Work by Chris Smith.
The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.
Work by Ed Valentine & Michael Stillion, respectively.
Linda Warren Projects is located at 327 N. Aberdeen. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Xavier Cha.
Aspect/Ratio is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.
Work by the artist.
Corbett vs. Dempsey is located at 1120 N. Ashland Ave. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Work by Don’t Fret.
Johalla Projects is located at 1821 W. Hubbard. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Hollywood films follow very easy to read trends. They would be dumb not to, as they only have a few genres to regurgitate the same plots out over and over again: westerns, dramas, teen melodramas and coming of age films, the romantic comedy, slapstick comedy, the action flick (which is further broken down to either the Stallone, the Willis or the Marvel), martial arts / wire work films, social horror, traditional horror, stoner flicks, family friendly animated films (which often double as stoner flicks), the Tom Cruise Vehicle and Lord of the Rings. What allows the movies to be current is not just the stars they choose or the ever increasing quality of special effects, but how they tackle (or avoid) social issues. Looking at a few standout films from 2012, (as well as one from 2010 and one from 2004), a somewhat alarming trend seems to be emerging.
Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, and reprises similar themes as 2010’s Inglorious Bastards, giving history a wedgie, replacing what actually happened with maybe what SHOULD have if this world we lived in was fair. Both films present themselves as fun, which is an accomplishment, considering the gravity of the subject matter. This is the key to its success: it takes history for a ride in what is to be seen as just fantasy, so everything should be taken lightly. At the same time, its treatment of its subject matter (in Django, slavery in the South; and Bastards — Nazi Europe) shames the viewer into being morally supportive of the violence turned against the villains of history. Within these themes, violence can be easily justified: when an actor portraying a slave is viciously abused and beaten, we feel it is our responsibility to witness it, that the atrocity is historical fact and to turn away would be an injustice to those who endured it. When Django (Jamie Fox) unleashes extreme punishment on the slave owners, we can’t help but enjoy every moment of agony they endure, even wanting it to extend further and become more extreme, as no amount of sympathy should be, or could be rendered to them. This occurs throughout Inglorious Bastards as well, all the way up to the gleeful killing of Adolf Hitler by Eli Roth’s character. While watching this in a theater a few years back, there were joyful cheers as Hitler was shot to pieces like a dog. It seemed wrong NOT to cheer. Here at work are elements of the very propaganda films that Bastards condemns in its plot, just twisted a little to be only somewhat satirical. Hitler can be an Osama Bin Laden, as Tarantino’s Hitler, while satirical, is also symbolic in the final months in the search for Bin Laden.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t any value to these films, that the plots to kill Hitler in Inglorious Bastards aren’t an acknowledgement to the many attempts during WWII, or that Django’s revenge isn’t a nod to slave rebellions and their impact on the eventual abolition of slavery, especially considering their erasure from history books and the propaganda to say that they hurt the abolitionist movement. Rightly so, but Django Unchained is primarily Tarantino’s homage to Django, the 1966 Spaghetti Western starring Franco Nero, proving his success lies in deftly adapting great under appreciated films and covering them in magic Hollywood ooze. The attempts to re-appraise history become secondary to entertainment, assuring us the violence is all in fun, but it really means something.
Django Unchained wasn’t the only film to come out in 2012 to morally justify violence, whether imagined or based in reality. While Zero Dark Thirty is a great example, enough has already been said about this film in regards to how it politicizes violence. Many of the comic book adaptations from the past 12 years have used the idea of confronting terror through larger that life heroes that stand up for America. This is especially important in a mega blockbuster like The Avengers. The interesting thing about The Avengers, though, is that even though it was nearly two hours of battle scenes pasted together with horrendous dialogue to move the plot along (just like a lot of super hero comic books), it still involved very little killing, employed relatively few guns, and the guns were no stronger than, and even weaker than many of the other weapons and fighting tactics employed in the film. The guns became knives, billy clubs and even toys compared to other weapons, or against such awesome powers. Is this a message that guns aren’t the answer to ending terror, or is it that only really BIG guns (NOT those on the Hulk) can stop terror? Can any pro – assault weapon propaganda be read from The Avengers? Maybe. But maybe its like trying to get meaning from the back of a cereal box. What if, the idea seeps into our brains subconsciously, like the idea that cereal is good for us because of all the vitamins pumped into it artificially.
