Torrance Art Museum: FORUM 1
Through December 15th
By Genie Davis
A wildly diverse and wonderfully eclectic mix of mediums and artwork is the basis of the group show FORUM 1 at Torrance Art Museum. The culmination of a 10 month mentorship program between eighteen young art professionals and more established artists. Participants include Emily Babette, Gabbah Baya, Alexis Alicette Bolter, Carly Chubak, Sean Cully, Aleister Eaves, Lydia Espinoza, Miranda J Friedman, gloria galvez, Elizabeth Munzon, Tu Nguyen, Joshua Oduga, Andrea Perez-Martinez, Claire Salvo, Katie Shanks, Stephanie Sherwood, Kate Sikorski, and Cindy Vallejo.
According to director and head curator Max Presneill, the project began after interviewing a large number of potential participants in February. “We selected 20 aspiring artists, curators, writers, gallerists, and organizers. Monthly meetings were held where they met three professionals per session – leading artists, curators, critics, gallerists. They heard their story from the inside track, asked questions, interacted, and networked with them.”
Presneill also organized a camping weekend so the group bonded outside of TAM. “We held workshops for them to understand how the art world works, how they could move within it, how to organize, things to do/not do. After 10 months, they held an exhibition where curators selected the artists’ work, the writers wrote about it for the catalog the designers made, and the gallerists ran the logistics, and the social media types publicized it.” And that is the core of FORUM 1, but not its conclusion. “They then formed their own group to work together post-TAM called TBDLA which we hooked up with the Berlin LA-Berlin art festival next June,” he attests. “We hope to see them move on to bigger and better things with their own cohort support group and alternative collaborative group, TBDLA.”
Presneill thought of the FORUM 1 idea after talking to Dutch artists who run “something called the Bcademie in Rotterdam, which brings experience and professionalism to younger aspiring artists by working with more established ones.” He adds “It is part of TAM’s ongoing commitment to staging exhibitions and events that go beyond the singular exhibition format where it all comes apart after the show closes. We want to instigate things which, by design, can have extended life after the exhibition by empowering artists and groups to continue growth — and for us to set more possibilities of international exchange before them.”
FORUM 1 is not the first such project for Presneill and the museum, which has produced projects such as Studio Systems, MAS Attacks, FORUM and Co/Lab projects.
Working as one of the curators at FORUM 1 was Lydia Espinoza, who explains the process from her perspective. Once chosen for the program, she notes, “We learned that this would be the first time a program of this kind is being hosted in a museum space and given special access to the behind the scenes of the museum.”
The excitement Espinoza felt from participating is still evident. “The program brought together 4 different disciplines – artists, curators, writers and gallerists. Each candidate that applied had to indicate which route we were interested in and wanted to learn more about. That designation built the basis for our exhibit, FORUM 1.”
During the course of the experience, participants were able to have conversations with a wide range of art professionals such as writer Shana Nys Dambrot and gallerist Walter Maciel, as well as building a show at a contemporary art museum under the guidance of the museum’s director, Presneill.
“It was literally a forum for discussion. We were encouraged to ask anything and everything,” Espinoza says.
The cohort met one Saturday a month for the ten-month project, and in addition to that monthly meeting, the group organized themselves to tackle the process of building a show.
“The curators led the planning by doing studio visits with the artists to get to know their practice and be an advocate for their work when it came time to curate all the work together and decide which pieces would create a strong show,” Espinoza says. “There ended up being 5 curators in the cohort, so we decided to take on 3-4 artists to work with over the course of the program.”
As a curator, Espinoza held studio visits with her artists and advised them during the development of their work for the show. The writers also met frequently alongside the curators and gallerists to document the process.
“The idea of what the show would be about changed over the course of the journey. We originally wanted to have a theme for all the artwork, but we immediately found that it was too restricting, and didn’t speak to the whole experience and why we were coming together. We realized that the theme or the purpose of our show was us, FORUM. I consider it a showcase of the talent within the cohort.”
