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Monday 06.27.05

« Mountain on the Move | Main | Set it off {First Friday in the CEAD} »

A Less Modest Proposal


I've said it a hundred times and it's still true, culture is a growth industry on the West Coast. (I even said it on CNN last year.)

Also, I think that art.blogging.la and zerodegreesart are onto something by proposing a stronger California Biennial, but I don't think they are thinking big enough. The west in general is getting itself together with major museum expansions in the works in Mexico, LA, Portland (October 2005) and Seattle (2007). Also, San Francisco just opened the new de Young.

Instead, I believe a bigger triennial taking the strongest art from west of the Mississippi (the area most neglected by the Whitney Biennial) along with Mexico and Vancouver BC would be very difficult to ignore. Then again maybe focusing on coastal lands west of the Mississippi is the way to go(including Texas).

The problem with the California Biennial, Oregon Biennial and Bay Area Now shows is they aren't broad enough thought bombs to galvanize discussion outside of their respective zones. The regional biennials are vanity shows that do some good but don't launch things on a larger scale like the Whitney often does. It is an ambition issue and there needs to be something that takes things to a higher level. For example the "Thing" show at the Hammer was a nice tight regional survey. Although excellent for what it was, "Thing" didn't stamp its foot quite loud enough. It wasnt designed to be the the West Coast's coming out party.

The regional biennials like the California and Oregon ones seem a tad quaint in the same way the latest Greater New York felt mostly junior varsity and solipsistic (except Yuken Teruya). At GNY the artists were already too familiar to that scene and it felt picked over. The Whitney's advantage is it covers a huge area with a bias towards New York (it has been weakened by too much bias though). I think the Whitney Biennial would actually benefit from being challenged.

I believe a western rodeo of an art show of... lets say 30 artists would also probably be LA biased but it would give validity to LA's strength as an international art city with a network of connections that East Coast museums probably are not aware of. The only way for LA to become Rome is to make more roads lead to it as a way to identify peripatetic talent that may or may not reside there. The argument is cosmopolitanism 101.

Yes, 2 years ago the Baja to Vancouver show attempted to do this but it purposefully avoided taking stock of both Los Angeles and Portland (two of the most active US coastal art cities). Because it was mostly focused on Vancouver it felt out of touch and both Art Forum and Modern Painters (penned by yours truly) gave it pretty crushing reviews. Still, I believe it opened the discussion and pointed out a few pitfalls. First of all, it had too many curators on its committee (6) and a project like this would work better with only 3 or possibly two autonomous teams of two? Also, including some critics in with the curators might make it stronger?

Tyler Green has made a good case for why biennials are dead but I believe the root of their malaise is their predictability. A western roundup would be something new and therefore more unpredictable. Things are still young and a bit untamed out here in the west. Why not put on a show that presents that as a strength? New York's weakness is it's lack of vacuum and breathing space.

Yes, museum politics are an issue but if it takes place in one location it minimizes that issue.

Lastly, this is obviously a difficult, possibly unlikely idea but it can't hurt to bring it up. It would require a real budget to truly make it happen too. Any additional thoughts?

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 27, 2005 at 23:43 | Comments (5)


Do shows like this ever travel?

It'd be great to have a huge West Coast show that showed in LA, SF, PDX, etc... each place that hosted it on the tour could also add a little separate section highlighting local stuff.

Posted by: kmikeym [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2005 03:18 PM

At one time the Whitney Biennial did travel and Tyler Green has hinted that they might be considering it for the next one. Baja to Vancouver was also peripatetic but it didn't hit LA or PDX. "B2V" didn't go over well when it debuted in Seattle but it hit the Bay Area, San Diego and Vancouver afterwards like some slightly boring circus. In fact, even the Armory show traveled...its only West Coast stop was Portland.

As far as traveling this kind of show, I think it would be a distraction and would dilute the event. It has to be good first to build up a solid reputation with a big opening and solid discussion. Part of the reason I think it should be in LA is they can promote the show in a top notch way. (not like Tut though)

Besides its time LA took firm grasp of its role as the cultural capital of the West Coast. Portland is more like Switzerland; we are interesting because we aren't the center of anything (exept civics, mass transit, green space and cafe culture in the US).

Posted by: sheriff jeff [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2005 06:53 PM

And fewer curators for sure....too many make it a show of compromises..although I'm sure the idea is broadening the view...can't say I've seen it work well....let's go with one or two biased views for a stronger show.....and travel too.

Posted by: sae [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2005 08:38 PM

My problem with biennials and GNY is that they seem more about commerce and less about art or ideas. What I liked about Thing was its modesty: the three curators took a single trend in contemporary sculpting and showed how that single trend manifested itself. Realism is back but rendered with oddball materials. While I didn't like all of the work I saw, all of the work fit in the theme. And I liked the fact the show wasn't huge. The Whitney is just too big - the last floor I see I seldom remember anything there.

In my ideal art world every three to five years a major west coast museum would survey curators across the world and ask if they've discovered any themes or formal conceits which are showing up. These things happen in cycles. (Right now little drawings on big pieces of paper are very common. Positive tiny in a field of negative.) After the survey, a smaller group of curators could assemble a show including older and younger, artists of different regions. The show would not be inclusive but would be thought provoking.

But budget is always the blight of idea.

Posted by: Mery Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 29, 2005 02:11 PM

I'm going to take a little time to respond to Caryn's excellent art.blogging.la post and bring a lot of context to bear in the hopes of sharpening the discussion. I do agree, any "statement show" on the West Coast be it regional or international in scope needs to be tighter than the 110 artist Whitney shows. That is why I threw out the 30 artists # for an international West Coast survey. Also, a West Coast art fair like NADA in Miami is a very good idea, it is needed.

Still, I'm certain both California and Oregon's Biennials are begging to be seriously revamped.

Overall, revamping the regional biennials will only accomplish so much. By being regional they end up diluted and too familiar like Greater New York. Lastly, I agree "Thing" was perfect for what it was but it still doesn't fully address the issue at hand.

Posted by: sheriff jeff [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 29, 2005 11:26 PM

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