Anthony Kiedis and Ed Ruscha both like words. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' front man and now-iconic L.A. artist drive around L.A. discussing this shared affinity in a promo video for Pacific Standard Time, the region-wide initiative to celebrate SoCal art's postwar history.
In addition to the video, viewable on youtube and PST's website, there's a poster plastered around the city of shirtless Kiedis, tattooed arms crossed over his chest, pointing behind his head to the word "Hollywood" spelled out backwards like it is in Ruscha's 1977 painting Back of Hollywood. Text along the bottom says, "Kiedis celebrates Ruscha." In another ad, actor Jason Schwartzman celebrates wry conceptualist John Baldessari, appearing puzzled with a blue circle like those Baldessari superimposed over his photographs hovering above his head. These ads motivated artist Susan Mogul's current project, a spoof on PST's male-centric promos.
"You have to have Baldessari and Ruscha -- they bring people in," I overheard a member of PST's PR team say at a press conference the day after a video of Schwartzman and Baldessari debuted. But is it actually the artists being advertised? "I would ask if it's isn't really Jason Schwartzman and Kiedis, not Baldessari and Ruscha," says Susan Mogul, who moved to Los Angeles in 1973, attended the Feminist Art Program at Cal Arts and appears in four PST shows. "They're being used to reach a new audience. And if you want to go with that premise, why don't you use different artists," like some that haven't been so widely canonized. "Does it really make a difference who Schwartzman celebrates?"
Mogul has known she'd be included in PST for over a year, and, initially, she anticipated the initiative with "cockeyed optimism." "I thought the woman's movement, black movement, Chicano movement, people who had been forgotten would be given visibility." And while that may indeed be happening in certain exhibitions in certain institutions, you wouldn't know from the PST ad campaigns. "It's as if those movements had never existed," she says, "but instead of getting mad, I've had a blast."
In September, Mogul began working on a satire of the main PST promo video -- a difficult task, since the video is so dry to begin with -- but, when the L.A. Weekly's fall preview issue came out on September 22, she saw a full-page ad of Schwartzman and knew what she wanted to do. "That was much easier to satirize," she says, "and I was already primed for it."
It took her just three days to create her first poster, in which she wears a bright orange pantsuit that belonged to her mother in the 1970s and talks on a bright red phone. The poster borrows the font and general format of the official PST promos. It says "Mogul celebrates Mogul" across the bottom, with a clock in the top right corner set to "Susan Mogul Time." She's been pasting them up guerrilla style ("I have to keep some of that secret," she says, when I ask who's helping her) around L.A. right next to the posters they riff on. Thus, they appear in sets of three: 30-something and 40-something hot shots next to a sassy 62-year-old in orange.
She's since created two other posters with the help of Hildegarde Duane and Ilene Segalove, two artists set to appear with her in an exhibition at Jancar Gallery in December. In the "Mogul celebrates Hildegarde Duane" poster, Duane "shoots the breeze," as the caption announces, in a sexy, noir-ish image of her younger self in black lace with long hair, wielding a gun.
It's not just masculinity or celebrity culture that Mogul's campaign pokes at. There's no "Kate Winslet celebrates Hildegarde Duane," or "Audrey Tatou celebrates Ilene Segalove." These artists are staying within their own generation, not appearing as icons, which has a lot to do with the fact that they haven't been widely celebrated up to now -- "icon" status is uncomfortable and beside the point.
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Mogul never had gallery representation until Tom Jancar picked her up two years ago and exhibited witty photo work she'd made in the 1970s. A series of images, including one of Mogul as Moses bringing an 11th commandment into the city, she'd originally exhibited at a Hollywood ice cream parlor received a dismissive L.A. Times review in 1979 but met with a much warmer critical reception when shown in 2009.
"It's a strange position, being brought back into the art world because of this interest in vintage work," says Mogul. "I feel a little ambivalent, or maybe that's not the right word. It's more of a tension. The art world's a place where you can experiment with ideas, yet it's so precious and there's a delight in having something out there in the world."
The "Susan Mogul Time" campaign is out in the world. "For me, what's exciting about this is that it's using elements of the past," she explains. "But you can't really make social commentary about the past. It's grounded in the present."