Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Tag: los angeles

Take It or Leave It

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Gober September 12

Large-scale historical shows, when done in a certain way, can be intellectual steamrollers. A museum exhibition is a powerful rhetorical device; gallery after gallery of judiciously selected aesthetic material beside didactic wall texts can make a particular hypothesis or observation seem indisputable, or a historical moment appear satisfyingly coherent. 
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Robert Heinecken


Robert Heinecken liked to describe himself not as an artist or a photographer but as a “paraphotographer.” He explained that he used the term like “paralegal” or “paramedic”: knowing only enough about his field “to keep someone out of trouble until the real guys show up.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Leckey

Leckey 14-CMYK-retouched
‘I smell things. I listen to things. I feel things. I taste things. I look at things. It is not enough to look and listen and taste and smell and feel, I have to do those to the right things, such as look at books, and fail to do them to the wrong things or else people doubt that I am a thinking being.’

Amanda Baggs’s YouTube video, In My Language (2007), shows her silhouetted against a window, fluttering her hands through the air in front of her. Her motions are repetitive: she rocks back and forth, she jangles wire around a doorknob, she passes her finger through the stream of water from a tap. All the while she is humming – singing along with what is around her, as she puts it. Read the rest of this entry »

The Surrealist Bungalow: William N. Copley and the Copley Galleries (1948-49)

William N. Copley with his own paintings in Paris, 1951, two years after he closed the Copley Galleries and left Los Angeles. Photo: Mike De Dulmen. Courtesy the Estate of William N. Copley.

William N. Copley with his own paintings in Paris, 1951, two years after he closed the Copley Galleries and left Los Angeles. Photo: Mike De Dulmen. Courtesy the Estate of William N. Copley.

“No one in their right mind would have considered trying to open a Surrealist gallery in the California environment, which, of course, is what we decided to do late one whiskied evening,” wrote the artist and collector William N. Copley. “In the white haze of the morning after, we were both too proud to perish the thought.” 1 Read the rest of this entry »

Made in L.A.

Hammer Museum, LAXART, and LA Municipal Art Gallery, Los Angeles

Who needs another biennial? Los Angeles does, according to the Hammer Museum. The reason: ‘Simply put, the artists,’ says Hammer curator Anne Ellegood in her catalogue essay. While artists are undeniably thick on the ground in LA, not all are good. The curators of ‘Made in LA 2012’ – Ellegood and Ali Subotnick from the Hammer, joined by Lauri Firstenberg, Malik Gaines and Cesar Garcia from its ‘sister institution’, LAXART – set themselves the challenge of finding 60 biennial-worthy artists who are either emerging or under-recognized. These criteria allowed for the inclusion of several artists born in the 1980s alongside more established elders such as Channa Horwitz, now in her 80s. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Making a Splash

On Leonard Koren and WET: The magazine of gourmet bathing

‘If you had to have it explained’, says Leonard Koren, ‘then it wasn’t the magazine for you.’ Many people, when they first encountered WET magazine in Venice, California, in 1976, or later, in the hippest bookstores and clothes boutiques around the world, weren’t quite sure how seriously to take its now famous strapline: ‘The magazine of gourmet bathing’. That was the idea. Read the rest of this entry »

Stewart and Lynda Resnick

Photograph: Amanda Friedman

A chapter in Lynda Resnick’s book Rubies in the Orchard: How to Uncover the Hidden Gems in Your Business is titled ‘The One True Copy of Jackie Kennedy’s Real Fake Pearls’. Resnick tells the story of how, in 1996, Sotheby’s auctioned the estate of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, including her iconic three-strand pearl necklace. It didn’t matter that the pearls were imitation, and that the young Jacqueline Bouvier had picked them up at Bergdorf Goodman for around $35. They were listed by Sotheby’s at $200–$300. Resnick was determined to have them, and persuaded her husband Stewart to bid all the way to the jaw-dropping closing price of $211,000. The couple were the subject of ridicule in the national press. Read the rest of this entry »

Kaari Upson

Life Study

Kaari Upson admits she’s told this story so many times, in so many different ways, that it’s become hard to get it straight any more. Her changing recollection of events has now superseded hard truth. Journalists and critics, falling over themselves to retell the incredible tale, also invariably bungle their facts, and so further pollute her memories. She’ll do her best though. Here goes. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974–81

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

John Divola, Zuma #9 (1978/2006)

Events sometimes tell their own story. 1974: Richard Nixon resigns; Patty Hearst is kidnapped by left-wing terrorists; the U.S. oil crisis continues. 1975: Saigon falls; Gerald Ford survives two assassination attempts, both in California. 1976: Chairman Mao dies. 1977: Elvis Presley dies; Jimmy Carter is sworn in. 1978: Californian cult, the Peoples Temple, commits mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana; Harvey Milk and George Moscone are shot in San Francisco; Proposition 13, limiting Californian property taxation, is passed. 1979: Three Mile Island nuclear disaster; the U.S. embassy in Tehran is seized; revolution in Nicaragua; Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, reigniting the Cold War. 1980: the U.S. and other countries boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow; John Lennon is murdered. 1981: assassination attempt on the Pope; Egyptian president Anwar Sadat is assassinated; AIDS is identified; Ronald Reagan is sworn in as president. Read the rest of this entry »

Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha may now regret saying, in 1966, that ‘being in Los Angeles has little or no effect on my work’. He’s been pedaling back from this characteristically contrary statement ever since. After all, the city has been his muse ever since he arrived from Oklahoma City in 1956. What he was perhaps trying to say is that he’s not an ambassador for Los Angeles – a city that, for all its brittle self-absorption, he admits that he loves. ‘Palm trees have a narcotic effect on me’ he says, speaking from his Culver City studio. ‘And all this tropical vegetation. Mix that with, what have you, fast food and movies, and the forward motion of things out here, with respect to artists, it’s a pretty jumpy scene.’ Read the rest of this entry »