The group decided if and how they wanted to produce a catalog, with all design and content up to them. “A few of the members got together to head up the catalogue project. They set the deadlines, and decided the layout, and collected the content. Likewise, for the promotional materials, we had a member who designed our graphics and worked with the museum to include all the necessary info and publish it online,” Espinoza reports.
“It was a positive experience because I felt that the unique talents were recognized early on and we all respected each other’s expertise and encouraged it. For example, we had members who were zine aficionados and we immediately agreed to create a zine and supported their efforts to lead the way. I love social media and sharing things online, so I was happy to create an Instagram account and Facebook page to share details about our journey. We also featured @TAMFORUM Instagram Takeovers where each member shared their perspective and details about their practice for a whole day.”
Espinoza met with the artists assigned to her, getting to know their practice and planning with them what they wanted to develop for the show, and the best most practical way to hang and display the work. “It was great to see the variety in practice, medium, and process,” she says.
The end-result was not just a fascinating way to grow as an artist, but a truly satisfying exhibition to share with the public.
Sculptural works such as Carly Chubak’s “Spacetime Curvature for Bowling” utilized fabric, and – a bowling ball, creating a mysterious upside-down floral umbrella-like shape suspended near the ball and its carrying case, which were positioned on a pedestal. Mysterious and surreal, its placement close to Tu Nguyen’s “The Eternal Return” heightened the sense of the unknown and wondrous. Here, concrete, soil, mulberry trees, and silkworms flourished under fluorescent light in an arbor like swirl inside a plexiglass cube. Across the room, the delicately evocative mixed media on paper works by Kate Sikorski in collaboration offered delicate detail, like emotional subtexts to the exhibition. Alexis Alicette Bolters “But to know is impossible,” a two-channel video work, asks viewers to consider their relationship with the artist. Again, a sense of the mystical and magical prevailed. Magical realism perhaps – at least as envisioned in Elizabeth Muzon’s oil on canvas works, including the vibrant pink “Three Rabbits and Agave.” Katie Shanks’ “Shelter Structure 4 – Kings Canyon” is shaped from duralar, sharpie, colored pencil and fiber in a tangled and oddly delicate sculptural form that was like an art package ready to be unwrapped and unfolded. Emily Babette’s “Doily Paintings” created the aura of old fashioned daguerreotypes. Meanwhile, Miranda Friedman and Philip Koscak’s “$ellibate” added a haunting audio dimension to a work that included silver Mylar and paper mache, an almost-floating, impermanent sculpture. Crank calls, video, and a humming audio score created an immersive experience for the piece. And nearby, Cindy Vallejo’s “Lengua Materna” created a living sculpture in a performance art piece that included the artist sitting at a school desk with woodburned-text. The title references “Mother Tongue,” and the piece served as a kind of exorcism and reclamation from a period when her Spanish culture and language were taken from her in the educational system.
In the reception area, artists Katie Shanks and Stephanie Sherwood performed an excerpt from an upcoming full length performance “Meat Market: On the Cutting Board,” an absorbing work designed to get viewers thinking about all aspects of consumption.
The show in Gallery 2, curated by Stephanie Sherwood and Joshua Oduga continued the sense of mystery and wonder in a more hushed setting. With Permutations, the purpose of the exhibition was to welcome change, death, life, and new processes. Exhibiting artists Justino Loza Gomez, Randi Hokett, Iain Muirhead, Michael Nannery, and Tu Nguyen created a vision that is essentially a bit of heavenly firmament rooted in the earth. Designed to purposefully evolve, works included Hokett’s supersaturated mineral solutions applied to wood panel and long and fragile paper canvases. The gleam of crystals, the shifting colors – these are all in the process of transcending their origin. On the floor, Nannery’s herbal swirl, mandala-like and graceful, is lovely and transient.
Overall, the artwork in both galleries expresses the lustrous sheen of fine work made finer by its careful curation, and perhaps the care and passion of the artists who created it. Presneill has shaped, once again, an exciting program that manages to involve not just its creators, but the viewers who witness it.
Torrance Art Museum