Recently by Mike Rogers
When I was in art school in Los Angeles in the 1990s, my mentor, artist Mitchell Syrop, occasionally told stories about Mike Kelley. He and Mike had been roommates when they were attending graduate school at CalArts in the late 1970s. Mike and a handful of other CalArts students became famous in the late 1980s and early 1990s, putting L.A. contemporary art on the map, at least as much as and possibly more than a previous generation of L.A. artists--including Ed Ruscha and Robert Irwin--had done in the 1960s. Kelley's work was high and low at the same time. It was funny, in-your-face, accessible, and also cerebral. Growing up working-class in Detroit, Kelley never talked down to his audience, despite the work's sophistication. Years ago, I remember seeing a series of sculptures that he made out of wood, which looked like strange riffs on high school shop-class projects. How could conceptual art be so folksy and yet so smart? I'm still not sure. Mitchell liked to say that while one of his most famous CalArts classmates turned out to be an asshole, Mike was and always would be a gentleman.
On November 19, I met Kelley for the first and last time. The occasion was an opening in L.A. of a show based around the former Detroit band, Destroy All Monsters, whose members first included Kelley and another L.A. artist, Jim Shaw. Kelley was standing against a wall wearing a black trench coat and black work boots. I went over, introduced myself, and told him how Mitchell used to call him a gentleman. Mike seemed touched, said that he hadn't seen Mitchell in years and asked that I send him his regards.
Then he got a bit gloomy. He said that he wasn't always nice to people, and that, in fact, he was often an asshole. He said that he constantly had to remind himself not to be an asshole. "See?" he said, holding up the back of his hand two inches in front of my eyes. I could see that he had written his first name in thick black ink across his knuckles. Below his name was smaller writing. But I was not wearing my glasses and could not read it. He said, "This is to remind me not to be an ass. Young people who are assholes can get away with it. But old men who are assholes are just pathetic grouches."
In the hours since Mike Kelley died, much has already been written about him and been digitally disseminated around the world. He obviously touched thousands of people through his remarkable work. Who knows what he had left to say? I'm sure Mitchell would agree that there won't be many more like him coming along anytime soon.
About a year ago, when I first heard about "Pacific Standard Time," the massive extravaganza of art exhibits organized by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles to celebrate the city's art production from 1945-1980, I was skeptical. I have a long-standing simple rule: Anything that requires a huge marketing blitz to get its message across probably doesn't have a message of any substance to begin with. And now I have a new rule: Any blockbuster museum show that partners with private galleries mounting officially sanctioned related shows is tainted by the obvious aim of selling artwork and lining a few people's pockets.
Although the constellation of "Pacific Standard Time" ("PST") shows which stretch from San Diego to Santa Barbara officially kicked off this month, several venues opened their "PST" shows weeks ago. I figured that now would be a good time to weigh in with a few observations.
I've been trying my best to resist, but the subject of Eli Broad is just too tempting. Earlier this week, the L.A. art collector and billionaire won final government approval to build a headquarters for his foundation and contemporary art collection across the street from Disney Hall and down the block from the Museum of Contemporary Art. He promptly announced that he had chosen the New York firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro as architect of the planned 120,000-square-foot building.
There were no surprises in the announcement. It had basically been a done deal for weeks. So here are a few final thoughts on it:
1. The Broad Foundation collection is already based in a very nice building in Santa Monica. Although it is not open to the public, anyone with an interest in art who wants to view the collection can make an appointment to go see the work of blue-chip artists like Koons and Warhol in very nice and big galleries.
2. Open year-round to the public is the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the mid-Wilshire area of the city, which opened in February 2008. There you can also see lots of work from Broad's collection, including sculptures by Richard Serra and more paintings by the likes of Koons and Warhol.
3. Although Broad said he had been considering Santa Monica and Beverly Hills as possible sites for the new location of the foundation, he was obviously using them as bargaining chips with the city of L.A. and just wasting the time of the officials from those other cities. For years, Broad has been championing the redevelopment of downtown L.A. Putting his building downtown would help that process along and get him premium attention, too. Officials from those other cities should have realized that Broad made much of his fortune in insurance, and that's all they ever were.
Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Wireimage
Jeffrey Deitch and Julian Schnabel at the MOCA press preview of the Dennis Hopper show, which is in the background.