Lincoln. Its almost unmentionable: Spielberg, Daniel Day Lewis, possibly the most loved president of all time — a PATRIOT and HERO who freed the slaves with his bare hands — on the silver screen spewing golden kittens at us. If you don’t like this movie you are clearly a racist freedom hating communist who makes baby E.T. cry, right? I am not criticizing the film so much as the psychology behind the film and the mentality of making a movie that few could ethically or morally be against. While not to be compared side by side, lets not forget about Mel Gibson’s barf fest The Passion of the Christ: Many Catholic Church leaders who may normally have condemned the violence in the film urged their parishioners to see it, some even organizing large screenings for their flocks. Making over $370 million dollars, it is the most financially successful R Rated movie of all time.1 The violence in this film, we were assured, was not gratuitous, but the actual bloodshed that Jesus endured. It became a mini pilgrimage for some to see this film during Lent and be touched by Christ’s selflessness. It was only a couple years later that Gibson made an obviously anti-Semitic comment to a police officer. Was the violence really justifiable, or just opportunistic?
Tarantino’s recent outburst to an interviewer regarding his stance on violence in entertainment didn’t help his cause or anyone in a similar position. Kathryn Bigelow did a much better job of laying out the argument against blaming entertainment and art as the source for real life copy cat violence. Artists cannot be responsible for the people who are so out of touch with reality, that they might be inspired to violent acts based on a movie, video game or music. However, we seem to be caught in a loop of real and imagined violent events, both regurgitated to us through the same media outlets, often one right after the other, with little or no break between them. At what point does art become reality? Does it? By producing films that promote the idea of justifiable violence, Hollywood is contributing an opinion to when extreme violence can still be ethical, a suitable time while we have reservations about drone strikes. By not allowing the audience to sympathize to the receivers of violence, they say that the only victims are those justly dishing out the violence. After more than ten years of war on other’s soil, do we still see ourselves as the victims? By making the movies entertaining, they are towing the line of an ethical abyss, conveniently choosing when to take a stand. Make a statement or don’t; people are listening, they are watching, they are in rapt attention.
1 Information courtesy of Box Office Mojo. Used with permission.
An exhibit showcasing the Chicano arts collective ASCO, which was active in Los Angeles throughout most of the 1970s and 80s, is currently touring the North American continent. Unfortunately, it won’t be coming to Indiana any time soon, so I have had to make due with the thick catalog from the show, “Asco: Elite of the Obscure.” Fortunately it’s a beautiful book. Asco’s artwork ties into a lot of my ongoing pet concerns – kitsch, the foreigner, the “as if” artwork – in dynamic and interesting ways, so I thought I would share some thoughts on this arts movement. But most importantly, the images are utterly beautiful and hilarious. I can’t help myself: I’m fascinated, I keep thinking about these images, this movement, which may seem very far removed from my own life in Indiana, but yet seems very relevant to me.
The name “ASCO” is itself interesting. To begin with, like the famous forbearer “Dada,” it is a foreign word (it’s Spanish, meaning nausea) that is both strange and catchy. It “works” in English as a kind of brand name (I’m gonna get som Asco at the corner store? Have you gotten the latest Asco yet?), but the Spanish adds a layer of obscurity, of a sense of something hidden. This combination of the kitschy and the hidden is in many ways emblematic of a foreigner aesthetic. I’m using the word “foreigner” to conveniently include here both actual immigrants and ethnic minorities. I know there’s a difference but there’s also a similarity: a presence that troubles the dream of homogeneity.
In U.S. culture – whether “high” or “low” – the foreigner is often a figure of kitsch: s/he is a fake version of the real thing (“the American”), lacking the interiority of the American Subject. That is, the foreigner is thing-like. S/he has no soul. In this regard foreigners are a lot like Art. Everything we touch becomes art.
Ethnic or minority or immigrant cultures are often very conservative in trying to avoid this kitsch label, insisting on a kind of authenticity of their culture. America often finds that very attractive as well: “the old world” of authenticity as opposed to the modern America. This is another form of kitsch, “authenticity kitsch.”
[Some Swedish kitsch...]
A while back I got in a heated discussion with a Latino poet who claimed the Latina writer Sandy Florian was not a Latina writer because she did not “write about the Latina experience.” Her writing was too “experimental” – ie it called attention to itself as artifice, rather than (as his own poetry) seeking to document the stuff of the Latin “experience” (whether food, customs, family traditions). In other words, art gets in the way to this “documenting.” Authenticity becomes a conservative aesthetic. Ethnicity becomes an aesthetic. Paradoxically, all things aesthetic are of course artifice.
