Urban Scrawl – Art Essay

Urban Scrawl – Art Essay


Urban Scrawl 16: The #ArtShareLA Project: A new model for what public art can be, and a champion from an unlikely quarter.

by Shana Nys Dambrot:   Los Angeles has a complicated history with public art, to say the least. And our relationship with the outdoor advertising industry is no less complicated. Why are ugly and brash billboard ads allowed to proliferate while murals are called eyesores and nuisances? In a city of drivers, why shouldn’t billboards and industrial walls be treated as sites for public art, and as such welcome the participation of our artists? I’ve no appetite to try unraveling that knot just now, however, I would like to acknowledge and applaud the efforts of some who work hard every day to straighten this out.   Earlier this Spring, Seventh Letter teamed up with ArtShareLA to bring Los Angeles new gallery work as well as an outdoor billboards project. The #ARTSHARELA project brought together 15 of today’s top contemporary artists as well as members of the Seventh Letter to transform Los Angeles billboards into an outdoor gallery throughout the city. This celebration of Street Art was curated by Casey Zoltan of Known Gallery, featuring gallery pieces & outdoor billboards from noted Los Angeles artists: Saber, Patrick Martinez, Rime, Victor Reyes, Pose, Sage Vaughn, Willie T, Shepard Fairey, Risk, Push, Revok, Zes, Sever, Augustine Kofie and Vizie.   The indoor and outdoor shows were both exceptional, which… [Read more]

URBAN SCRAWL #15: You Complete Me — Interactivity and Meaning in Visual Artfrida

by Shana Nys Dambrot Salman Rushdie has said that “a book is not completed till it’s read,” and over the years, I’ve heard visual artists say similar things. The idea is that each new reader or viewer brings with them a set of internal circumstances like mood and memory, as well as external ones like geopolitical context and what else is visible nearby. When Rushdie talks about a work being finished through collaborations with strangers, he is referring to the finality of its meaning. Like the Heisenberg Principle in physics, the mere act of observation changes the observed. Because of the infinite variations of these and other factors, it could be said that the meaning of a given work of art is freshly created at every moment in ways beyond the artist’s control — whether they like it or not. Some artists embrace the unknowable possibilities of a malleable meaning, some resist it, but it happens nonetheless. But not even Rushdie is suggesting that the viewer physically, literally completes the work. His collaboration with the audience is metaphysical. At the next Create:Fixate (Magnetic), we get a chance to see what happens when the artist means it for real — when the work of art is literally not finished until it meets its audience, because they have a physical role to play in its completion…. [Read more]

ANSEL-ADAMS-42-292x300URBAN SCRAWL #14: Snap, Crackle, Flash: Every Day is MOPLA

MOPLA (the Month of Photography Los Angeles) is now in full swing, but I feel like it’s been my own personal SYOP (Shana’s Year of Photography), and it started back at the end of December 2011. In my line of work, I come across photography on a regular basis, of course. From straight photography to the digital, and incorporated as elements of mixed media works, collage, installation, documentation… But I have noticed a huge increase in the focus (pardon the pun) on photography itself across the board lately. To the point where I feel like 80% of what I’ve written about in the past four months has been celebrating photography, from the vintage and classic to the new and futuristic. I swear, I haven’t been asked to think this much about photography since I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Alfred Stieglitz and paintings of the Late Impressionists in the context of bursting urban environments, proliferating industry, and mass immigration. That was almost 20 years ago, but every so often, it’s worth thinking back on; it reminds me of certain fundamental things about the march of human history and the cultural response to it, and the impulse to record its evolution in pictures.   The scope of photography that has crossed my desk just so far this year started in earnest with progressive documentarian and social theorist… [Read more]

URBAN SCRAWL 13: BACKYARD OASIS: Miracle and Mirage –Sun Worship and Shadow-Casting in SoCal Loretta-Ayeroff_Abandoned-Pool2-300x200Style