A few months before New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch officially took over as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles on June 1, he announced that the first show on his watch would be a retrospective of the artwork of actor/director Dennis Hopper. With impressive speed, the show at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary space opened Sunday, and the reason for the quick work was that Deitch wanted the rapidly ailing Hopper to see it. Sadly, Hopper died of prostate cancer on May 29.
Artist Mike Bouchet takes a dip in the cola-filled swimming pool.
My Fourth of July this year was perhaps the most patriotic Independence Day that I have ever observed, and there wasn't a "Star-Spangled Banner" to be heard. It was spent watching people frolic in a swimming pool filled with cola. What can be more American than that? (Okay, Americans may not have invented cola, but Coca-Cola soon swallowed the market.)
The event I attended wasn't a corporate advertising stunt or the setting of a porn film shoot, although it could easily have suited both. It was an art happening of sorts accompanying an exhibition in Los Angeles by Mike Bouchet, a California-born artist now based in Frankfurt, Germany, who is most widely known for attempting to float a full-scale American suburban home on the Venice canals at last year's Biennale. (Unfortunately, it sank shortly after it was installed).
Next year, 25 exhibitions will open in museums and galleries across Southern California, focusing on art made in Los Angeles from the postwar years up to 1980. They will cover the full range of movements that either began in the region or had a strong base there, including Pop, Happenings, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, among others.
Recent L.A. shows, too, have focused on this period. Earlier this year, two galleries exhibited work related to the seminal Ferus Gallery, in which many L.A. artists debuted in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Ken Price, Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, and Wallace Berman. A documentary about that gallery, called "The Cool School," released in 2008, is still making the rounds.
The shows next year, part of a Getty Foundation initiative called "Pacific Standard Time," will present important and dynamic work that some people may still feel is overlooked. At the Getty Museum on May 19, three influential artists from the Light and Space movement--Peter Alexander, Helen Pashgian, and DeWain Valentine--participated in a panel discussion at the Getty to talk about old times.
While most of the discussion was about the difficulties and hazards involved in working with plastic resins, which the three helped pioneer, talk also degenerated into complaints about how L.A. art, including their own work, was dismissed for years by the East Coast art establishment. Pashgian recalled how a New York critic panned three concurrent shows by L.A. artists in the '60s, including her own solo show, by
A friend who is a professor at the University of California at San Diego was visiting this week, and she mentioned that she was despondent and angry over the apparent witch hunt against an artist and faculty member at the university. The new media artist, named Ricardo Dominguez, who is an associate professor at UCSD, reportedly may have his tenure revoked for staging an online sit-in on the home page of Mark Yudof, the president of the 10-campus University of California system. The protest was over tuition hikes and involved hundreds of participants typing the word "Transparency" in the page's search box.
Dominguez got some attention last year when he created a modified cell phone that would provide people illegally crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. with inspirational poetry and directions to water stations. (The L.A. Times called the device "more conceptual than practical," though it "scored public relations riches.") Three Republican congressmen from the San Diego area have asked the UC San Diego chancellor to provide a financial accounting of the cell phone project and, according to the Times, Dominguez and other faculty members say that the university is considering whether creation of the phone was an improper use of public funds, whether there are grounds for filing criminal charges against him for the computer sit-in, and whether to revoke his tenure.
The Los Angeles Times ran two prominent stories last week, including one on the front page of the April 30 edition, about billionaire Eli Broad's plans to build a museum for his contemporary art collection either in the city of Santa Monica or in downtown L.A. Broad, who is often described as a tough negotiator, appears to be pitting the two cities against each other, hoping to get the best deal before he commits to a site.
There aren't many people in Los Angeles with as much money as Broad, so when he agrees to donate money for a new building or a cause, institutions are quick to cave to his terms. In this case, one or two officials in each city are balking at Broad's demands for virtually rent-free land, questioning whether it's in the public interest to lease Broad valuable plots of real estate for a total of $1 a year, so he can build a place to show off his art. They would most likely get an arresting architectural edifice, with his name prominently displayed on it. Broad, who made his first fortune building homes for average folk before making his second fortune selling insurance policies, expressed dismay at the chutzpah of these ungrateful officials.
Broad told the Times, "It just burns me that people are saying they're giving me, a billionaire, $1 a year for nothing without looking at the public benefit that's being created, without thinking of all these children that are going to go there free of charge and all the other benefits."