In this insistence on art that “documents” the “real thing,” this conservative aesthetic reminds me quite a bit of the discussions in “Performance Art” where it seems to me (I admit it, I’m not an expert in this field) important that the real art is the performance, not the “documentation.” Sometimes I’ve come across these spats in performance art discussions where people get accused of turning the “documentation” into the artwork.
For example, Joseph Beuys was often accused of this. And that definitely seems true. My favorite work by Beuys is his long-running series of photographs “Arena: Where would I have got if I had been intelligent,” which consists of photographs of art objects, regular objects and performances by Beuys. Except, the divisions are immediately blurred. The montage of photographs of artistic relics/souvenirs from the performances renders any object he might put in the show into a relic; the montage sets up an equal sign of sorts; it tells us: these are photographs of relics. Everything is a relic, a souvenir. The art cannot be contained.
Likewise, it’s not clear if all the pictures of Beuys himself are from actual performances, or if any picture with him is a performance, if his life is a performance. The “cut” between photographs are too far apart to be “sutured” together into a montage. Art has redefined itself, redefined “life,” There is no longer an “outside.” There’s an atmosphere that leaks out surrounding everything, turning everything into Art.
Conducted at the same roughly the same time, the ASCO artworks play with a similar dynamic in their “No Films,” which consist of fake film stills from non-existent movies, starring “bario stars,” an ethnic version of the “superstars” of Jack Smith (whose film stills from the 1960s is probably the most direct predecessor of ASCO’s work) and Andy Warhol. This connection suggests another important connection: that between the foreigner and the homosexual, between the immigrant and the queer.
As modernist poet and constant immigrant (from Russia to Finland and later Lithuania) Henry Parland put it in his diary: “I am always a foreigner, no matter where I go.” To be a foreigner is to be a kind of drag version of the native, the foreigner introduces Art into every dimension of life. Some people – such as the Latino poet who could not find the “Latina experience” in Sandy Florian’s work – would try to deny that the reified ‘immigrant experience’ is itself kitsch, made up of costumes, objects, food, customs, a recognizable cast of characters, etc. Others, such as ASCO, would use it to produce their Art.
What strikes me in these would-be B-movie promotional stills is the use of cheap trinkets, the kitsch: disco-aliens with platform boots attack a bum with a huge fake axe, a woman is taped to a wall, a dolls is burning. These trinkets and human figures are posed around very mundane parts of Los Angeles; but their make-up, their trinkets both call attention to the mundane Los Angeles and turn it into something ridiculously glamorous, a kind of kitsch glamour. In this way it seems to opposite of the Hollywood idea of Los Angeles: The ultra-rich heart of spectacle culture that can create every exotic locale within its studios. Here the shitty glamour brings the “studio” out into Los Angeles, which finally becomes visible… as Art.
The other thing is that this shitty glamour is actually circuited to ethnicity. You can see this connection very explicitly if you look at some of ASCO’s artwork – such as “Stations of the Cross,” where they dressed up in Day-of-the-Dead-inspired garbs and carried a cross to the draft station used to sign up Chicanos for the Vietnam War. Once you’ve become aware of the political and ethnic dimensions of that protest, you can see the connection between the kitsch and the ethnic-inspired matter in the No Movies.
Let me return to the name ASCO, the name with its dual meaning of kitsch-brand and foreign, obscure word. Who was afflicted by this “nausea”? When asked in 1983 where the name came from, Gronk (one of the members) said:
“That was generally the reaction to a lot of the work that we were doing, when we first started doing work, is people would say, refer to our work as giving them, “Uuhllhh!” asco. So we said, “That’s a nice title,” so we applied it to ourselves. A lot of the stuff early on was like real bloody and used a lot of different things, like dead birds and bones, and anything we could get our hands on. So the reaction by the community, or by different people that would see the work, was that it was giving them nausea. We liked the word.”
So in this definition, their artwork is named after the reception, after the effect their art has on people. But this is not the only explanation the group has given for its name. As C.Ondine Chavoya and Rita Gonzalez point out in their article “Asco and the Politics of Revulsion,” another member, Harry Gamboa noted very early on: “Last year at this time I was very active in the affairs of my community. I was deeply bothered and disgusted with the condition of my community and the Mexican American people. I learned to distrust and dislike everything that was pro-establishment.” Along the same line, Gronk also said “a lot of our friends were coming back in body bags and were dying, and we were seeing a whole generation come back that weren’t alive anymore. And in a sense that gave us nausea… that is Asco, in a way.” The group also stated that they were “attracted and appalled by the glitter and gangrene of urban reality.”