I recently attended the absolutely mobbed opening night reception for BACKYARD OASIS, a much-anticipated photography exhibition at the Palm Springs Museum, promising “a microcosm of the hopes and disillusionment of the country’s post-World War II ethos. As a private setting, the backyard pool became a stage for sub-culture rituals and clandestine desires. As a medium, photography became the primary vehicle for embodying the polar emotions of consumer optimism and Cold War fears.” Sure that sounded serious, but we’re just talking swimming pools, c’mon, right? Well… turns out the water is deeper than it looks. Anyone that knows me knows I need no excuse to hightail it for the high desert, and the meta moment from the I-love-my-job department that found me considering an exhibition about the charms and symbolism and cultural ubiquity of swimming pools along the LA-Palm Springs sunny superhighway, while reclining next to my very favorite swimming pool in the world, the one at the Hacienda Hot Springs. Some of the artists in the exhibition were to be staying there as well, all of us in from LA for the occasion. Like I said, meta. Art imitating life. Crisp blue waters evoking oases. The desert oasis as a metaphor for respite from unforgiving pressures. Yes, I’ll do it, what a great idea! I love my job! What I did not… [Read more]

US12_1URBAN SCRAWL 012: The First Annual SUR BIENNIAL Puts Whittier on the Map (Once You Find it on the Map)

A few days before the first annual Sur Biennial was set to close at the end of November, its curator and head of propaganda, Ronald Lopez (formerly of 18th Street, currently of Outpost for Contemporary Art), who had been brought in by my friend and colleague Robert Miller of ceramic studios, commercial gallery, and arts education fame, made good on his promise to get me down there, even if it meant picking me up and bringing me there himself. This was a fortuitous turn of events for many reasons. A) I don’t drive a car and the Biennial was installed across three locations in the greater Whittier area. B) Even if I did drive I wasn’t totally sure where greater Whittier actually was or how to get there. C) Ron is an affable and erudite companion, and he took full advantage of the drive time to explain to me the network of subtle and not-so-subtle thoughts and actions that went into the realization of what he and Miller hope will be a regular addition to the LA art calendar. As an aside, not for nothing is Lopez an expert marketing, production, and enthusiasm-raiser type of guy. The door to door service included a stop at his family’s stylish and fantastic coffee shop on Porter Street, Porter Junction Cafe, where even the iced coffee is hand-crafted and there’s a breakfast sandwich named for Elvis. So we got started on the right… [Read more]


Urban Scrawl 011: There will be a Duchamp of Second Life — and I’m still trying to deal with the first one!


barmecidal: adjective: Giving only an illusion of something; unreal. nescient: adjective: Lacking knowledge or awareness. babel: noun: 1. A confused mixture of noises or voices. 2. A scene of noise or confusion. So a couple of months ago, I went and saw this show at Paul Young’s gallery in the PDC. It was called <<<(((Mods & Hackers)))>>> Game Modification, Hacking, Patching Avatars and Code-based Practices within Contemporary Art, and it melted my brain and I’ve been obsessing over it ever since. I was with my friend the artist Rick Robinson, and we were making a special trip to see the QR code stuff because of some things he’d been working on with street art and video projections. Also David Stone had just done this show at Charlie James Gallery. Ron English had been getting up to no good. Josh Levine had told me about his web show APP ATTACKS! THE QR CODE EDITION. The Cory Arcangel show was up at the Whitney. Etc, etc. So I was prepared for nifty, but I wasn’t prepared for Paul to show me a sculpture that wasn’t really there. Daniel Franke’s “Sound Sculpture.” Is a work of art that exists in real time and in real space, but can’t be seen with the naked eye. You can only see it with a camera or computer — a digital lens that can decipher the series of large, printed QR codes that are… [Read more]

urbanscrawl10aUrban Scrawl 010: Public Art, Public Schools, Fancy Books, and Jail Time

A few weeks ago I took a car ride to 42nd and Vermont to see the Street Art Project at Manual Arts High — a public school sporting outdoor and indoor murals by an array of LA’s most prolific and recognizable street artists, and some featured international guests. I was there in the company of photographer and publisher Kirk Pedersen, whose company ZERO+ is bringing out a title on the Manual Arts Street Art Project later this year. Pedersen became an aficionado of the genre as his own photographic interests (which have long been in documenting walls around the world for various reasons, aesthetic and sociological and architectural) inevitably sprouted more and more examples of complex and beautiful work by a new generation of street artists. He fell in love with the stuff and now his publishing imprint is shaping up as a major destination for those who share this passion. I just finished working on a ZERO+ book with Mark Whalen (once known as Kill Pixie); and we are currently working on a Fall release with Shark Toof . Later this year or early next year, watch for CRYPTIK too, and I think Aiko is also in the pipeline. Except for Whalen, all of those artists have work at Manual Arts High. So backing up a bit, for those of you who, like me, had no idea such a place as MAH even existed, here’s a quick history. I found… [Read more]

