In January 1982, the Weekly told us about another trend, video art, in Rita Xanthoudakis and Bruce Postman’s "Video as Art/Art as Video." "Video is a void," they concluded, "a medium into which anyone can put anything." But the most interesting thing in the piece was the mention of "recent L.A. resident Bill Viola" and former curator of video at the Long Beach Museum, David Ross. Ross would go on to direct the Whitney in New York (he’s now at San Francisco MOMA), and in that capacity put together this spring’s big traveling show of Viola’s video art.
Art reviewing in general was pretty spotty during this period but Drohojowska was good at weighing in with the odd large, informative trends piece, as she did again in March 1983. "L.A.’s Changing Contemporary Art Scene" was based on her observation that:
In Los Angeles, there has been a subtle but significant metamorphosis in the art world of late. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (LAICA) and UCLA’s Frederick S. Wight Gallery, remarkably, all have new leaders. Some have recently been hired; others have merely solidified positions of power. These are difficult positions to gain, and almost impossible to maintain. Being committed to contemporary art in the art world is a trout’s life, an upstream swim against competing interests: the social whirl, capital campaigns, political intrigue, sexual philandering, the market — everything but art itself.
Drohojowska struck a prescient note when discussing the influence of MOCA:
Perhaps the most important aspect of MOCA’s presence is its effect on L.A.’s other art institutions, primarily our largest institution, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Although plans were already afoot there for a modern and contemporary wing, the announcement of MOCA excited LACMA to action. Money was quickly raised, a New York architectural firm hired, and the Robert O. Anderson Building . . . was quickly announced.
Anyone who’s experienced the Anderson wing would probably agree that a little more design planning would have been a good thing. At the end of 1984, Drohojowska attempted to define the moment in an essay on irony, and its new prevalence:
Art is a way of making us see the world anew. What the Postmodernists do by representing images and styles from a wide array of sources is to infuse them with fresh meaning. "Making it again," as Richard Prince says, is making it new.
Consider: Prince re-photographs Marlboro ads and presents them as his art; Lari Pittman composes paintings of chintzy wallpaper and fabric motifs; Jeffrey Vallance makes imitation tikis and represents the culture of the South Sea islands; Jim Isermann’s ’50s-styled furniture in turquoise and pink could have been lifted from a motel room . . . Michael Kelley rants and rambles about life, art, commerce, politics and sex in deadpan performances that simulate the insecurity of contemporary existence.
This art seems to be made in the spirit of an archaeological expedition, a search for meaning by sifting through the artifacts of contemporary culture. The values are relative and the scene is generally unstable, but the artists don’t look to the future. They’re trying to find significance in the here and now.
By 1986, the amount of coverage in the paper had begun to pick up; there were multiple art critics now, and the Weekly spotlighted 20 emerging artists of note. Twelve years later, a few of them stand out — John Fleck (chosen by Linda Frye Burnham), Daniel Martinez (by Lawrence Gipe, who should have been someone’s choice himself), Tim Ebner and Christopher Williams (Mark Selwyn), and Jim Shaw, picked by current Weekly posterist Robbie Conal, who wrote, memorably:
Frank Zappa used to say that his music was for the one kid in Thud, Kansas, who didn’t quite fit in. You know — the geek with pimples who collected bugs, read science-fiction magazines and knew all the words to Dr. Demento’s Top 10 hits of the week. Shaw’s art is like a low-budget TV docudrama of that kid’s puberty, played backwards on a Christian TV station, with Robin Williams on magic mushrooms as the kid.
In 1988, the Weekly assessed the state of the local art world in "Arts Crunch: How L.A. is Flunking as an Arts Mecca," which featured excellent pieces by Linda Frye Burnham (on the city’s failure to support artists), Lewis MacAdams (on a proposed 1-percent-of-capital-improvement-funds remedy), Rubén Martínez (on the struggles of minority artists) and Torene Svitil (on LACE at 10). Particularly impressive was Burnham’s impassioned "feh!" to the arts community, which, had we enough space, could be reprinted in its entirety. In lieu of that, a sampling:
You just landed at LAX, arriving in the new capital of the art world with your bags full of artworks, your heart full of hope. . . . With galleries and museums springing up like weeds, with the Getty Trust and its money glittering like the spires of Oz, with the hot-shot L.A. Festival grabbing important performance premieres even before the Brooklyn Academy of Music can get their hands on them — well, what other choice is there? L.A., the jewel in the Pacific Rim, has to be the ä arts mecca of the coming century. Even New York magazine says so. Like many of the painters, sculptors, performers and media artists you know, you joined the rush for the West Coast. It’ll probably be a while before you realize that a lot of the people you passed at the airport were the artists of Los Angeles on their way out of the city, leaving a sinking ship . . .
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