Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ace Hotel: Good art in the wrong place

Sometimes art that is meant to charm does not. In the case of the newly renovated Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, the pencil drawings on the walls are rather incongruous with the hotel's design. It has to do with the content as much as the space. The Ace Hotel, designed by Roman Alonso, is a sleek nod to history and rife with sexy energy; the drawings by artistic duo The Haas Brothers are a combination of evocative, beautifully rendered portraits and playful cartoon animals adopting human behaviors. Both the design and artwork are laudable in their own right, but together a match they do not make.

Alonso's intentions of reflecting the freedom and funk of Los Angeles is admirable, but the brothers' contrasting styles in such a vintage-chic space had a clashing effect. I am anything but opposed to the bizarre and funky, but I don't think the space does justice to the art-- and vice versa.

In the scheme of things the disparity is paltry, not only because the pencil drawings have been well received by most, but because Ace Hotel's wonderful building is here to stay, and with it the United Artists theater. Both of these institutions are breathing cultural life into downtown's perimeter, along with the few restaurants and the newly opened Urban Outfitters in the historic Rialto Theater.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Printmakers carve out new territory

Printmaking has a long history of ingenuity: the seemingly endless variety of methods, from choice of printing surface to varieties of ink and paper, have provided sufficient fuel. Technicians are constantly rethinking ways to print images.

New territory has surfaced thanks to digital technology, and along with it a fair share of opportunities and challenges. This is exactly what LACMA’s Prints and Drawings Council chose to address at its fourth annual panel discussion, LA PRINT: 4.0. The five printmakers invited to speak offered varying perspectives, some more friendly to digital technology than others but all of them receptive to its contributions.

Jean Milant of Cirrus Editions has seized on new advances in technology like inkjet printing, an affordable and reliable producer of clear, crisp images. Even if inkjet is a cheaper form of printing, Milant doesn’t use it indiscriminately; he considers what effect the method will have on his final product. In the case of John Baldessari’s The First $100,000 I Ever Made, an image in the form of U.S. currency, Milant determined that inkjet would impart the likeness of a dollar bill most effectively. Another form of digital technology Milant has adopted is the scanner, which the studio uses to capture the found detritus in artist Mary Weatherford’s work. Once the three-dimensional objects have been scanned, the resulting image is printed using a lithograph press. 

Jacob Samuel of Edition Jacob Samuel is more reluctant to embrace new technologies. A self-proclaimed Luddite, he rarely accepts requests to print in color. In his studio, traditional grayscale is king. That said, Samuel respects the use of digital technology by other printmakers—and in fact he still prints digital images, just not in his own studio. (He takes all of that material to a respected, local expert.) Much of his newer work involves obfuscating the line between the digital and the hand-printed image. His prints of Cristina Iglesias’ sculptures are an elegant example, whose three-dimensional work is translated beautifully onto paper.

Intellectual Property Prints, founded in 2013, has used digital technology less for creating and more for disseminating work. Founders Ryan McIntosh and Daniel Rolnik rely on Twitter and other social media to publicize their release of material. When they convinced beloved street artist Augustine Kofie to design a limited edition print, it went viral the moment it was released.

Digital technology, while clearly a boon, has also muddied the playing field. Take the challenge of differentiating between original prints and reproductions. The former involves the use of printmaking technology to yield a specific result (a woodblock print, for example, might reveal the beautiful texture of the wood grain); a reproduction, on the other hand, will look exactly like the artwork it is trying to “translate.” The latter, by definition, is not the end goal of printmaking; rather, it is to create a fresh iteration of an artwork, partly for wider dissemination, but also for the purpose of adding new dimension to a work. Inkjet can produce remarkably sharp images that are liable to fool a less educated eye.

One thing is certain: digital technology is transforming the landscape of printmaking— and that means not just for printmakers but for artists, too. Indeed one matter the LA PRINT panel unanimously agreed on was their devotion to artists. As long as artists forged ahead, so too would they. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books, books everywhere

You’d think a gathering of hip and beautiful people might verge on pretentious, but the LA Art Book Fair was a cliché-trumper. A colorful scene decked the galleries of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA with a swirl of eager visitors migrating from booth to booth, taking in the fair’s decorative spirit, buying everything from artists’ books to periodicals to zines. There was a lot to choose from: 250 exhibitors from 20 countries were there, with a hefty presence from California. It was a proud day for any native. If you weren’t in a book-buying mood, there were tote bags, greeting cards, prints, pins and other goodies up for grabs. Did anyone notice the curious preponderance of cat-themed stuff?

It is immensely gratifying, being able to touch or handle anything on display. Here, if it piqued your interest it would most likely end up in your hands. Be it the first 3-D-printed book or a “garbage zine,” a book of colorful, in-your-face risograph prints or a suitcase housing W.G. Sebald memorabilia, mere moments separated you from different universes. 

Searching for Sebald
Institute for Cultural Inquiry
There were seas of beautifully wrought artist's books. Redfoxpress & Antic-Ham (Ireland) had an eclectic selection, many of them screenprinted. After I picked up Turkish Wedding the vendor himself chimed in: it was based on his son, Govinda's, wedding in Istanbul. Photos, ticket stubs and other ephemera escorted me through an intimate stage in this artist’s life.
I found myself in a variety of such moments. Take the vendor at Harper’s Books (New York) who caught me perusing photos of a stallion undergoing artificial insemination. I gather it was my stunned expression that compelled him to patronize me about the subject matter. What can I say? Sometimes the unfamiliar is jaw-dropping.

Sexuality was strongly present at the fair. A book of vintage photographs published by The Kingsboro Press (New York) revealed images of women in S&M gear. These photos, disseminated surreptitiously in the 50s and 60s, the era of “smut,” were culled together to form Kingboro's newest title, The Periodical Flesh. It was a one-of-a-kind time capsule, and a fine segue into a nearby exhibit presented by Andrew Roth and PPP Editions (New York).

Behind a barrier of rope, 126 books on the social sciences lay neatly displayed on the ground. The perfectly rounded holes carved into their covers revealed erotic photographs of women. It was a comical and thought-provoking convergence of two worlds: academia and sexuality, a binary, if you will, of the sacred and profane.

The fair offered an eye-opening taste of a vibrant landscape, abroad and on L.A.'s own doorstep. Books are here to stay. Ensuring this were exhibitors from England, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands, to name a few, and L.A.-based organizations like Giant Robot 2, KCHUNG Radio, FAMILY Bookstore, and the Institute of Cultural Inquiry. An entire list of exhibitors can be found on the fair's website.

The adventure was cut short at 6:00 PM, closing time. A friend and I were drooling over L.A. neon artist Dan Regan when a security guard rained on our parade. Unable to resist sneaking in one last stop we hurried over to LAND AND SEA, a small press and record label based in Oakland. Moments later the same security guard spotted us. Before being escorted to the door we managed to buy an "exploded book" of 100 glowing risograph prints-- just in the knick of time. It was a steal, and an unexpected after-hours sale by the proud artist who had compiled it.