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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

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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

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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.

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One day, I will crack the code to Retna’s personalized alphabet that is a skillful fusion of Old English, Hebrew, Asian and Arabic calligraphy.  In the meantime, I enjoy his work in abstraction.  I love the symmetry and repetition in his murals. This particular one was painted for Jeffrey Deitch when he was at MOCA circa 2013.

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I didn’t know what direction I should go into to describe Andy Warhol’s Shadows series.  This single work composed between 1978-1979 is comprised of 102 paintings designed to take the viewer on a journey of light and space.  While it is easy to simply write off this ambitious work as a single image painted 102 times, I found it to be an interesting self referential piece that shines a light on the man behind the artist.

When I look at things, I always see the space they occupy. I always want the space to reappear, to make a comeback, because it’s lost space when there’s something in it.”

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol from A to B and Back Again

IMG 8317 from CultureShockArt on Vimeo.

In Shadows, Warhol took photos of two images in his studio at varying light levels.  From those pictures Warhol painted 102 panels representing how light and shadow distinctly influenced each painting.  It’s a moody piece that reads as a pictorial diary of the factory studio.  If these walls could have talked they would regale us with tales on the legendary “happenings” that took place among the bevy of artists, musicians, drag queens, drug users, socialites, shady hanger-ons, bankers and bums that were a part of the Warhol Superstars;  instead, we have an abstract work that invites us to imagine the circumstances that inspired the individual works.

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Looking at the intricate differences among the panels it became easier to see how physical and emotional environments could have shaped their artistic variance. In some the acrylic paint forming the base of each piece is the focal point, in others the silkscreened process is dominant, and in many there is a harmonious balance.  Similarly, the colorways, brush strokes and paint layering assume an energy that appeared to be either influenced by or reflective of the psyche of the artist and his environment.  There were distinctly Warholian pops of saturated color amidst muted tones and grey/black paintings.  One panel shows the hazy diffused light reminscient of an overcast day but the next panel featured the same haze but the brush strokes were decidedly more manic.  The three categories of color wove their way through the entire work in a decidedly un-patterned pattern.

The work is considered an important bridge between the two poles of his career in pop art transitioning into the abstract.

That’s why I think this work is probably more important than it’s surface view suggests. As Warhol’s work pivoted to abstraction during this time, the meaning behind the piece is veiled leading many to distill this work into a study of light, but to me the shadows hide more than they reveal.

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Leo Castelli (w/ Warhol in the background) at the opening of Shadows in 1979. Photo Credit: Archives of American Art

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

Warhol carefully curated his public persona as the free wheeling ring leader of his own circus, and I think his foray into abstraction was a way to harmonize his public persona with his inner self.  By turning a light onto his figurative and personal shadows, he breathed life and emotion into them.  Whether or not that served as catharsis to the artist is completely unknown.

Andy Warhol’s Shadows are on view through February 2, 2015 at MOCA Grand in Los Angeles.

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Zac Posen, Fall 2014. Photo Credit: Vogue

Zac Posen, Fall 2014. Photo Credit: Vogue

So I’m kind of having a Cinderella moment.  The MOCA Gala is this evening and I’m not going.  To be honest the MOCA Gala hasn’t been on my radar since 2011, but I do love fashion, art and any opportunity where culture vultures can be viewed in their unnatural environment.  This year’s event is lacking the hype machine’s fervor this year, and there’s a pronounced lack of controversy (no rotating heads on tables, or live cadavers a la Marina Abramovic).  However in classic MOCA fashion, the 2014 Gala is sponsored by Louis Vuitton and will undoubtedly showcase the creme de la creme in Hollywood and the arts.  Absent are my favorite arts writers which I find curious, but I digress…

If these two weren't so fierce I would cast them as my step sisters in CultureShock Art's rendition of Cinderella.  Liz Goldwyn and Dita Von Teese.   Photo Credit: Liz Goldwyn, Instagram

If these two weren’t so fierce I’d cast them as step sisters in CultureShock Art’s rendition of Cinderella. Liz Goldwyn and Dita Von Teese.
Photo Credit: Goldilocksg, Instagram

In an attempt to assuage my feelings of ennui over not being Hollywood enough to attend a gala, I am watching Andre Leon Talley and Zac Posen talk fashion.  If I had a Cinderella moment, these two would show up with a glam squad and 3 gowns from Posen’s INCREDIBLE Fall/Winter 2014 collection and send me happily on my way. I adore how the simple, restrained tweed dresses and the impeccably constructed evening wear evoke Hitchcock’s femme fatale of the 50’s. Let’s not even mention the Opera Coat, it’s beyond words.

My obsession with this collection was immediate once I laid eyes on Posen’s Instagram video of Anna Cleveland in this show-stopping stunner of a gown last month.

I loved that Andre Leon Talley got a “behind the scenes” look at this amazing dress moment and also had an opportunity to chat with Zac Posen about his influences with this particular collection.

The entire collection is fantastic down to the fabulous shades, and of course anytime I see a cape, I’m delighted. Here’s the collection. I couldn’t agree with Posen more, “Elegance is timeless.”

