By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
July's fine art credentials pre-date and outweigh her indie film stardom. The MOCA show is not just a way to capitalize on buzz surrounding her new movie but also an honor backed up by a body of multimedia work going back to the 1990s. She first attracted the attention of the international art world via her full-length performance works, Love Diamond (which premiered in 1998) and The Swan Tool (2002), combinations of theater, live music and video projection, which she referred to as "live movies." In 2002, she had two works in the Whitney Biennial; she was invited back in 2004 with her interactive web project learningtoloveyoumore.com, through which July and collaborator Harrell Fletcher gave visitors "assignments" to make their own art. By that point July also was developing Me and You and Everyone We Know.
"Eleven Heavy Things" was created originally for inclusion in the Venice Biennale in 2009. Because Venice is, as July put it, "one of the more poor biennales," once they extended an invitation, July needed a backer. She turned to Jeffrey Deitch — then a powerful New York gallerist, now the director of MOCA in L.A. — who referred July to Rob McPherson, the L.A.-based fabrication artist whose La Paloma Studio has created pieces for Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra and many others.
The Venice Biennale, July says, is "the biggest show in the world, and yet, in my world, no one is ever going to see it. So I tried to think of a way that people would take pictures of it. And I thought, well, if they're in it, they'll be, like, 'Take a picture of me with this thing.' So [the pieces] are all interactive, and the people end up having, like, captions under them."
The final public work under the Deitch Projects banner, "Things" was installed in New York's Union Square last year. With both artist and benefactor now based on the West Coast, they plotted to bring the show to L.A.
"Our first idea, once we realized there was nowhere at MOCA that it could go, was the Americana [in Glendale], because that's where there's people gathered," July recalls. "It's like, "OK, you think you're a fake little city? Here's the public art in the city square.' They were game with it, but then we found out the grass there is only 1 foot deep. It doesn't actually connect to the Earth."
When Deitch suggested the Pacific Design Center, "Initially I was, like, 'What'? That place is so weird, and not beautiful," July told me over lunch. "But I don't want all the real things to happen in New York." By the day of installation, July had fully embraced the rolling lawn in front of the museum. "I'm into it now — there's kind of a Last Year at Marienbad feel to it."
Five of the 11 objects are podiums inscribed with what seem like intimate confessions turned slogans. Three of these are lined up, in ascending order of height, recalling the furniture of a medal ceremony — except, instead of winners, the words inscribed on them suggest they're meant to display "the guilty one," "the guiltier one," "the guiltiest one." Bolted to the ground, begging to be stood on, the podiums realize July's goal of affixing captions to her spectators; the artwork is only finished when the viewer interacts with it.
The remaining six pieces invite both interaction and photography in a different way. Flat constructions, with holes or openings suggesting a place to put one's head or limbs, they recall carnival facades — the pre-Photoshop headless standups that allowed one to be photographed trying on the persona of a strongman or bikini babe — but they ask the participant to try on ideas instead of personalities.
Some of the flat works are meant to be stood under, functioning in photographs as textless cartoon thought bubbles. In contrast to the declarative statements made by the show's other pieces, these are much more open-ended and evocative, with each mining a different type of romantic desire.
As much as the sentiment of the pieces employing language recalls July's various written works, it's these vague, indescribable shapes that most clearly bear her aesthetic signature. Brightly colored, amorphous and/or morphing shapes have been the most constant visual idea of July's work, from the shorts Getting Stronger Every Day and Nest of Tens to the scene in The Future that July calls "the T-shirt dance," in which Sophie is merged with the symbol of her desire for protection, creating an undulating yellow blob that allows July to physically become a shape herself.
"To me those shapes were always spiritual, kind of, in a very mundane, unspeakable sort of way," July says. "They were abstract in those [video] pieces in a way that could just be like that, but in the movie, when you're watching that scene, it's satisfying to me aesthetically, but you also have the whole story of how you got there."
The largest such piece in "Things" is Double Pink Shape, a bubble gum–colored cloud with space for two heads — a feminine fantasy of beauty and comfort and intimacy, engineered to be shared.
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