By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In drawing their source material from others’ creative output, assembling their work from elements of culture that have already achieved recognition as works of art, Muller and Durant disrupt the notion of the artist expressing something from within, giving birth to a unique personal vision, of making the invisible visible. Nevertheless, both artists wind up creating bodies of work that articulate their personal views in great detail, and make us aware of resonances and affinities that would not have occurred to us on our own.
These artists are clearly concerned with the mutability of History in general, and the sometimes-arbitrary nature of Art History in particular, and believe that there‘s still something to be done about it. Each is forging an idiosyncratic corpus that is about the construction of personal, art-historical and capital-H History. Muller’s work also functions as an affectionate, literal alternative chronicle of a particular place and time. Durant, by materializing the points of concurrence on which his connections depend -- pop culture, celebrity, martyrdom, psychoanalysis, modernism, class and race struggles -- and arranging them as mutually destabilizing elements in his historical theatrical tableaux, posits a collagist mode of history as being equal to (and more vital than) the linear mode that gets all the press.
These variations in strategy correspond tellingly with the particular venue in which each artist is showing. Intentionally or not, Durant‘s work slots neatly into the nostalgic fetishization of ’60s utopian ephemerality that dominates much of MOCA‘s curatorial emphasis, and most trustees will be essentially reassured by his implicit acknowledgments of the sanctioned Important artists of their youth. There’s a distinctly unflattering frisson of narcissism and authoritarianism to Durant‘s depiction of the fortress of high art that could seem like flattery only to the most impenetrable, and MOCA’s decision to support it is surprising and courageous.
Muller‘s “Connections” are being exhibited by an upstart museum with an apparent mandate to cover some of the gaps left by sluggish curatorial habits elsewhere and an openness to unusual projects from unfamiliar faces. Muller’s omnivorous visual appetite is well-sited in the Hammer, whose interest in outsider art, bibliographic ephemera, and hip-hop-based graphics has produced some of the most refreshing exhibits in recent memory.
But this seeming polarity is itself deceptive, because, if competition is driving these individual artists as it is their sponsors, it is a competition in means rather than ends. Both Durant and Muller are confronting the social and political legacy of failed Modernism. The art world has been only too happy to leave the question dangling, stuffing the gap with attractive keepsakes. Since the mid-‘70s, the idea that art could make a difference in the world has been more or less relegated to the scrapheap. By re-configuring the hierarchical says-who of history, and through humor, invention and sheer persistence, artists like Muller and Durant make it clear that this mandate doesn’t emerge from art practice; that art and politics don‘t mix because they can’t be separated in the first place; and that the main trick is in figuring a way to talk yourself past the hall monitors.
SAM DURANT | At MOCA at California Plaza, 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown | Through January 19
DAVE MULLER: “Connections” | At THE UCLA HAMMER MUSEUM, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood | Through January 5