Urban Scrawl 009: Art & Science Learn to Play Nice01_Sidonie-BlackHole

My dad is a computer guy, to say the least. What he actually is, is something called a Trans-Human Futurist. Here’s his blog: dambrot.com/criticalthought. I don’t understand a lot of what goes on over there, but through the years we’ve had a good time exploring surprise overlaps of art and science that occur from time to time, bringing us together. A few years ago, we were both in NYC during this remarkable Nanotech show at MOMA, Design and the Elastic Mind; and since then I’ve noticed these kinds of shows happening more and more. What follows today is a round-up of just a very few of these, a smattering of recent, imminent, and ongoing instances of Art & Science tending the same garden. As you might expect, each project takes a slightly different approach to tone, media, and general worldview, but they share a desire to fuse creative and rational pursuits, blurring the boundaries between technologies, using art to understand something special about how the brain actually functions — often by mixing together the languages we use to describe our own existence. I. 22 Notes on Black Holes by Sidonie Loiseleux for the Material Press February Artist Edition. In the strictest and most exact sense, there are currently 14 known black holes. They are cold remnants of former stars. Black holes are small in size. One may go through… [Read more]

Pittman_Akron_painting_FullUrban Scrawl 008: Akron and Other Desert Cities

The cartographical profile of the “LA art world,” expanding outward like rippling waves from the concentration of venues in the central metropolitan area from Downtown to Santa Monica; outward across the Valley from Pasadena to Northridge; down past Long Beach to Laguna Beach and San Clemente’s OCMA; out to Claremont and Pomona, Riverside… okay is that a stretch yet? What about Santa Ana, or Santa Barbara? San Diego? Palm Desert, or Las Vegas? What about Akron, Ohio? Okay, that was a trick question, because I already know the answer. This Fall I spent a remarkable, some would even say bizarre, amount of time in the great American town of Akron, talking about Los Angeles artists — in particular, Lari Pittman. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was actually all about a single major painting by Lari Pittman residing in the permanent collection of the Akron Art Museum. I took two trips, the first in September and the second on November, as part of the Visiting Critic Series at invitation of the University of Akron Art Department, and the purpose of which (aside from making some intriguing studio visits in the studio department) was to present a scholarly investigation into the history and import of a given work. In this case, Thankfully, I will have had learned to break glass with sound, 1999, which the museum… [Read more]

URBAN SCRAWL #007: It takes a village to raise the dead and bring home the gelato, baby!blog7_gelato

At the end of this post you’ll find some information about a project I’ve been working on in Inglewood at the newly-inaugurated Beacon Arts Building (hint: events Fri 29, Sat 30, and Sun 7 November). In between here and the end, I’ll talk about a couple of experiences I have and projects I’ve worked on that have required me to literally go places I’ve never been, in some cases right in the heart of my own city, including the aforementioned Inglewood, St. Elmo Village, and just about everywhere mentioned on Gelato Baby’s website. There’s a lot, so in the interest of the arts, let’s just skip straight to dessert. . Gelato Baby <http://www.gelatobaby.com/%20>  is a wonderful blog operated by USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program Fellow Alissa Walker (congrats, lady!), whose official bio explains, “…has written for Fast Company, GOOD, and Dwell, and edited the design blog UnBeige. She co-created and serves as curator for GOOD Design, an event series where designers present solutions to urban problems across the country, and she is the associate producer of KCRW’s DnA: Design and Architecture. She is author of CityWalks Architecture: New York, a walking guide organized into 25 itineraries.” Very impressive, but it oddly makes no mention of what I take to be the primary inspiration for all of Walker’s… [Read more]


blog_6_1Urban Scrawl—006—Waiting for God? Oh!