What I love about all these definitions – seemingly seeping out of a very basic yet foreign word – is the contradictions: the nausea is a negative response to the artwork which is a negative response to the political realities and or the kitschy “glitter,” which may be a disease in itself. In Julia Kristeva’s famous definition of “abjecting” as vomiting out the abject in order to maintain the self. “The abject” is that which troubles boundaries. And here the nausea is both in the viewer and the artist, both inside the artists and outside of them. The glitter, the kitsch is the disease is both a source of fascination and nausea. Asco doesn’t expel the kitsch, they harbor it, they are fascinated by it; this fascination doesn’t heal, it seems to permeate.
Like the element of the un-sutured montage, the nauseating atmosphere of Asco’s work permeates the city of Los Angeles, blurring boundaries between inside and outside, fantasy and reality, Los Angeles and “Los Angeles.” Perhaps the most strikingly political aspect of this aesthetic can be seen in the stunning photograph “Decoy”. The group sent this picture of an apparently dead man in the middle of a street in Los Angeles to newspapers and news shows as evidence of another Chicano riot gone awry, and these news-outlets promptly broadcast it as evidence.
And this is where I feel like a lot of my concerns in this essay come together: the anxiety about proper documentation is totally undermined by the very beautiful fake documentation, the ethnic “document” becomes the imaginary trace of violence, the nausea pervades everything – from the disenfranchised Chicano artists to the corporate news shows. Glitter and gangrene, glitter and gangrene….
February 6, 2013 · Print This Article
It’s a freezing afternoon on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I’m sitting in the kitchen of Galen Gondolfi and Jessica Baran. We are surrounded by their marvelous collection of chrome toasters, heart-shaped cake pans, and other vintage housewares. Joining us briefly is Toronto-based artist Benjamin Edelberg, whose two-person exhibition alongside St. Louis artist Brandon Anschultz, All That Heaven Allows (curated by Baran), opened downstairs at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts two nights before. Gathered to talk shop, we pause for a moment to watch Gondolfi and Baran’s dog Benny attempt to peel a clementine—one of his many talents, they tell me.
Benny is one of four dogs owned by the couple, who live above Fort Gondo (known to many simply as “Gondo”), the eponymous St. Louis venue Gondolfi started in 2002. In fact, it was initially intended to be a dog shelter. When he bought the building, he knew he wanted to open the street-level space with some sort of community-based mission, but the prospect of creating a home for cast-off canines failed to come to fruition. Rather, it evolved into an art space after Gondolfi and friends Mike Schuh, Bevin Fahey-Vornberg, and Dave Early began staging flash mob-like events across the city as the artist collective “named” Untitled. Soon they hosted an event in the space that attracted nearly 400 people. The performances continued. Ergo Fort Gondo.
The venue is situated at the western end of Cherokee Street, now an established St. Louis arts district home to antique stores, art spaces, cafes, bars, print shops, and a record store, as well as the epicenter of the city’s Mexican community. Real estate remains plentiful and cheap, and Gondolfi, who owns several buildings on Cherokee, is credited with jump-starting much of the neighborhood’s revitalization. Besides founding Fort Gondo, his contribution includes other short-lived creative endeavors such as the “laptop-free” coffee shop Typo and a gallery that exhibited only female artists named Beverly (2005-2007), after Gondolfi’s mother. Within a year of his arrival, he became president of the Benton Park West Neighborhood Association and subsequently ran for alderman in his ward in 2007 (losing to a 12-year incumbent by a mere 76 votes).
But when he moved here in the early 2000s, he was one of three people living on the block. The neighborhood was essentially vacant. Gondolfi gets admittedly “maudlin and nostalgic” about Gondo’s early years, even though he experienced two break-ins within 48 hours of receiving the keys. But such a ghost town-like atmosphere also offered him carte blanche to get weird. He tells me how the building next door had suffered a fire so he would host events in its shell, turning it into a venue called Burn Out. There were vacant lots on either side, so he installed his entire bedroom in one of them and asked people to get into bed with him. Later on he and Early, his business partner, started Radio Cherokee, a “proletarian speakeasy” that presented hundreds of shows between 2002-2006 (including a basement gallery called Low Art and an exterior billboard venue named High Art). The joint was electricity-free; bands played off of extension cords. The entire block, Gondolfi recalls, “was like a playground. Nobody cared about the rules at that point. Gondo was incredibly cavalier and renegade in those early days.”
