DTLA Gallery Brings a Revolution to the Arts District

HWS Door

At the beginning of Women’s History Month the National Museum of Women in the Arts asked an intriguing question when they created this hashtag:


It was a call to action with a simple challenge:  Name 5 women artists. Can you name them off the top of your head?  Sure that may be easy, but if you walk the galleries of your favorite museum and attempt to identify five, this could be more difficult.  Of the works shown in U.S. contemporary art museums and galleries, only 5% are by women; it is no surprise that the struggle to name 5 is all too real.  One Downtown L.A. gallery is on a mission to change that.  
On Sunday March 13, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will open it’s sprawling 100,000 sq foot complex in a converted flour mill in L.A.’s Arts District.  The inagural exhibition, “Revolution in the Making:  Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016”, is a historical review of abstract sculpture created by women who have pioneered innovative processes, forms and materials in their artistic process.  The work selected in this ambitious undertaking will not only activate the new gallery space but will also offer a large scale survey of art that demonstrates the unique innovations these women contributed to abstract sculpture.  This is by no means a comprehensive study, nor is it intended to be.  The exhibition avoids the temptation to be overtly self referential, instead it focuses on process, material and space. There are 4 unique gallery spaces in the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel complex that are each dedicated to artists of a specific era who are not defined by a school or movement but by their individuality and innovation in their solo practice.

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Ruth Asawa, 1956

When I walked into the South Gallery, I was immediately enraptured by a large scale Ruth Asawa sculpture.  The hand crocheted, continuous wire form hung from the 2nd level’s sky lit atrium and extended to the mezzanine’s concrete floor that contain flashes of patinated ceramic tiles which harken back to the South Gallery roots as the employee bank of the flour mill.  The sculpture’s presence holds court over a cluster of 11 additional Asawa wire forms and an impressive assembly of Louis Bourgeois “Personage” wood carvings that form a circle in the center of the gallery.

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The North Gallery is bifurcated in two spaces that showcase works created in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Yayoi Kusama’s sidewinding “Snake” undulates on the floor next to a pair of Lynda Benglis sculptures that occupy space on the gallery wall and floor.  Similarly, Senga Nenguidi’s nylon stretched, “R.S.V.P. Reverie-0” commands the viewers gaze away from the gallery walls downward.

Yayoi Kusama, “A Snake”, 1974


Lynda Benglis, “Wing”, 1970

As one moves to the gallery’s East corridor, the viewer’s gaze is directed skyward where exhibition space is raw, experimental and befitting of the artists who best harmonized the space with their work.

Phyllida Barlow, “Untitled, GIG”, 2014-2015

Phyllida Barlow, who was recently commissioned by the British Council to represent Great Britain at the 2017 Venice Biennale, challenges viewers to not only engage in her work but in the space that contains it.  In “GIG” colorful pom poms are strung up on a vividly painted wooden “pick up stick” structure that soars to the vaulted ceiling.  The piece envelops the space and the viewer in saturated color.  Meanwhile, in the breezeway between the East and North Gallery, Shinique Smith’s “Forgiving Strands” beautifully adorn the exposed brick in the rough hewn walkway with a colorful string of fabric bundles that resemble long strands of thrown Mardi Gras beads.

Shinique Smith, “Forgiving Strands”, 2015-2016

Revolution in the Making was curated in an 18 month partnership between Paul Schimmel and Jenni Sorkin, PHD at the University of California Santa Barbara.  One of the challenges in curating this show was that it was difficult to narrow the selection of artists down to 34.  A very different challenge from naming #5womenartists.  After this show you will not have a bit of difficulty with that hashtag.

Hauser Wirth & Schimmel opens Sunday afternoon between 2:00- 6:00.

