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Talking LACE

Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Carol Stakenas is two months into her new job at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions by way of Creative Time, “New York’s most adventurous art presenter,” and the Third Millennium Foundation’s Center for Tolerance Education. She has an MFA in sculpture from Cranbrook, but never saw herself as a studio artist. “I’m interested in so many forms of art that I find it a lot more interesting to work on an organizing level,” she says over a vegetable red curry at a Hollywood Thai restaurant. Why Los Angeles, why now? “There’s just a really nice energy that’s happening here, in part because of the art schools but also just because of the mass of artists choosing to live here.”

L.A. WEEKLY: How is it different here from what you’ve known, and how do you go about discovering it?
So much of the contemporary art practice, whether it’s visual art or performance or hybrid, really relies on context and timing. And L.A. offers this really interesting and challenging cultural landscape. I’m going around to take a look at what is happening in museums, galleries, artists’ studios. I’m also going to be meeting with groups of artists or groups of people interested in cultural dialogue. We’re dedicating our New Gallery, our back space, for more performance-oriented events; that’s in part to bring in different audiences, but also it keeps the space flexible so that I can bring groups in to talk about what’s going on out there.

And how do you see LACE fitting into the landscape at this point?
My strategy is to create LACE as a platform for curators, artists, people who want to stage certain kinds of projects, rather than advancing my own personal curatorial view. That’s in large part because my focus is on looking at what an organization like LACE really looks like in the current cultural landscape. It’s about finding different ways to ask age-old questions: How does an organization like LACE champion innovation and experimentation with integrity and enthusiasm and a certain level of accessibility?

Accessibility has not always necessarily been a LACE forte.
As much as LACE is a local institution, it has a national and international reputation, and artists who show with LACE are seen not only within an L.A. context but within a larger context. So the work has to be able to connect with people who are watching the visual arts; at the same time, it also has the potential to attract other audiences. And that’s where this word accessibility comes in — to do an exhibition that engages toy culture, say, or gaming. What’s interesting about it is that it’s offering artists a chance to get their ideas and work connecting with audiences that are eager for culture — work that takes itself seriously as art but isn’t hung up on the definition of contemporary art in a white box. We can be a play space, a space where these kinds of cultural exchanges happen.

What would make up an ideal show at LACE?
I can say that an ideal season would include several different things: a serious presentation of a single artist, some really lively group shows, with complimentary programming, and more performative projects. And then there are two other factors: One is to break out of LACE location-based projects; I want to see us do public works. And I also want to dedicate a portion of the year to forum-based activities — bringing together artists and what I like to call “allied professionals.” So if it were dealing with communications, maybe it would be sociologists and statisticians who were looking at online communication patterns — something that would mix it up.

I want to see work that appeals to a lot of different kinds of artists and audiences but

that also has depth — to the projects or to what the work is talking about that gives

possibilities for different people to engage. Accessible not because it’s oversimplified but because it recognizes the complexity and the multiple entry points of the place it exists in.

You’re looking for a certain quality of work.
There is a fearlessness that sometimes comes with being younger; there’s another kind of fearlessness that comes with having made a commitment to being an artist as your profession. It’s that fearlessness, and that kind of insatiable appetite for inquiry — those are the kinds of art projects that I want to see at LACE.

Future LACE exhibitions include “Civic Matters,” an art and design exchange with Swedish and local artists; a show of photographs and video by Caracas-based Alexander Apostol; and “Draw a Line and Follow It,” a commissioning of several artists to create new works inspired by Fluxus "event scores."