When music started to be shared on the Internet, people in the music industry started to freak out. They were bailing water in every way they thought they knew how, industries were quickly popping up around digital music, executive heads were cut in lieu of more savvy individuals, them becoming modern everymen who could balance digital music and sales. Film was handed a similar blow and is still coping with an identity crisis, inspiring public service announcements with pirates urging against anti-piracy. Photographers now are faced with iPhone users challenging how they make work. Writers are now able to cut out publications and go directly to publishing online themselves, leading to the death of many loved media outlets. We are living in a shifting world where the Internet and technology are not only dictating the future but are the future. Before we know it, we will all be clouds, sharing thoughts before we even thought we thought a thought.
Some people are and will adopt future staring while others dig in their heels, trying to implant roots in dry ground. The clouds above look down and giggle, them moving along and shifting, constantly becoming new as they transition from water to vapor to ice and back again. Clouds are a near perfect illustration of the change we are experiencing with technology as they are unencumbered and unpredictable. They are the reason why we scoff at weathermen, opting to look at them out our windows instead of taking advice from some guy and his dinky Doppler radar. Why trust a third party when you can go to the source? This is the moral of the Internet: information (and opinions) are at the tips of your fingers.
As Angelenos, we are constantly faced with this change. Being in a city, things are magnified and then shed down to smaller cities and leading to influence other countries and communities throughout the world. With the movie and music industry having big hearts in our town, it is no surprise that building technology is constantly leading to cultural and economic effects on all of our lives. If the writers strike, movies can’t be made. If movies can’t be made, the little taqueria down the street isn’t getting support from film crews who eat there. If the taqueria isn’t supported, the persons and families involved aren’t able to support themselves. Etc., etc., etc.: we all are very aware of technology’s impact on local infrastructures, most of which are tied to the Hollywood factory.
Los Angeles isn’t just Hollywood, though. This is a fact non-Industry people belabor: we have fashion, we have food, we have art, we have crafts, we have science–Los Angeles has ample cultures that are supported. Our city being all about entertainment is a stereotype. That being said, we are an extremely modern city. We are constantly changing. If we don’t like a building, we knock it down or leave it behind to build something new. If we want to make a movement, we call up some friends and organize how to cause change. We as a city are obsessed with the future, hence why our city is always the subject of dystopian (and utopian!) futures in media and culture. Los Angeles represents change.
A lot of Angelenos are embracing shifts. We have no choice but to embrace it: we are somewhat obligated to push things ahead and make change. We need to fuck with what society assumes to be normal and comfortable. To be an Angeleno is to be a futurist, someone who is never comfortable or happy with how things are. If something sucks, we fix it. If something is wrong, we right it. These modifications never bring results that are “as they were” and are very much why we are stereotyped as a land of flighty, flakey, plastic surgeried persons: we are obsessed with pushing past the old and into the new.
When Paul Schimmel was fired from MOCA a few months ago, this came as a shock to many. Local papers called fouls and art persons readied their guns. This led to the departure of the artist-trustees on the MOCA board, all of whom went straight to publications to announce their departure instead of confronting the museum itself. They cut ties and they made change for themselves, leaving MOCA to the dust and leaving Jeffrey Deitch with nothing but baggage and almost endless barrels of tomatoes that were thrown at him.
Let’s take a step back from this painting, a painting that many are reveling in as they douse it in kerosine. The situation is an obvious metaphor for change on many levels, MOCA serving as a microcosm of the art world: the institution–a contemporary art institution–is changing, even if it means shedding a 22 year head curator who took along a few trustees. The move represents how art is becoming less about the art world and more about the world. People are pointing fingers that MOCA is obsessing over Hollywood and that they are dumbing down programing. MOCA is changing and diversifying programming. They are making things more accessible and more worldly, folding in not only art you put on a wall but art that you watch, art that is performed through the body, art that is sung: they represent how the art museum is no longer a fusty place for you to simply “see art” and are morphing into a multi-purpose venue for all art. After all, they are the Museum of Contemporary Art.
This changing is coming from someone who is truly Angeleno and at the heart of this supposed “problem”: Jeffrey Deitch. The art figure was brought on in 2010 to lead the Downtown institution after some failures and foibles, a flip flopping the institution has had trouble with since its inception. Over the two years, now iconic contemporary shows have been mounted that have pushed outside of the art world and into the real world. There has been a high fashion/art celebration in their Pacific Design Center Rodarte show, which has gone on to be copied at various locations including fellow art institution LACMA. Suprasensorial, perhaps my favorite contemporary art show, has gone on tour and has permeated various other institutions with its take on immersive, contemporary art. The Artist’s Museum gave a historical context and celebrated those who helped make MOCA while Transmission LA represented where the future of MOCA could be. We also cannot forget the now legendary Art In The Streets, which broke records, educated, and celebrated art that we all have been in the midst of for decades.