The Veiled Genius of Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa. Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Ruth Asawa’s art celebrates diversity of style and technique.  Drawing from illustration, painting, dance, basket weaving, music and pottery, her multi-disciplined approach to art was nurtured as a student at Black Mountain College in the late 40’s.  Her introduction to art however, came to Asawa under less than auspicious circumstances. During WW II Asawa’s entire family was interned in Santa Anita, CA and later Rohwer, Arkansas.  As a teen living in the internment Assembly Center in Santa Anita, Asawa was forced to live in a horse stall.  During this time before being sent to Arkansas, she learned to draw and was taught by fellow internees who were animators for Walt Disney Studios.  After leaving Rohwer after 18 months, Asawa continued her education which eventually led her to Black Mountain College in North Carolina.  The experimental, interdisciplinary curriculum of the school allowed Asawa to explore various artistic mediums among students who would become legends in their own right.

It is in this context that I was recently introduced to her art, however little did I know her work had made a profound impression on me decades earlier.

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Ruth Asawa, “Untitled”, 1955.  Photo: Culture Shock Art

Asawa’s sculptures are intricately woven pieces fabricated from a single thread of wire used to create infinite loops.  The delicate spheres are forms within forms that obscure the points where one orb ends and another begins.  The beauty of their transparency is unveiled in the intricate shadows cast by the forms.

Today I went to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles for “Leap Before You Look”, the multi-institutional exhibit curated by Helen Molesworth.  The Hammer’s presentation of the show was organized by Anne Ellegood who gave an interesting talk about Asawa’s story this afternoon.  Asawa’s participation in Black Mountain was that it was fairly unknown, in fact Molesworth’s inspiration for the exhibit was borne out of a curiosity about Ruth Asawa and a quest to learn more about her work at the school.  Asawa is clearly gaining recognition by institutions and galleries, but until recently she was fairly underrepresented outside of the San Francisco Bay Area.  In San Francisco however, her legacy is far reaching.

As an advocate for arts education, Ruth Asawa founded the Alvarado School Arts Workshop in San Francisco in 1968.  She later leveraged her civic participation in the San Francisco Arts Council to champion the arts and art education in the city.  Her advocacy was not only effective, it was far reaching; the Alvarado School Arts Workshop was replicated in over 50 public schools in San Francisco.  Asawa also executed a number of public art installations in the bay area.

“Art is for everybody,” according to Asawa. “It is not something that you should have to go to the museums in order to see and enjoy. When I work on big projects, such as a fountain, I like to include people who haven’t yet developed their creative side — people yearning to let their creativity out. I like designing projects that make people feel safe, not afraid to get involved.”

When I was a child growing up the the Bay Area one of my fond memories was when my extended family would gather for brunch in San Francisco for Mother’s Day.  I distinctly remember a large bas relief fountain wedged into the expansive brick laid staircase leading to the Grand Hyatt in Union Square.  The longer you looked at it the more you saw, it is a fascinating piece of civic sculpture that captures your imagination-I loved it.  Today I learned that Ruth Asawa was the artist behind the work.

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Ruth Asawa next to “San Francisco Fountain”, 1973.  Photo Credit: Esoteric Survey

The large scale 7 foot high fountain is comprised of bronze casts forms of San Francisco landmarks.  The fountain’s design was created by Asawa, while the original baker’s clay molds used to cast the bronze fountain were fabricated by a group of volunteers including children.  The piece is a testament to community collaboration and beautifully reflects the spirit of San Francisco in the 1970’s.  Asawa created numerous fountains that decorate San Francisco and surrounding areas.  Because of this, she was affectionately known as the “Fountain Lady”.

Ruth Asawa’s work is stunning and her story was compelling. The diversity of her creative range enabled her effectiveness as an engaged,  inspiring community leader who selflessly shared her talent.  She has left a legacy that has inspired many to embrace creativity in all forms.

I was incredibly moved to experience her work today.

“Leap Before You Look” is on view at the Hammer Museum through May 15, 2016.

