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Jeffrey Deitch Goes Underground? MOCA Director Supports Launch of Art Publications Public Fiction and Night Papers

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Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 4:51 PM
click to enlarge Maja D'Aoust, the White Witch of L.A., performs at the launch party for Public Fiction and Night Papers. She acted as an oracle and took questions from the audience. - CAROL CHEH
  • Carol Cheh
  • Maja D'Aoust, the White Witch of L.A., performs at the launch party for Public Fiction and Night Papers. She acted as an oracle and took questions from the audience.

I may have to change my mind about Jeffrey Deitch. I wrote some fairly nasty things about him on my blog, following a series of lamentable moves he made after getting hired as MOCA's director. His stunts with the trendy pseudo-artist James Franco, his godawful Dennis Hopper exhibition and his dreaded plans for a Julian Schnabel retrospective all made him seem out of touch and attracted to empty spectacle. He seemed to be the last thing that L.A.'s complex and indefinable art scene needed.

Lately, however, Deitch has been popping up in some very interesting places. A few weeks ago, he was spotted lurking in the shadows at Human Resources, checking out a collaborative performance between performance artist extraordinaire Dawn Kasper and artist Joel Kyack's noise band, Street Buddy.

And finally, last Friday night, he made a brief appearance at Public Fiction, a small alternative space in Highland Park, at the launch party for their new quarterly journal, also titled Public Fiction, and a newspaper called Night Papers, published by another alternative space called Night Gallery, located in Lincoln Heights. It also turns out that Deitch is personally supporting the publication of both of these journals. Could this be a sign that Deitch is heading in the right direction after all?

click to enlarge Cover of the new Public Fiction quarterly journal - LAUREN MACKLER
  • Lauren Mackler
  • Cover of the new Public Fiction quarterly journal

These three spaces, which are well known in the L.A. art community but unheard of outside of it, are about as far removed from the loud, commercial, inherently self-contradicting spectacle of "Art in the Streets" as you can get. Human Resources, which was reincarnated this past year in a posh new space in Chinatown, has been putting on an aggressive mix of underground performance, experimental music, and visual arts.

Public Fiction and Night Gallery were both opened last year to great word-of-mouth acclaim from the art community, and both have been quietly organizing provocative shows and events that don't quite fit into any prescribed categories.

While Night Gallery focuses primarily on exhibitions of visual art, its distinguishing characteristic is that it's only open between the hours of 10pm and 2am, Tuesday through Thursday.

Of the three, Public Fiction is the most highly conceptualized project, as the physical space undergoes periodic identity transformations. This past spring, for instance, it assumed the mantel of the Free Church of Public Fiction, where it explored contemporary notions of worship and spirituality.

click to enlarge Alexandria Harris' The Sound, a sculptural installation included in The Fancy Finger, a recent exhibition at Night Gallery - CAROL CHEH
  • Carol Cheh
  • Alexandria Harris' The Sound, a sculptural installation included in The Fancy Finger, a recent exhibition at Night Gallery

Public Fiction now takes print form as well with the launch of the journal, which is inspired by artist-made print projects such as Wallace Berman's Semina or the New York-based Avalanche. Some of the first issue consists of documentation of activities that took place at, or were connected to, the Free Church of Public Fiction, but these brief pieces are more evocative than they are satisfying. Overall the journal feels like a collection of opening thoughts; it is beautifully designed, packed with artwork, and bursting with strange essays and meditations oriented toward the church idea.

Bundled with the first issue of Public Fiction, which costs a mere $6, is the first issue of Night Papers, which comes in a newspaper format. Comprised of writings by artists on proposed topics, Night Papers feels to me like a compelling tabloid of artists' thoughts. Among other pieces, Karen Adelman considers the idea of retribution; Kate Wolf thinks about the death of people she knows, and the "disappearing" of people she doesn't; Catherine Taft offers an amusing story about loitering, which seems to function as an untold underbelly of her Artforum columns; and a collection of short, anonymous, often devastating confessions populates the final page. These surprisingly involved writings have a secretive, nocturnal energy that matches the feel of the gallery.

Jeffrey Deitch was not available to comment in time for this post. But if he is reading this, I would strongly encourage him to keep exploring projects like Public Fiction, Night Gallery and Human Resources, which are vehicles for some of the most vital creative energy that is pulsing through Los Angeles now. Because really, does Los Angeles need a Julian Schnabel retrospective? Does anyone?

Carol Cheh blogs about LA's performance art scene at Another Righteous Transfer. Follow her on Twitter at @righteoustrans and for more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts.

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