There were other shows–like their Pacific Standard Time entries Under The Big Black Sun and Naked Hollywood, a Dennis Hopper retrospective, a Mike Kelly retrospective, the Cai Guo-Qiang, Lynda Benglis, Hedi Slimane, and more–that share contemporary art in other ways, many of which are “contemporary art, past” not “contemporary art, present” or “contemporary art, future.” There have been complaints that the museum is tending to flock toward sexier, non-historical or educational shows, all getting at desires to hear histories and stories of Los Angeles and our rich but tiny art past. This is an important request and one to stand behind, yes. That being said, we had Pacific Standard Time and we have Made In L.A., both of which capture Los Angeles and history together so perfectly. Personally, I don’t see the Museum of Contemporary Art or Deitch as flippant to our history and our art because it is not their purpose: the museum is strictly about contemporary art. It’s not about artists who are hugely established now or who are now unfortunately gone or who no longer make work. When we have contemporary art shows centered around dead people’s work, we are in trouble. Contemporary art is present and future–not past.
MOCA shouldn’t be self-referential, delighting in Los Angeles’ art history. That isn’t their place. Their place–which Jeffrey continues to lead them in–is on the contemporary. There is a reason why their shows like Ends Of The Earth and Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Cans and “from our permanent collection” aren’t that successful: because they are no longer contemporary. They represent contemporary art, past, which is wonderful–but that space should be tiny and limited. It’s MOCA’s job to chronicle contemporary art as it happens, hence why their “future shows” page is somewhat empty: you cannot predict the future, especially in relationship to art. That page does share that their Blues For Smoke and Destroy The Picture shows are coming up, which will be wonderful but–sadly–not that popular or successful because they aren’t on the edge of contemporary art. These are shows that very well may be better suited for LACMA or The Getty.
What is the edge of contemporary art, though? Does anyone know? We certainly do not have the answer and it is possible that Jeffrey does or doesn’t have the answer. What is known is that contemporary art is so much more than the art world and art on a wall and art that you just look at. Contemporary art ties in design and the Internet and culture. Contemporary art is having its music industry breakdown moment, where change and technology is creating a fissure, leaving some to stand on the crust of land that is sinking away while others have moved on to the clouds. Art making and art sharing is at a near standstill and it is becoming painfully obvious. From the way that institutions beg and plead for “proper captions” with websites excited to share their show or artist’s work is a perfect example of this. From the way video artists refuse to share any of their work online is another perfect example of this. From the way artists refuse or don’t care to have a websites is another perfect example of this. From the art world’s lack of awareness that art is–or at some point will be–public is another perfect example. The most perfect example? The art world proper is becoming obsolete, as we can share stories of contemporary art via technology.
This leaves a museum in a position to change with the times. Through website redesigns (which MOCA is doing) and through online programming (which MOCA is doing) and complimentary real life programming (which MOCA is doing), they are changing with the times. They are getting art to the real world and engaging beyond just old people with money to become members and/or old art stalwarts unhappy their beloved institution is becoming something else. They are engaging people who wouldn’t normally go to art museums or even care what art museums do, having them stop and think, “Well, I had fun at MOCA this time–I should go back there and have fun again!” Why is this? Because you can get the same art off of the Internet. If you can make the museum experience enjoyable and attractive, you have done something right.
There is a shame associated with having fun and/or being successful in art. Speaking with many Los Angeles and international artists, this stigma constantly arises. To be taken seriously, one cannot be seen as anything but serious and one cannot be making money, dare I say become “rich.” Things that are naturally beautiful or interesting are traded for things that make your brain hurt and that cause you to question if it is even art. Art is exciting because it gives an immediate reaction and it engages your senses. If you can do so simply and without the dramatics of being conceptual or overly intellectual, is this a problem? Art is meant to be a release from the real. Art is a means to express the inexpressible, which is a fun task. MOCA has fun (and they know how to play).
