In a critical examination of one of the most important art centers in the Western world, UCCA will dedicate its entire exhibition space to an anthology of seven shows of contemporary artists living and working in Los Angeles. They are Kathryn Andrews, Aaron Curry, Alex Israel, Matthew Monahan, Sterling Ruby, Ryan Trecartin, and Kaari Upson.
These seven artists represent a generation of creative practitioners drawn to a global nexus, one whose rich cultural legacy and robust network of art schools, galleries, and institutions act as a magnet for top talents in the field of contemporary art. Outside of Hollywood, specific cultural connections between Los Angeles and Beijing have been lacking despite their imagined proximity as Pacific Rim cities. Los Angeles has long been imagined as a “city of the future” in much the same way that urban development in China has unfolded against the backdrop of an implicit utopianism. As China’s creative scene matures into a multipolar terrain of geographies, contexts, and subjectivities, Los Angeles and its cultural topography become especially relevant to Beijing and its current position as the mainland’s creative capital.
Curated by UCCA Director Philip Tinari and UCCA Chief Curator Paula Tsai, “The Los Angeles Project” is not a thematic group show but rather a group of exhibitions that uses the Center’s wide range of spaces to juxtapose a set of positions with highest regard for the individual character of each artist’s practice. In keeping with this anthological character, the exhibition is accompanied not by a single catalogue but by a collection of seven distinct artist books. Co-published with Koenig Books and supported by Artron Art Group, these books are supported by project editors Karen Marta and Brian Roettinger.
A wide range of public programs will complement the exhibition. Apart from a series of talks by the participating artists, UCCA will host a festival dedicated to film in Los Angeles, curated by UCCA Director of Public Programs Meng Xie. The program will begin on the opening weekend with the Asia premiere of a new, remastered version of the essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself with writer and director Thom Andersen in attendance and a lecture by Glenn Phillips, acting head of the Department of Architecture & Contemporary Art at the Getty Museum and curator of the landmark exhibition “California Video” (2008). This will be followed by an extensive screening series that explores the depiction of L.A. in film by both local and outsider directors, spanning mainstream Hollywood productions, independent features, and experimental films.
The lead sponsor for “The Los Angeles Project” is Tomorrow Art. Publication support comes from Artron Art Group; CP and WTi Group are the new media art production partner. The exhibition is realized with the further support of Fondation Guy & Myriam Ullens, Geneva; Massimo De Carlo Gallery, Milan; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; Anton Kern Gallery, New York. Support for related public programming comes from the Embassy of the United States, Beijing. The Patrons’ Preview and Dinner is sponsored by Sotheby’s. Additional support was provided by the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board and ForYourArt, Los Angeles.
About the Artists (in alphabetical order)
Kathryn Andrews’ (b. 1973, Mobile, Alabama) conceptual sculptures question the nature of authorship, the histories of objects, and the instability of the art experience. Her three-dimensional works juxtapose Minimalist chrome structures with readymades such as movie props and other kitschy, L.A.-specific signifiers, exploring the psychological transference of seeing these objects as art and vice versa. By delegating the manufacture of her artworks, Andrews also undermines public expectations of the artist’s touch, itself a commodity within the art market. For her UCCA presentation, Andrews will display a series of aluminum barrel sculptures covered with vinyl prints of the iconic American children’s character Bozo the Clown. The Bozo franchise began in the late 1940s, and anyone can buy the rights to use his likeness, as Andrews has. Her exhibition will also include a large-scale wallpaper pieceof the iconic seduction scene from the 1960s film The Graduate, recreated and photographed in the artist’s studio. In tandem, Andrews’ works explore issues of authorship, originality, and iconography, how appropriation and recontextualization distort the experience of image-symbols.
Aaron Curry (b. 1972, San Antonio, Texas) creates large-scale, biomorphic sculptures in aluminum and wood as well as painting and collage works. The chopped forms that compose his sculptural works are often left roughly cut to preserve the trace of the artist’s hand, and many are spray painted in bright, lurid hues. His pieces are inspired by comic books, science fiction, graffiti, punk, and other subcultures, extending and disfiguring pop aesthetics into near abstraction evocative of surrealists like Max Ernst and Juan Miró. Many of his sculptural and two-dimensional works also incorporate found images—movie posters, popular magazines, and media stills—which further complicate his works negotiation of high and low aesthetic forms. Curry’s UCCA presentation comprises 5 of his iconic, quasi-figural sculptures within an exhibition space covered in 238 sheets of cardboard. On these panels are configurations of orange paint, shoe prints, and found objects that echo the gestural forms of his sculptures. Two large-scale sculptures from the collection of the Fondation Guy & Myriam Ullens will be installed in the UCCA Lobby.
