Chris Burden’s work has become a permanent fixture in the creative landscape of Los Angeles.  While writing this blog over the years, Burden was revealed to me in many different forms.  The most obvious was from his signature massive installation of Urban Light, a sea of 202 1920’s street lamps that he sourced and refurbished since 2000 and later installed at LACMA in 2008.  HIs collection of these lamps originally began with the parts of 2 lamps he sourced at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market.  It’s a piece that has become indelibly linked to Los Angeles as a landmark, destination and cinematic backdrop.

When I was introduced to Chris Burden’s Performance Art work in 2012 at L.A. Raw I was amazed to see the disturbingly dark, destructive themes of his work during these years but when taken in context they reflect the challenges of the time in which they were created.

Perhaps what was pleasantly shocking to me was that one of Los Angeles’ beloved Pulitzer Prize winning food writers began his career as a performance artist assisting Chris Burden in the late ’70’s.  (Tangent: this story is a wonderfully hilarious and insightful tangent about performance art and the genesis of an unlikely friendship).

Metropolis II is a manic mesmerizing look at cars moving through this expansive labyrinth of roads and byways.  It is a fantastically captivating piece that inspired this rather corny 2012 piece I wrote about at self-driving cars and transportation in Los Angeles.


Los Angeles has celebrated his career in many different ways which expanded his reach to individuals who may not otherwise experience his work.  His influence and how his creativity has resonated with many.  Burden’s career was anything but predictable and he pushed many creative and personal boundaries.  His vision and creativity will be missed, but his legacy shines on.

Kahlil Joseph: Double Conscience

It’s a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” ~ W.E.B Du Bois


For me, a great litmus test for a good piece of art is if it remains on your mind long after you experience it.  Last Friday I saw Kahlil Joseph’s “m.A.A.d” a short film featured in Double Conscience, which is the music video director’s debut exhibition at MOCA.  The film takes viewers on a visual journey of the lives of residents of Compton.  Instead of sticking to a plot, dialog and story arcs, the film is an ethereal montage of moments that invite viewers to connect to the featured subjects on visceral level.  The film was presented on dual screens which allowed Joseph to creatively toggle between images. Kendrick Lamar’s, “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City” accompanied the piece as the soundtrack, my favorite being “Sing about me”.

Joseph’s background is in music video and short film production and he has a distinct dream-like style featuring stunning kinetic underwater sequences overlayed with audio that plays between the conscious and subconscious mind.

What was particularly powerful for me was when I saw m.A.A.d at MOCA which happened to be the week of the 23rd anniversary of the L.A. Riots.  Many of the images from the film were set in 1992 juxtaposed to current day Compton.  It was an emotionally resonate piece that speaks to Los Angeles’ history and the reality of our present time.

Double Conscience is also a nod to the W.E.B. Dubois’ concept of Double Consciousness which is the theory that explores the double bind African-Americans experience between who we are and how we are perceived by the rest of the world.  I was acutely aware of this theme as the only black woman present during the showing thinking about whether the individuals featured in this piece have seen themselves captivatingly shown in this format at MOCA.

Sturtevant:  Double Trouble


Sturtevant’s take on Andy Warhol and Felix Gonzales-Torres at MOCA

Perhaps I was too overwhelmed with my thoughts after m.A.A.d that I really didn’t give Double Trouble enough of a chance; I wish I had known more about the enigmatic Elaine Sturtevant prior to seeing the exhibit.  This is the first full museum exhibition of the artist since 1973 and her 53 year career features interpretive re-productions of top flight Abstract Expressionist artists. By re-creating these works she attempts to challenge viewers’ notion of art and the broader context under which it is created, consumed and popularized.

While I understand the concept, I struggled with MOCA’s ability to guide viewers through this process.  I think that the common criticism during the Deitch years was that he catered to the superficial trendy whims of what the world expects of Los Angeles and as a result curatorial rigor took a back seat (or was kicked to the curb depending on who you talk to).  With this exhibit the pendulum eerily swings in the other direction by showcasing these reproductions without guiding viewers through the interpretive process, so it became a confusing foray into sussing out what’s real and what is a copy.

The L.A. Times’ review of this show touches on the idea of mass knock offs which got me thinking about handbags.  In the 1990’s when Kate Spade handbags were the “it” bag, I visited a friend in New York and we scoured the streets for the perfect replica.  Just as we were about to give up on our quest, a woman sitting on a small mountain of concealed boxes spotted us and lifted her veil of blankets to reveal contraband handbags including a Kate Spade.  After closely inspecting them, I snapped one up.  Despite it being a really good copy, there was a slight flaw in a stitch that I discovered after I bought it.  I never wore that bag.  Admittedly it was not the only knock off I would purchase in my twenties, and over time I came to learn the importance of the proverb, “buy cheap, buy twice”.  The moral of this digression (and glimpse into my love for bags) is you have to study both to appreciate the value in the real thing.

According to the L.A. Times‘ review of Sturtevant this perhaps was the point the artist was trying to make but was her motivation out of contempt for the art world or in reverence of it? For me, the experience of viewing this exhibition left me with the same empty feelings of regret and disillusionment that I felt when I bought that bag. I think this personifies what many find so alienating about Contemporary Art.  Instead of building a bridge, this show created a cultural divide between those that “get it” and those that don’t.