I spend a lot of time waiting—standing on sidewalks, sitting on benches that are far too close to the curb, because I get around the city by bus. Even when in motion, in transit, it’s still a waiting and watching game, something not so much empty as absorptive; not so much passive as receptive. I like to read; in fact I look forward to being forced to wait for the next thing, the arrival at my destination, largely because that relatively unplugged travel-time is the only time I can count on having the opportunity to actually read a real book. At home it’s too tempting to be working on something—and there is always something. On the bus, there’s nothing to do; the choice of book is an important part of the preparations for the journey. And in the meantime, with or without being an open book or having one in my lap, I can look forward to learning something new about my fellow humans… [Read more]


Urban Scrawl 005: The C in MOCA: Community, Condescension, Cash, and Chutzpah (aka blog5_pix1What a Deitchbag!)

Last week there was quite a kerfuffle here in town, when MOCA sent out the press release for Soap at MOCA: New Performance Work by Artist, Actor, and Soap Character James Franco. I basically fell off my chair in a dizzying vortex of outrage and disbelief. The backstory: James Franco plays a serial killer/artist named “Franco” on General Hospital. Fake Franco uses real Franco’s paintings on the show (aka he uses his own); real Franco sometimes hangs paintings at Deitch Projects. Here’s what happens next. Fake Franco scores a solo show at MOCA; fake Franco suicides off the PDC; MOCA sends out a press release NOT for the filming, but for the July 22 air date of the “very special episode,” spinning the entirety of the hideousness as a legitimate performance art event—the first in a series that they’re supposed to be all excited about; the LA Times swoons from the heat of the genius. There is no irony, no knowing wink, no clue about how this might be received here. You’ll have to read it all for yourselves; I can never seem to make it all the way through without feeling a bit seasick. As an aside, when I was growing up, “very special episode” meant eating disorder, rape, and/or learning disability. I’m just saying…[Read more]


blog4_pix1Urban Scrawl 004: The Desert of Lost Art

Photography by Tanja Laden

This mid-June, on a very special edition of Urban Scrawl, we discuss what it means to take a vacation from work, when your job itself is to be curious, and to look at everything you can get your eyes on. How in the world does someone like me take time off from that? I mean, short of a narcotics-infused stay in a sensory deprivation chamber, what am I supposed to do when I want to get away? All the good cities are cultural destinations; you can’t take an exit off any American freeway it seems without being directed to a richly endowed, starchitect-designed regional museum — even, make that, especially, Palm Springs (where I ended…[Read more]


Urban Scrawl 003: Books: They’re not just for Reading Anymorebuzzspector_cristinerosegallery
A few weekends back the LA Times Festival of Books took over the UCLA campus, staging an orgiastic marketplace for the written word that almost had me believing people still buy books. I’m not talking about whether or not people still read—I’m talking about the actual, traceable, physical acquisition of paper-and-ink books whose dimensional bulks take up space on the shelf in addition to (instead of?) their contents taking up space in the brain. The Hammer’s current exhibition exploring the famed Red Book of Carl Jung perhaps provides a lone example of cooperation among the qualities of both; offering a metonymical fusion of sensory experience and narrative content that examines the operations of the mind’s attempt to comprehend its situation, and seems to celebrate art as a useful bridge between the two. As an aside, don’t you think it’s interesting that Kindle as a brand name evokes fires, given that the pyre has been the fate of so many of history’s most important literary efforts? …[Read more]


leonardo_drawing_the-bridgeUrban Scrawl: 002: A Bridge to Faraway—Leonardo’s Erector Sets

The Getty has an intriguing exhibition up right now; a small but salient assembly of drawings and sculptures meant to illuminate the formal and conceptual foundations of Leonardo da Vinci’s elusive, unverifiable sculptural practice. I say unverifiable because even the curators admit that no actual sculptures can be definitively attributed to him; the sculpted works in the show belong to his contemporaries…[Read more]


Urban Scrawl: 001: Prelude to a Blog

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I’m going to drop my first post in early April, but Create:Fixate and I thought you might like a few words about to expect on this page, and what not to expect, and perhaps a bit about who I am for anyone not familiar. I’m an art critic and I publish a culture magazine. I have formal Art History training, and sometimes I nerd out on it in mid-length and short-form exhibition reviews and features; but I also have a broader pop-culture mandate at Flavorpill, where I write about art as well as music, architecture, film, theater, dance, and assorted indie randomness in capsules of about 100 words each, daily…[Read more]