Alex Israel (b. 1982, Los Angeles, California) creates campy homages to the Hollywood lifestyle, entertainment culture, and the construction of celebrity. Drawing on an audiovisual repertoire of 80s and 90s LA—neons and pastels, Ray-Ban sunglasses, sultry saxophone theme songs—Israel’s video, painting, and installation works ambiguously pay tribute to and ironically deconstruct the decade’s cultural legacy. The artist is perhaps best known for web series “As It Lays,” in which a deadpan Israel hosts a mock celebrity talk show, asking questions that range from the philosophical to the absurd. The palpable anxiety of his guests is discomfiting yet endearing, indicting the interconnected spectacles of celebrity and its public consumption. For his painting and installation, Israel works exclusively through Hollywood production channels. For his UCCA presentation, Israel will create a site-specific mural that recreates the experience of driving around Los Angeles, an activity and cityscape from which Israel derives many of his ideas. As with his previous mural and painting works, these wall pieces are inspired by Hollywood set pieces and are produced by commissioned specialists in film backdrops instead of “professional artists,” itself a dubious construct.
Matthew Monahan’s (b. 1972, Eureka, California) practice is situated in the interplay between two- and three-dimensional art. Known for his monumental sculpture and charcoal drawings, Monahan considers all of his artwork an extension of the flat space of planar art. His work depicts fabricated mythologies: deities and heroes, ardor and pathos presented archaeologically, a post-modern reclamation of primitivist spirituality that is paradoxically empowered by its self-awareness as fiction. At its core, Monahan’s work probes the potentials of art historical knowledge systems, originating in the most pedagogical of mediums—charcoal—and extending the forms of Classicism and Modernism into a new, distinctly contemporary mode. For his UCCA presentation, Monahan will show several of his totemic bronze sculptures as well as a group of charcoal drawings that reflect on the aesthetics of portraiture.
Sterling Ruby (b. 1972, Bitburg, Germany) works in painting, sculpture, installation, ceramics, collage, and video. Relentless in his diverse, material-based production, Ruby’s formal language is derived from Minimalism even as it rejects the movement’s conceptual limitations through an examination of contemporary urbanism, post-structuralist art history, gendered cultural production, marginalized communities, and other sociological themes. The artist’s UCCA presentation draws upon the collection of the Fondation Guy & Myriam Ullens, including a monumental, thirty-meter-long cycle of Ruby’s landscape-like spray paintings. These pieces are complemented by a set of Ruby’s collage works, evocative of graffiti, craft art, and American visual culture more broadly. The exhibition also features works from the artist’s “Monumental Stalagmite” series of urethane-drip monoliths. These totems recall the primitivist spiritualism of Modernism, though the wooden support beams and temporally-determined drip technique imply a material self-awareness that introduces doubt and instability into the Minimalist program.
Working in video, sculpture, and installation, Ryan Trecartin (b. 1981, Webster, Texas) addresses issues of identity, self-presentation, and youth culture in an age when advancements in media technology have outpaced humanity’s understanding of them. Along with longtime collaborator Lizzie Fitch, who focuses on the installation and sculptural elements of the works, Trecartin sublimates media formats and tropes into absurdist characters, dialogue, sets, and visual effects. Actors (including the artist himself) enact atomized gestures of the digital age—text lingo, homemade music videos, reality tv-esque dialogue—which are restitched into frenetic pastiches and disorienting, multi-linear narratives. At UCCA, Trecartin will present four films from his “Any Ever” series, which has previously exhibited at MoMA PS1 and other international institutions. As with many of his shows, Trecartin’s films will be presented within an environment that expands upon the themes and spaces of his videos. This atmospheric design includes the color of the gallery walls, the furniture on which viewers sit, and the ambient music produced for the show, an immersive complication to the viewing experience as meaning is negotiated between spaces real and fictive, physical and digital.
Since receiving her MFA from CalArts in 2007, Kaari Upson (b. 1972, San Bernardino, California) has focused on a single set of works: “The Larry Project.” After discovering boxes full of journals, photographs, and other personal items belonging to the eponymous man in a burned-down home, Upson dedicated the next seven years to learning–and eventually fabricating—a history of Larry: the quintessential 70s and 80s wannabe playboy, a devotee of Hugh Hefner and self-help therapies, disillusioned with materialism yet enamored with his luxury car and home. She created a personality profile based on his handwriting, had their astrological signs analyzed for compatibility, made a doll of him with which she had a relationship. Her obsession led to creative disassociation as she tried to become Larry. She would enact his fantasies and project his desires through a series of sculpture, installation, video, and performance pieces until the subjectivities of Larry and Kaari, history and fiction collapsed. Upson’s UCCA presentation includes a set of mattresses, cushions, couches, and other objects molded in silicon and displayed within an environment designed by the artist. The give and take of flesh is displaced onto the press of molded silicon as it seeps into the body of the furniture, itself the locus of communication and connection between the Self and the Other.