaking us possibly as rich Chinese collectors. Outside of its parking lot there was a food truck, that sold delicious tacos. Maybe someone should take up this business idea for Berlin openings.

On Monday evening, I went to a party downtown called Mustache Monday, known to be frequented by gay artists in town. As many people in the crowd dressed quite similar to the Berlin circle, which is quite unusual for LA, I couldn't stop thinking that there are probably a lot of non-LA people there. This was confirmed by the sighting of a few New York and Berlin based people, whose names I would only share with An. The music of the place, for a gay party, was surprisingly macho and aggressive, very hip-hop oriented. Maybe there is an equivalence that can be drawn between the South LA gangster thing and that of the German Prolls. 

Night flight out of LA, the plane first headed westward toward the ocean, then made a right turn, giving its passengers a grand view of the city, busting with light. This trip to LA nine years after my experience of living here as a geologist could not have been more different. Unlike the nine years younger me, who was complaining about the city's traffic, architecture and its American-ness, I found myself being mesmerized by its incredible diversity and what it offers in possibilities. It is because of this diversity and vast range of opportunities that my ongoing discussion with Alice, in regards to what makes a true artist, was brought up during my time spent with her. I am still wondering how one can describe it. Similar to any art center, artists in LA feel the need to participate in the scene in order to find a way to make it. But the city's wealth and its relative lower cost of living has encouraged many to make art without such participation. Are they the true artists?