How do you have fun? How do you share art? With money, of course. Deitch was brought in after a huge financial kerfuffle in 2008 and has seemed to turn the museum around as mention of financial woes are gone. He has accomplished this through reaching out to corporate friends to help pay the bill for contemporary art happenings. As written before quite explicitly, there is no shame in this. Deitch was not brought in to curate but to guide the institution. Has it worked? Yes. This has been at the expense of a few Mercedes logos–but who noticed? If you are that hung up on a few corporate markers, stay in your house where advertising cannot harm you. If you are that affected by advertising, blind yourself because no one is going to make you buy a Mercedes but yourself. If we want to split hairs on the issue, Pacific Standard Time and Made In L.A. and nearly every other museum show has corporate backing in some respect, some bigger than others. No one has scoffed that PST art was littered throughout Bank Of Americas in Los Angeles. Putting a piece of Los Angeles art history next to a blinking television of Bank Of America commercials is far more offensive than a car in a museum that everyone forgot about or didn’t even notice.
Another way to have fun and to tie contemporary art in Los Angeles? Tie Hollywood into what you are doing. The lowest complaint people are throwing in this issue is that MOCA is catering too much to Hollywood. Why shouldn’t they? Like corporations, Hollywood has money and is eager to get involved in ways of expression. Art–like the movies, like music, like fashion–is about making an art piece. Regardless of how high end or low end the result may be, it is creating something. If James Franco and Drew Barrymore want to step in and create art, why should we care? They are at least locals who are trying to make something happen. Do you think they are doing this for a paycheck? Think about that: you think they are doing this to be rich? They are doing this because they want to express themselves. They already have money bags that can buy each and every one of us out. Their intention is beyond making a mockery of art but to make something reflexive of our city, a city that owes much of its success to Hollywood and to celebrity. Not engage with this community is silly.
And what if someone like James Franco was added as a MOCA artist-trustee? Imagine all the fuss! People are already fussing that there are no artists on the board but, frankly, this should have been an issue years ago since a museum started by artists only had four artist-turstees on the board. Since they were outweighed, it is probably better that they trimmed themselves because they couldn’t arouse others to join or step up. From the outside, it appears that this shift in power stems from an avalanche of whines, the people not wanting change being confronted with change. This friction undoubtedly led to Schimmel’s booting and the ensuing departure of the artist-trustees’ exit, all of which was done extremely poorly and politically. Neither side is correct–but what is correct is that neither the left or right hand consulted with each other at any moment of this debacle. Pride is getting in the way of art.
This lack of consultation is painfully apparent on the end of those who now left the board. When Ed Ruscha was the final artist to leave, his statement made it very apparent that he was bullied out of his position: “My defection may look obvious, but it will be all the better for the museum, which is on a course different than I imagined, but one I hope to support in the future.” It is positive. It is very pro-MOCA. It is very anti-bullshit. Ruscha likely is very much in line with MOCA’s way of thinking as he is doing things like modeling for Band Of Outsiders and is represented by Gagosian Gallery, another successful institution that art world types love to hate. Ruscha understands the same vision for art that Deitch sees. While the other artist-trustees are still fantastic and demand respect, it sadly appears that the other three artist-trustees have become contemporary art, past.
Art institutions needn’t be stuffy and needn’t not have fun. If they are a contemporary art museum, they must celebrate the future and make these difficult intellectual conversations accessible, chronicling the current state of art as easily as possible (even if it means competing with for-profit art galleries). MOCA is doing this quite well. You can compare them to The Met and point fingers that they show a lot of Warhol but you will ultimately look like an old man with a typewriter eager to be relevant as he drifts away on his patch of land. This whole battle is ludicrous and like watching a bunch of dinosaurs claw at clouds as they drift away and transition onward to the future.
MOCA is making art interesting and exciting and accessible and is coping with change and technology brilliantly. They are to be celebrated for what they are doing and how they incorporate all aspects of contemporary art (from high to low end, public to private, discipline to discipline, etc. to etc.). This hullaballoo surrounding MOCA is an example of personal problem becoming public, bitterness from a friend getting fired being cause to poke holes in an already frail body. It’s catty and childish: it is very much past tense.
Let us gather together to help and celebrate art–especially art that is new and current and even futuristic. Let us all rejoice that the future of art is being decided in Los Angeles and not in New York. Let us all praise the interest and vocality surrounding an institution. Let us all praise a museum for being able to be versatile and controversial. Let us all float on clouds and into the future, becoming the representatives of change we are in Los Angeles.
Let us all celebrate contemporary art now–not then.
Another Thing/Editor’s Note: If you disagree or have something to add, please don’t bitch in our comments as we will not share them. If you have something to say or would like to share something, e-mail us. We’ll be glad to share if it interests us. That is why we have the contact page on our site.