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Maybe you have noticed two characteristics exist in my paintings; either their surfaces are expansive and push outward in all directions, or their surfaces contract and rush inward in all directions. Between these two poles you can find everything I want to say.”~~Mark Rothko, 1953

Explaining “why” I love Mark Rothko’s work is not an easy question to answer. Luckily I am not alone in finding this question challenging; his works always held a meditative quality for me that’s hard to describe, I just enjoy the feeling I get from his work. Ironically enough, I was first drawn to Rothko for the vibrancy of his colors. I think this was due in part to the fact that I was first introduced to Rothko’s No. 14 at SF MOMA. In 2002 I went to the Rothko retrospective at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center,and there I had more of a transformative view of his paintings. Taken as a group, his works proffer a completely different energy and experience that is indescribable.

I recently attended a panel discussion at MOCA where lead gallery educator Bonnie Matthews Porter, curator Alma Ruiz and conservator Tanya Thompson tackle questions about Rothko’s artistic process, the viewer experience and the conservation of his work. This discussion was part MOCA’s week-long celebration of Mark Rothko (as part of the Panza Collection), which had a 3 year tenure on view on Grand Ave. It is currently being decommissioned for conservation and sadly the Panza Rothkos will not be on view for a year.

Two interesting revelations came out during that discussion that forced me to think about Rothko in a different light. The first was that Rothko was very particular about how his works were to be shown (low light, beige walls, optimal viewing distance of 18 inches). His process included meticulous layering that renders his signature floating rectangles as glowing spheres. When you view his work in his prescribed conditions their glow and energy is amplified (these particular conditions were replicated at the 2002 PDC show, but at the time I didn’t realize all of this, I just knew I loved it). The second revelation deals with color. Rothko felt that viewers who are drawn to his work based solely on color were missing the point. I take some umbrage to this, considering the strength and use of color in his work are hallmarks; even his own titles distill his work into simple color relationships.

Despite my issue with the relevance of color play, Rothko’s point was more about the viewer’s experience with his paintings vs their understanding of what the painting may or may not convey.

“To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as s stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However if you paint the larger picture you are in it. It isn’t something you command.” ~~Mark Rothko, Reprinted from a 1951 symposium at MOMA.

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Mark Rothko, No. 301, 1959

On Monday I had one last opportunity to view the Rothkos before they were taken down and luckily I had the gallery to myself for an extended period of time to closely analyze brush strokes and concentrate on what I “felt” while being immersed in these magnificent works. The result was quite amazing. In “No. 310″, 1959, when viewed up close there is a chaotic, manic, urgent energy conveyed both the color and in brush strokes. It’s a very active, dynamic piece, that is not apparent when viewed from a distance.

By contrast “Black on Dark Sienna”, 1960 is an intimidating, foreboding piece with an uneasiness that feels like a calm before the storm. Again, it is a feeling that is particularly present when the piece is viewed up close.

Mark Rothko, "Black on Dark Sienna", 1960

Mark Rothko, “Black on Dark Sienna”, 1960

I was so happy to have had a few opportunities to view these works before their extended leave.  In the meantime the museum will cycle in a couple of other Rothkos from their collection, so it will be nice to get a refresh on some of his work.

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IMG_5165Whew!  Before I look forward to 2014 (and I must say, it cannot come soon enough), I thought I’d take a quick look back on my digital footprints and share my favorite CultureShockArt moments of 2013.  So I picked 5 posts from Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Pinterest that were either popular, or made me squeal, “Eep eep! Such and so acknowledged my existence!”  Yes, I find that these situations render me as a 12 year old girl wearing 3 Swatch watches and L.A. Gears but hey, such is the magic that is the internet.

#5- HuffPo and my MOCA musings

For the most part on Twitter I feel like that one crazy aunt or uncle who sits in the corner at family gatherings shouting bizarre non-sequiturs to nobody in particular.  Once in a while a random post will illicit a response from someone, and I go completely starstruck when it is a celebrity, museum or a blogger I admire (yes, I get starstruck over museums and bloggers too).  So back in March when I wrote this post about some Los Angeles MOCA drama (and we had our fair share of it this year), little did I know HuffPo Arts would post it in their “Twitter reactions” gallery at the end of one of their articles.  The Art Girl geek in me came out when I saw my snark displayed amongst some of my favorite arts writers.

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#4  Orange Crush

I was extremely late to the Instagram party, but once I dove in I took to it like a fish to water.  Strange enough, IG has taught me to keep my eyes open, not for photo ops, but to be more observant of my surroundings.  I now find my head in the clouds…appreciating them more than daydreaming.  At one point I had color phases when I would be obsessed with certain hues that would dominate my wardrobe, nail polish, handbag selection, you name it.  First orange, then lilac, then red… On this particular day in April I was laughing at the budding collection of all things “Orange” on my desk and snapped a pic of it.  Well, when Caroline Issa, editor of Tank magazine (and one of my style ICONS), emoji’ed her reactions to some of my pics, I was thrilled beyond belief!  I still really love this photo, but not as much as the oodles of shots I take of my napping dogs who deserve their own Instagram account.