Artist a Day Challenge 2016-28: Shinique Smith

Shinique Smith, “Higher Ground”, 2013.  Photo Credit:  Shinique Smith

When I started Culture Shock Art in 2010, my goal was to explore street art and graffiti in Los Angeles, after I stumbled upon street artist JR’s work completely by accident.  The process of discovery through investigating the origins of one of his murals led me to his 2010 TED talk after which I purchased one of his lithographs.  That similar sense of curiosity in “finding the wonder in the every day” led me to Shinique Smith.  In January when I prepared a list of artists to feature during the February 2016 Artist a Day Challenge, I added Smith to my list after learning that Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will feature her work during their inaugural show “Revolution in the Making” opening in March.

I recently discovered an artists talk that Smith presented on her creative process which fuses graffiti, Japanese calligraphy, text, abstract expressionism and assemblage.  Her artistic influences are diverse and include dance, poetry, eastern religions, fashion and music, but what struck me most about Smith is her intention and how it guides her work and her process.

As children we have an innate curiosity and sense of wonder that lead us to magical, serendipitous discoveries.  When I think of “pure joy” I think of a laughing child taking delight in exploring the world around them.  Over time the light that leads to this delight fades and becomes harder to find, but is never lost.  The art of curiosity, of finding joy through learning and exploration allows us tap into that sense of wonder.  In Shinique Smith’s art, she transforms distinctly different art forms to create her work- her goal is to create a postive exchange that propels us forward.  Smith does not look toward the past, nor does she attempt to right the wrongs of the daily struggles of life in her work.  Rather, her art is a form of catharsis that is both transformative and carries universal appeal.  During an October, 2015 artist’s perspective talk Smith comments:

“I want to have a more positive ‘moving forward’, transformative exchange and that’s not easy to come by and I think that comes out of an empathy.  As much as I am horrified by us and sometimes disheartened and dissillusioned and angry, at the end of the day there is a beatuty in us as a human in the world.  Seeing life that way helps me move through it.”

This gave me a stronger appreciation for her work and I cannot think of a better artist to close out the 2016 Artist a Day Challenge.

The artists that I featured this month were varied.  Some express themselves through pain, joy, their experience, by observation, remembrance and others through the lens of the injustice they encounter.  By exploring black artists across the diaspora from diverse geographic backgrounds, different points in history and different points of view I am reminded that there is so much creativity to experience and explore; it is important to always be curious, ask questions and understand that like a butterfly, beauty comes from challenge.

As I wrap the 2016 installment of an Artist a Day challenge I want to thank everyone who have faithfully joined me in exploring these amazing artists.  I welcome you join me over on TONDI (a Culture Shock Art project hosted on Squarespace) in March as I debut my second Virtual Exhibition that explores the history of Disco and House music.  Yes, Disco!  Researching this exhibition has been an absolute blast and it opened my eyes to a side of Disco that is rarely discussed and is relatively unknown (by commercial standards).  The exhibition launches in March, and I will be sure to provide links to the virtual show right here on Culture Shock Art.  Until then, be curious, create joy and take delight in exploration!

The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.  

Artist a Day Challenge 2016-27: Ebony Patterson

Installation View of Ebony Patterson’s “Invisible Presence: Bling Memories”, 2014.  Photo Credit: Hi-Fructose Magazine

Last year I took a class with the Sotheby’s Institute of Arts where a fellow student shared the work of Ebony Patterson, and I have not forgotten their work since.  One particular piece stands out to me as one that honors the past while challenging the viewer to see the present.  In Patterson’s 2014 performance piece called “Invisible Presence, Bling Memories” the artist adorned fifty coffins with colorfully printed tapestries, textiles, embroidered lace and tassels.  The bedazzled coffins, grouped together and mounted on picket sticks were paraded through Jamaica’s Carnival to the sounds of dancehall, reggae and soca music in a joyous celebration of the departed.