Gondo soon became a regular part of Gondolfi’s creative life and eventually Baran’s as well (they married in 2011 after meeting through Gondo-related programming; she also exhibited at Beverly). Though the space is synonymous with Gondolfi, he is quick to point out that countless numbers of people have been involved. “It is not an extension of me, but rather it has been a group effort all along. Gondo has been one 10-year running group show, if I think about it. So many people have come back to do other shows…Gondo is part of my life but is not an extension of myself. It’s never been the top priority in my life but has always been there. In some ways it’s like a cockroach—it never dies. I merely essentially paid the mortgage and that allowed whatever chaos to ensue.”
That chaos has come to include a vibrant “program of non-programming,” as Baran puts it: more than 500 intergenerational exhibitions, rock shows, poetry readings, town meetings, political fundraisers, religious services, birthday parties, yard sales, weddings, and other various and sundry happenings. Countless now-established local and national artists have presented their work at Gondo, including four who went on to win the Great Rivers Biennial, the preeminent local artist competition organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (full disclosure: my employer). Even with all this activity, I’m surprised to learn that over 100 keys to the space are currently in circulation. “Do you have one?” Gondolfi immediately asks me (he made three new copies that day). The couple readily welcomes the “mi casa es su casa” vibe engendered by both the space and their apartment. Yet occasionally the open-door policy can be taken a little too literally. Likening Gondo to the spontaneous anything-goes (and potentially depraved) ethos of a bathhouse, Gondolfi notes that a mysterious visitor used their shower the other night. But more lamentable to him is the fact that three rubber duckies from their extensive collection are now missing.
The snacks keep coming. Gondolfi turns off a few lights in the kitchen to avoid blowing a fuse while running the microwave. Over burnt popcorn, the conversation shifts from reflective to anticipatory. The space celebrated its 10th anniversary last year with a series of exhibitions he collectively called “Identity Crisis.” He invited people that had participated in the history of the space—“friends and foes alike” who had shown in the gallery or been instrumental in some way—back to do something new. Ten years is a long time for any art space, and Gondolfi, who also holds down a full-time job as Chief Communications Officer of Justine PETERSEN, a national microlending agency based in St. Louis, is admittedly tired. Following a year of intense self-scrutiny, he has recently demoted himself from proprietor to facilities manager.
Meanwhile Baran, who co-organizes Gondo’s poetry series with poet Jennifer Kronovet, is assuming full reign. A poet, curator, and professional art critic, she was also Assistant Director of White Flag Projects from 2008-2012, providing incalculable grist to the respected contemporary art space during its formative years. Ever self-effacing, Gondolfi jokes that, “I ushered Gondo through the Cro-Magnon era and with Jessica taking over we’re going to start walking upright.” Baran is in the midst of planning a new exhibition program, and they are now awaiting formal 501(c)3 status. Gondolfi, meanwhile, sees his new freedom as an opportunity to possibly pursue animal rights work, or else conceive of his own idyllic artist commune in nearby Illinois, a la The Poor Farm or Mildred’s Lane.
“Fort Gondo has always been pro-failure,” Gondolfi made a point of telling me early in our conversation. He readily confesses that, “a lot of abysmal art has been shown here. Sometimes I can’t look at the walls when I come home at night.” But that’s because the spirit of the space has heretofore been less about discerning taste or aesthetic than about democratic and abundant opportunity. While this may change under Baran’s leadership, Gondo’s mission will always privilege creative over material capital. It revels in the freedom to fail, emboldened by the production and presentation of culture on its own terms. Sure, this may be a privileged way to operate but it’s also very St. Louis, the entrepreneurial land of beer barons, newspaper magnates, and other founder-driven entities. Where it’s possible for a once anarchic community center-cum-established art space to continually fail better.
For my time in Kansas City, I have created for myself a program of full emersion. I am doing my best to live, learn, read, hear and see this city inside out. From my outsider-on-the-inside position, I am looking deep down inside of Kansas City for themes currently pulsing through its contemporary art and culture scenes.