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#3  My 15 Minutes Seconds of Fame

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The Warhol Museum is responsible for driving the most traffic on a single day to my humble little blog.  In August when I posted a reaction to an op ed piece about how a writer hates museums, the Warhol Museum noticed and linked my article to their website and Tweeted it to their followers.  I was forever grateful for pub and encouragement.  There are so many museums out there that are using social media to engage with their audiences in smart ways and the Warhol is near the top of the list.  THANK YOU Warhol Museum for taking the time to notice and show some blogger love.

 

#2 “What’s Your Bag?”
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If I had a nickel for every time I got this question this year, I’d be able to afford 3 more of her bags!  This by far was the most talked about handbag in my collection this year.  It started many a random conversation in stores, restaurants, airport security screening lines, meetings, and an awkardly funny encounter with actor, writer and producer Issa Rae (we have the same bag).  So I wrote a post about bag obsession–not necessarily the bag itself, but what’s inside it.

When the designer pinned this picture on their Pinterest site, it drove crazy amounts of traffic to my blog.  Nice!  It’s also one of the most pinned photos on their site. (Really nice). Everybody wins, right?!

 

#1 The Sphinx and the Cronut

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Of all my posts this year, this one cracks me up the most!  The Banksy mania that overtook NYC in August was slightly outdone by the city’s obsession with the Cronut.  I had to find a way to mash these two phenomena together.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who got the connection.

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Pulitzer Prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold sent me a message on Twitter saying he loved my Banksy post!  I have to say it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Despite all this name dropping and validation seeking, what I find most rewarding are the new experiences this blog has shown me.  I saw some wonderful exhibits and met some amazing artists, writers, designers and bloggers this year who took me on an inspirational journey beyond the keyboard.  For that I am truly grateful, and I am especially thankful for all of my readers who have shown their support and encouragement to me in 2013.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I wish you all the best in the New Year.

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The story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a postal worker and librarian who amassed a world class collection of contemporary art, captivated both the art world and art outsiders alike.  “Herb and Dorothy” was not just a story of an unlikely pair who paved their own way in an insular art world but it was also a testament to how art connects people emotionally and viscerally.  The Vogel’s collection of 5,000 works were donated to the National Gallery of Art in 1992.  The National Gallery, unable to showcase the collection in its entirety, was challenged to properly pay homage to the collection while recognizing the enormity of the Vogels gift.  The NGA and the Vogels devised a plan to broaden the audience, and the sequel to Herb and Dorothy trails the collectors following their decision to gift 50 works to 50 states.

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Herb and Dorothy Vogel

The film takes viewers on a cultural road trip giving us a glimpse into curatorial process and visitor outreach.  Neither the institutions nor the Vogels had much say in what pieces each museum would acquire.  Museums curated their story in their own way based on what they received; some reached out to the artists for input, others worked with the Vogels, while many were left to their own devices.

The movie posed some very thoughtful questions about how the Vogels viewed their collection and how some of the artists felt about the collection being split up.  Ultimately their diverging opinions caused one long standing rift in the relationship with a prominent artist and the Vogels; the film deftly examines the emotional toll this took on those involved.

There was a clear change in Herb Vogel’s health in the sequel.  Mobility had become an issue as Herb Vogel’s health deteriorated.  As Dorothy became his caretaker and spokesperson his introversion became prominent and he became withdrawn.  The interplay between Herb’s mobility and their ability to collect slowly brought to light some very interesting revelations about how Herb Vogel viewed his collection in the broader context of Art History. 

Their collection was created under a unique set of circumstances that is hard to replicate today.  The Vogels purchased their art through cultivating direct, personal relationships with artists. By eschewing the galleries and dealers they cut out the political process that influences “who” buys art and how that influences its value.  Herb Vogel recognized this dynamic and knew that their unique story in and of itself made history.  Once this realization was made collecting no longer seemed to be a motivation.  A telling example of this was when the couple went to Art Basel for a screening of the original Herb and Dorothy.  The concept of the “art fair” seemed to be energizing to Dorothy and draining to Herb.  This game changing moment shows the transition of the Vogels as passionate bystanders instead of active participants.

Herb and Dorothy Vogel at Art Basel Miami Beach, 2008

Herb and Dorothy Vogel at Art Basel Miami Beach, 2008

Filming for 50 X 50 was nearly complete when Herb Vogel passed away last summer, and the director beautifully showed life for Dorothy after Herb’s passing.  I didn’t think it was possible for the couple to endear themselves to me any more than they did in the first film, and the sequel successfully shows the couple’s transformation from a cultural phenomenon to a cultural legacy.  That legacy was so brilliantly personified by the reactions of children to their collection throughout the film.

Herb and Dorothy is a delightful film that will bring a smile to your face while teaching you valuable lessons about how you process and experience art.

The movie is being shown in limited release in numerous cities throughout the U.S.  In Southern California, it is running at the Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and the Town Center 5 in Encino.  It’s also being shown at the Downtown Independent.  For additional theatres and run dates, click here.

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