Ebony Patterson, “Invisible Presence:  Bling Memories” during Jamaica’s Carnival, 2014. Photo Credit: NOLA.com

This is an artistic play on a funeral tradition carried out by Jamaicans from lower incomes.  Through beautifully decorated coffins, those who were marginalized or ignored by society are regaled with pagentry in death.  It is both a celebration of life and a sober reminder of the lingering societal inequities that are left behind.  Patterson’s 2014 performance also served as a protest, which brought awareness to the inequities that exist in Jamaica’s celebration of Carnival itself.  With costumes increasingly expensive, the celebration of Carnival has largely shifted to the middle class enabling those with economic means to participate while rendering the event cost prohibitive for others.  In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Patterson elaborates on this theme.  “A bling funeral is a powerful declaration of presence, and that is what I have tried to bring to this public space at carnival time.”

Patterson has extended this narrative of visibility in her current exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design.  In “Dead Treez”, Patterson creates a vivid display of colorfully ornate mannequins decorating a platform covered in an equally colorful tapestry. The exhibit is a colorful kaleidoscope of gardens, trees, flowers juxtaposed with empty shoes and photographic depictions of murder victims. Again, Patterson evokes the objective to bring visibility and voice to underreported issues of systemic brutality.

Patterson’s “Dead Treez” is on view through April 3.

The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.  

Artist a Day Challenge 2016-26: Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems, “The Beginning of Afro-Chic”, 2008.  Photo Credit: SCAD Museum of Art 

Last year I highlighted Carrie Mae Weems and I love her work so much that she deserves another mention.

Weems was recently announced as the 2016 National Artist nominee by the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Aspen. “Founded in 1966, Anderson Ranch Arts Center is a premier destination in America for art making and critical dialogue, bringing together aspiring and internationally renowned artists to discuss and further their work in a stimulating environment.”

Weems’ photography weaves together text, textiles, video and audio elements to tell narratives regarding the family, race, gender and identity.

The Anderson Ranch Arts Center is celebrating its 50th Anniversary and the center will honor Weems at a recognition ceremony during their annual gala in July.

The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.  

Artist a Day Challenge 2016- 23-25: Pas de Duke: Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison, Mikhail Baryshnikov & the Art of Movement


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Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov during the press conference for Alvin Ailey’s Pas de Deux in 1976. Photo credit: Vintage Black Glamour

I somehow missed a post yesterday!  Thankfully I follow some incredible creatives on Instagram who inspire me daily, in fact so much so that I’m covering three inspirational artists and art forms in one post!

I’m convinced designer Duro Olowu uses his Instagram page as a mood board for his collections, because he finds the most beautiful shots to share.  Today he posted a picture of Judith Jamison & Mikhail Baryshnikov which naturally put me on the path of sourcing the shot in search of the story behind it.

Modern dance legend Alvin Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in 1958 and since then the dance company has been dedicated to “preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience”.  The dance theatre also serves as a steadfast champion for arts education.  In 1976 Alvin Ailey hosted a benefit gala in support of the many cultural and educational programs sponsored by the theatre.  Ailey created a piece called the “Pas de Duke”, a play on the traditional pas de deux, which is a rigorous performance that consists of 5 solos and duets performed with flawless precision and execution and was performed to the music of Duke Ellington.  The original Pas de Duke featured Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov, both legends in their own right.  This collaboration among Ailey, Jamison and Baryshnikov is simply stunning in photos, so I can only imagine what it was like to witness it live.  The piece has since been recreated numerous times.

Judith Jamison, Alvin Ailey and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Photo Credit:  Cal Performances, Tumblr

I loved hearing how Jamison and Baryshnikov described the rehearsal process for the Pas de Duke in this NY Times interview:

“Alvin moved deliciously, like a cat. He luxuriated in movement. He could move ever so slightly, and you would know how big or how small you should move. And when it wasn’t what he wanted, he would laugh. But, see, we’d all laugh.”

I have always enjoyed the fluid fusion between dance and photography.  Here are some additional shots of my favorite shots taken of a few of the greatest black dancers to ever grace the stage.

Judith Jamison photographed by Jack Mitchell, 1976. Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell
Carmen De Lavallade and Alvin Ailey, 1961. Photo Credit: NY Times c/o John Lindquist/Harvard Theatre Collection
Carmen De Lavallade Photographed by Jack Mitchell, 1961. Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell.


The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.