Museum Week 2015

If you are on Twitter or Instagram follow #MuseumWeek to hear from your favorite cultural institutions.  I love this global community and it’s great to see this digital campaign that brings together thought leaders in the curatorial and cultural institution sectors with their all-important patrons and visitors.



Hank Willis Thomas photo credit c/o HankWillisThomas.com

Hank Willis Thomas photo credit c/o HankWillisThomas.com

For the past week I’ve been thinking about James Baldwin; so much so that I was searching for an original copy of “The Price of the Ticket”.  In the meantime, it’s Armory Week in NY and all I am hearing about is Hank Willis Thomas and his art.sy collaboration.  While looking at Thomas’ work on-line I came across this video installation of James Baldwin interviews spliced with current day media that cements Baldwin’s prophetic and prescient commentary on power, identity, greed, freedom and liberty.  Thomas’ also featured clips of Angela Davis reading excerpts from Baldwin’s open letter to her.  This is such a powerful piece that really brings home this week’s events in Ferguson as we see the effects of systematic, fundamental failings of their leadership.

“A Person is More Important Than Anything Else…” James Baldwin Festival @ NY Live Arts from hankwillisthomas on Vimeo.

Mickalene Thomas, "Mama Bush (your love keeps lifting me) higher and higher"  Photo c/o Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas, “Mama Bush (your love keeps lifting me) higher and higher” Photo c/o Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas has a unique style that is nothing short of bodacious. Her colorful, glitter infused portraiture work is commands your attention and invites you delve into a deeper understanding of the person that is being portrayed.  Her use of interiors and recent pivot to abstract portraits were a mystery to me because I couldn’t connect the dots to the disparate mediums she employs in her practice.

Today I watched Thomas’ ode to her mother/muse in HBO’s 2014 documentary, “Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman”.  It was such an amazingly beautiful tribute that exemplifies the complexities of our relationships are and how those relationships shape who we are today.

I also saw an old ArtNet interview with the artist and it perfectly connected the dots between the work that defined her career, what inspired it and how it influences other areas of her creative practice.

I could pull from my own imagination, but I think reality is so much more raw and there’s so much more information and discomfort and excitement and happiness and beauty and all of these layers that you can pull from that I find exciting.”

In researching Thomas I learned that her interior work, which is strongly rooted in 70’s wood paneling, colorful, floral tapestries, shag rugs and dayglo, played a critical role in her photography and paintings.  The artistic forms are so strongly linked together that Thomas felt the need to recreate the conditions under which her portraits were created.  This was a critical element in understanding the portrait as a whole.  In this sense the surroundings were as much of a creative muse as the subjects themselves.

The documentary is under 30 minutes, if you don’t have access to HBO Docs, find a way to subscribe!

Patrick Kelly, Photo Credit, the Guardian

Patrick Kelly, Photo Credit, the Guardian

Saturday’s and Elsa Klensch were about as regular as watching Soul Train for me in the 80’s, and when I first saw Patrick Kelly on Klensch’s CNN weekly style rewind, I was inspired.  He was one of the first black designers I ever saw and he was one of the first designers that made an “it” item.  I wore one of his signature red buttons on my Levi’s faded jean jacket.  He was one of the first designers that was relatable and showed me that fashion was attainable.70251006

What I didn’t realize about Patrick Kelly was that he spent the majority of his short-lived career in Paris.  When he moved to Paris from New York (Kelly was originally from Mississippi) in 1979, he designed costumes for Le Palace, one of the infamous Parisian night clubs on par with Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage.  His runway shows were legendary for being theatrical and irreverent.  Between his design and my adolescent love for all things Benetton, this is where my unfulfilled childhood dream of being a model began.

His talent, like so many young men in design and the arts in the 80’s, was taken from us all too early.  His work was full of love and joy.  I’m writing this post while listening to a Larry Levan mix and dancing in my chair.  Absolutely perfect.  For a glimpse into the fantastic world of Patrick Kelly, here is a video from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 2014 retrospective of his career in fashion.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD

This painting by Beauford Delaney out of all his portraits of fellow artists really stuck out to me, not just because it is a beautiful piece, but I wonder why he chose to obscure the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald amongst this colorful palate of brushstrokes.  Delaney’s work transitioned from figurative to abstract upon his move to Paris to flee the persecution and isolation he felt in New York as a gay black man in the 1940’s. This piece seems to demonstrate the artists transition.

One thing I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald was that she was horribly shy and extremely meek when it came to recognizing her own talent.  This is so shocking to me for someone who is so universally cherished for their talent.  Perhaps what was more shocking to me was a comment I heard in an NPR interview featuring a singer from the Manhattan Transfer that said, “I never listen to Ella for emotional depth”….

… and she proceeded to laud Fitzgerald for her technical prowess and the precision of her voice.  WHAT?  Without question Fitzgerald has one of the most dynamic, precise voices but to dismiss it as lacking emotional depth was strange to me.

That blew me away.  I look at this painting of Beauford Delaney and listen to Ella Fitzgerald with this new knowledge of her shyness and hear something very different in her music.  Taken together, I hear so much more than Janice Siegal manages to distill and I have a deeper, more profound appreciation for what Delaney conveys in this portrait of her.


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