The Collectivists at the Brand Library & Art Center
By Lorraine Heitzman
Through March 12th
There are many notable things about The Collectivists currently at the Brand Library; perhaps most significant is the vibrant community of artists in Los Angeles that warrants an exhibit like this in the first place. Through a filter of six artist-run collectives we are offered a glimpse into the thriving practices of local artists who might otherwise be underrepresented in the sometimes-indifferent landscape of established commercial galleries. In a town with a surfeit of creatives, these collectives prove that by standing together to show their work, it pays to bet on your self.
As capably curated by Kara W. Tomé, this survey looks at several collectives with very different mandates and histories. Those featured are: Association of Hysteric Curators, Durden & Ray, Eastside International, Manual History Machines, Monte Vista Projects, and Tiger Strikes Asteroid. Each collective is shown clustered into separate areas of the gallery, but if their individual missions are not always readily distinguished from one another, there is nevertheless an abundance of excellent work that more than equals the quality and professionalism of work in mainstream galleries.
Durden and Ray has shared a gallery space in DTLA for many years while also fostering international exchanges and curatorial opportunities for their members. Here they anchor almost half of the art center, effectively showcasing paintings, photographs and sculptures against stark black walls. The dark backdrop emphasizes the liberal use of fluorescent paints and although not every artist falls into this category, the closest thing to a unifying theme at Durden and Ray is an energetic, colorful and exuberant style. Alison Wood’s Utopia Machine is a beautifully rendered balance between delicate lines and masses of shimmering translucent forms and Jenny Hager ratchets up the dynamics with Memoriter. Artists such as Valerie Wilcox and the sculptors Ben Jackel and Ty Powell captivate by defying the norm with minimal palettes. An outlier of sorts, in the best possible way, is Chris Mercier’s sculptural wall piece; a hard-edged construction overrun with deposits of oil paints, like unnatural lichens growing on their host.
The eight artists representing Manual History Machines make a strong impression with their carefully curated selection. Initiated by a group of friends, this artist-run group extols the virtues of the human touch and seeks to showcase underrepresented artists. Michelle Carla Handel’s Smoke, Mirrors, Neurons is a wonderfully curious diptych. On the right, a display of handmade and altered objects are arranged like a scientific collection against a dark field and to the left is a digital print of the same arrangement but in a lighter, more natural color way. Presented like an oversized open book, we are left to consider the relationships. Is the photograph more real than the objects themselves that are minimized by their color? The didactic nature of the presentation belies the mystery at its core. Rema Ghuloum’s nicely moody Violet Ghost (for Prince), Andrea Marie Beirling’s aggressively pop portraits and Suné Woods’s textural mixed media collage all demand and hold our attention.
Representing one of the newer kids on the block, Eastside International (ESXLA) supports local artists with a gallery space and curatorial opportunities. In addition they offer residencies to artists from around the world at their location near the Brewery. Of the five artists showing work in The Collectivists, four are culled from their international exchanges. Robin Tarbet, an artist from the UK shows two over-sized monotypes, hand printed reliefs that are bold in black ink but possess subtle details upon further scrutiny and Bruce Ingram’s small paper constructions that have a casual complexity of their own.
The oldest of these collectives at ten years, Monte Vista Projects is an artist-run space in Highland Park, serving both its members and the greater community through exhibition proposals and curated shows. Rebecca Bennett Duke’s Over the Rainbow, a pastel hued woodpile stacked up against the wall like so many pieces of colored chalk and Chris Miller’s Orias, beautifully integrates porcelain, stoneware, paint, ink and other materials to evoke an organic scene of decay and growth.
Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA Los Angeles) has been operating locally since 2014. Its sister space in Philadelphia began in 2009 with New York and Chicago following suit. At the Brand Library & Art Center, TSA is showing artists from all four venues and the cross-section works together effectively in the light-filled room. There are small sculptures such as the Klee-like diminutive figures in yoga postures by Vanessa Chow (LA) and delicate geometric paper constructions by Alex Paik (NY). On the other end of the spectrum are bold paintings by Jonathan Matthew Ryan (LA), who uses sand and oil paint for texture and sgraffito effects and Carl Baratta’s (LA) active landscape.
Lastly, there is the Association of Hysteric Curators that in addition to exhibiting a photographic series has organized four events to coincide with the show’s run in their capacity as programming partner to The Collectivists. The AHC is dedicated to feminism through their events, research and art making. Here they show photographs from a continuing photo series, Resurrecting Matilda, by Mary Anna Pomonis and Allison Stewart. The artists recreate multicultural feminist icons, paying tribute to their contributions and acknowledging their power.
Kara W. Tomé has put together a show that should be encouraging to every Angelino artist. This is not a complete survey of art in the Southland; it is not even a complete group of artist-run spaces, but the work these collectives support through their members and larger communities enrich us all.