My first day at work, my boss and Charlotte Street Foundation Co-Director Kate Hackman loaned me The King of Kings County, an extraordinary novel by local author Whitney Terrell. Teenager Jack Acheson, this book’s loveable narrator, takes the reader on a vivid journey that roars through mid-century downtown Kansas City, Missouri, into the development of its expansive Kansas suburbs. In the mid-1950s, Alton Acheson — part con man, part visionary, and Jack’s dad — begins developing Interstate 70 and building a suburban empire as the freeway exits the city amid the cornfields of Kings County, Kansas. As Alton bluffs his way into prosperity, Jack becomes an accomplice to his grand ambitions. But when greed, corruption, and organized crime combine to create an urban nightmare instead — abandoned buildings, ghettos, and slums — Jack is forced to reexamine not only his father’s legacy, but also that of his city and its community. Though fictional, this incredible story draws extensively from a sordid history of urban culture, as well as the race relations and class conflict that come with it, to examine the making of Kansas City’s so-called American Dream, one whose contradictions continue to surface in every American place to this day.
One reason I find The King of Kings County so fascinating is that the story and Jack Acheson could be based in any city. Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston, among others like Kansas City, have dreamed the big dreams of industrial Modernism to simultaneously magnificent and disastrous results. To me, a Midwesterner but non-native, Kansas City’s artists and cultural organizers seem eager to seriously investigate, to look deep down inside of their hometown in their efforts to explore it inside out. (Since this is my first Bad @ Sports blog post and because they are thematically relevant, please forgive me two bits—another to come in the next paragraphs—of shameless self-promotion:) With this observation in mind, I curated Have I been here before? this past November, my first exhibition for Charlotte Street Foundation’s la Esquina gallery. Through images, writing, and events, this show wondered whether Kansas City ‘places’—some strictly based in Kansas City, some less so—could be those that make up any town. Have I been here before? set up some interesting questions for me (and I hope for the audience): Even with rigorous study and years of analysis, can one truly know a place? And furthermore, does one’s knowledge of that place color their understanding of every place?
Jill Downen, an artist who recently migrated West along Alton Acheson’s I-70 from St. Louis to Kansas City, understands places by their insides. She looks deep down inside to see the architectural bones and tendons that make up a location’s structures. In many cases, those insides are sculpted, agile muscles trained to carry the weight of societies for years to come. In others, insides are aged and weak, crumbling under those same societies and the changes, like those led by Alton, they impose. For the most part, Downen recreates these insides full-scale, filling whole rooms in galleries and museums across the country with few giant sculptures. Opting for a bit more intimacy in Three-dimensional Sketchbook, the artist’s first solo show in her new hometown at PLUG Projects, Downen has set up a series of small-scale models that invite viewers to look deep down inside both structures and her studio practice. With each miniature architectural ligament or joint, this installation shows just how hard Downen studies, analyzes, and tries to know a place.
(Second and final shameless self-promotion you have to forgive me for:) Composite Structures, the second show I have organized for la Esquina, features contemporary artists who meditate on the designs and architectures of Bauhaus Modernism and the International Style. This exhibition consists of two parts: Mending Fences, curated by yours truly, which showcases Midwestern artists who apply multiple layers and manipulations—some conceptual, some formal—to the ideas of Modernist architects which feature prominently within the Midwestern urban landscape; and Low Accumulations, curated by Los Angeles-based curator and co-director of Actual Size L.A. Lee Foley, which includes Los Angeles-based artists who use assemblage and design to reflect a post-structural viewpoint and an urban sensibility unique to Southern California. In these paired presentations, we the curators show how artists and architects alike investigate places inside out in their efforts to know what of any given place works and what does not, what can be carried forward, and what must be left behind, cast out and/or obliterated for its failures. As the title of this show suggests, these artists rely on their own expert knowledge of the legacies of older places to create new and improved ones.
Much like Jack Acheson, Kansas City-based artist Anthony Baab reexamines the legacies of places that enjoy legendary status in art and architectural history. Baab looks inside out, on top of, from behind, and underneath the dense structures that make up any given place and its monumental systems—sculptures, buildings, cities, and so on. For his solo exhibition A Strenuous Nonbeing on view now at Grand Arts, Baab documented a number of places, extracted from them certain architectural elements which he then layers together to build/rebuild another place (a gesamtkunstwerk much like Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau) of his own volition. This presumably giant structure is as much like every place you have ever been as it is like no place you have ever been. However, the viewer never actually experiences this new structure firsthand because Baab presents it only through photographic and video documentation. With this process that only allows mediated looking, Baab illustrates that no matter how closely, critically, exhaustively one tries to look at a place, whether it be Kansas City, Los Angeles or Berlin, one can never truly know it because time, space, and humanity always render it new and unrecognizable.
Though perhaps in vein, I am willing to continue to search deep down inside Kansas City in my efforts to recognize the unrecognizable before time turns it into something else altogether.
-Jamilee Polson Lacy, Charlotte Street Curator-In-Residence