The winner of Made In L.A. was announced last Thursday. The announcement was very understated, happening like a little puff in the LA art cloud. One artist won the coveted $100K Mohn Award that sixty vied for and five were voted on by the public. The art
contest show’s competitive nature via public voting was very much pushed. What does the artist who won say about the show and Los Angeles art and artists? As this is a very publicly accessed and involved art happening, it’s interesting to reflect on the announcement for what it means beyond someone getting a large wad of cash.
Meleko Mokgosi was the artist who won the Mohn award after edging out performance artist Simone Forti, installationists artists Liz Glynn and Erika Vogt, and art collective Slanguage. The top five represented a lot happening in contemporary art, from heady and dense artwork to pieces accessible to all ages. They represented all three venues and art of various forms as some of the art was performance based with only a few opportunities for art viewers to catch the performances.
When the top five was announced, only one carried over from our predictions after seeing the show: Meleko. When digesting the top five, there was not really a contest: Vogt and Glenn were too complex, Forti was inaccessible as her art is slightly impermanent, and Slanguage was hard to pin down. There was a question of how technology would be balanced: Slanguage has an online following while Forti may not have any; some of the artists have websites, some don’t; some have a built in audience, some are completely alien; etc., etc., etc. It appears that these issues were sidestepped, though.
Meleko clearly gave the most immediate art experience and was relatable in construction: they are beautiful, huge paintings with devastating subject matters. What does Meloko’s win say? Classic, straightforward art has a place in all of our hearts. For the most cynical, uninterested art viewer, a painting will always be “art” more than fancy movements and not-paintings. For the most invested art person, paintings that are paintings are still relevant in contemporary art. For the untrained (and the trained) eye, a painting “is art.” When pinning the five against each other, this became apparent.
Meleko’s win reenforces the connection between an artist and representation of concept. Aesthetically his pieces have an inherent beauty and have a very specific style. His visual voice is so distinct and clear: encountering his work is encountering a point of view. Many of the artists in Made In L.A. had a bit of a disconnection. Their concept was stellar and their headspace was great but, without detailed explanation or hours with piece, a viewer may misunderstand the art. This was illustrated within the top five: half of them straddle extreme inaccessibility. This is not to say they are bad, no, but casual viewers and those who aren’t entrenched in art or the contemporary art dialogue may miss the importance of a few artworks. These persons shouldn’t be spoken down to or treated like dilettantes either: sometimes there is a disconnection between concept and execution of art that creates a natural difficulty in viewing. Meleko balanced this thin line quite adeptly along with a handful of others in the sixty.
The most important question to ask in reference to Meleko’s win is what this says about Los Angeles. Is his work most representative of what is happening in Los Angeles? Is his work “the most contemporary Los Angeles voice”? Is his work Los Angeles art? Is it “made in LA”? It is and it isn’t. Looking at his pieces, they do not appear to be responses to Los Angeles as an environment and the influence of the city (barring education at UCLA) is not apparent. Aside from Slanguage, the other four in the top five made work that was not a direct response to Los Angeles nor did they engage the city beyond being artwork in an LA institution. They were all literally made in Los Angeles (we think) but they were not about the city or speaking to this idea of being “made in L.A.” The positive aspect of this is the artworks are all universal and appeal to more than our local audience. It is a little complicated, though, as researching all sixty of the artists (and speaking to some) being in Los Angeles was purely transitional. It partly became “Made In L.A….For The Time Being.” This is a small detail, though, as many are long time Los Angeles artists.
The right person was awarded the prize in Made In L.A. Out of the top five, Meleko’s work was the strongest and it obviously spoke to the most Angelenos. Art that is arresting and speaks to more than one topic may be what we as art consumers locally want. If Meleko’s win represents what culturally curious and art aware persons in LA want, bring on more paintings with a point of view. The audience has spoken.
Made In L.A. is on display at the Hammer, Barnsdall, and LAXART through September 2.