MOCA’s The Painting Factory has been on our list of shows we’ve been wanting to see. However, it wasn’t a show we were biting our teeth and slamming our hands against our face over: it sounded like old abstract paintings, which–although great–were not something that immediately made us go, “OH MY GOD!!!!” We had almost gone to the show several times but finally made it out last night for a tour of the show with Jeffrey Deitch after an injury caused a postponement of L.A. Dance Project and Benjamin Millepied’s FRAMEWORK.
If you, too, thought The Painting Factory is all older, “contemporary art…but from the 1970s!,” I assure you it is not: it is an abstract storm in and around Los Angeles and into 2012 that carries on themes of abstraction after Andy Warhol. This positions the show to be without “contemporary” artists who are no longer alive and were seen more as rivals to Warhol, which is what we had assumed. These are contemporary artists who are still alive and working. MOCA knows how to keep contemporary art alive.
The event was free to the public but specifically aimed at MOCA’s Contemporaries, a group of young museum members and supporters who are helping push contemporary art in Los Angeles. Museum goers gathered outside the Grand Avenue location and sipped on some (FREE!!) beer, courtesy of Echo Park Zymurgy (which we had never heard of but was absolutely delicious). The crowd gathered and spanned from twentysomething, tank top wearing boys to teenage girls in matching/not-matching patterned miniskirts and crop tops to older folks disappointed there would be no dancing to post-work individuals anxious to see art. There was about forty or fifty people gathered, which was very surprising considering the actual event was cancelled: MOCA still was able to gather a sizable audience for a little tour with Mr. Deitch.
The tour and show were fantastic, too. It was very obvious that a little dark cloud hung above the museum due to bad press and blatant maliciousness toward the institution, thanks to a few Board/Trustee exits blasted out by the Los Angeles “Only Older People Read Us!” Times. Deitch started in the lobby and explained the show’s concept, giving details on ideas of abstraction and techniques used by artists in the show. We wandered into the Warhol room, able to peek at a few works in other rooms, still unsure of what to expect from the show. As we stood in between Warhol’s diamond dust shadow paintings, his inkblots, and humungous camouflage painting, Deitch gave us a succinct history of Warhol’s abstract work and the basis of his abstraction as well. (Disappointingly, this conversation did not arouse Christopher Knight’s ghost of Andy Warhol to join the tour.) As you can tell from the title, this is the show’s point of departure. We wandered room to room, seeing seeing how contemporary artists like Urs Fischer, Glenn Ligon, Sterling Ruby, Julie Mehretu, Mark Bradford, Tauba Auerbach, DAS INSTITUT, and more carried on and extended contemporary abstraction.
The show, although centered on painting, does what MOCA does best: it gives you an immersive, experiential view of art. All the details from the inclusion of soft, white carpet to opening up the ceiling to reveal the skylights are ways the institution has made seeing art and having a museum experience exciting and thought through. Unlike The Getty or LACMA or Hammer, shows are just paintings or works of art in a space and, although in the same show, are disconnected from each other aside from a philosophical binding. Every MOCA show I’ve attended always has an element of immersion, making art more than what you see but what you feel and how you see. It’s a complete sensory process that–like art–is more varied than things framed and put on a wall or ceiling or floor: it’s a total package.
As the tour ended, we weren’t disappointed to have missed FRAMEWORK (although we did want to see it) because the opportunity to hear Deitch explain the process behind these contemporary works and explain the details in exhibiting work was a rare opportunity. And Deitch was–and is–so accessible: not only was he open for questions and comments during the tour but before, during, and after he would chat with museum goers and entertain lots and lots of questions. Toward the end of the show, we wandered the show again by ourselves and caught so many young teenagers and early twentysomethings in backward hats and sagging jeans and short shorts and what not taking in the art and engaging with each other, saying, “Oh, I like how these dots are over here.” in relationship to a Christopher Wool piece. It was so surprising and refreshing that, although not a Santigold MOCA Geffen event or a Hedi Slimane at PDC opening, there was still that audience, these young, culturally curious art lovers perusing the galleries for free on a Thursday.
We headed toward the door as a young bearded man in short shorts and a tank top cornered Jeffrey in a room of Wade Guyton and Tauba Auerbach. “Excuse me, I just have to tell you something,” he said, nervously, “I just wanted to tell you that everything you are doing is great.” Jeffrey smiled and thanked him. We smiled and said to ourselves, “Couldn’t have said it better, kid.”