California Artists in the 2014 Whitney Biennial

Allan Sekula

The 2014 Whitney Biennial line-up has been kind to Southern California. About 30 percent of the lineup include creatives who live and work in California, which almost entirely means L.A. but also includes San Francisco, Sebastopol, and San Diego. That's actually pretty good, since the rest, while unsurprisingly New York-heavy, does its best to spread the nods around the map.

There were three curators on the team, all from outside the Museum. Interestingly, for this edition each curator gets their own floor instead of doing the whole thing collectively. Anthony Elms is Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; he worked at Performa 11 performance-art based fair; and is also the editor of WhiteWalls, an independent publishing imprint. Michelle Grabner is Professor and Chair of the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; a senior critic at Yale in the Department of Painting and Printmaking; and active in the world of artist-run project spaces. Stuart Comer has been Curator of Film at Tate Modern, London, but he just left the Tate to move to new York and set up shop at MOMA.

Per the Whitney brand -- and the personal purviews of the curators' career specialties -- you'll find video, performance, indie publishing, and experimental installation galore -- but there's also a refreshing, almost old-school affection for straight-up photography, painting, and sculpture. For all three curators, it has been about identifying what is influential now, and that might mean a next-big-phenom or a well-established (or even, in a few cases, deceased) artist who is nevertheless on everyone's mind. While fairly eclectic in mediums, the list is heavily (but not thoroughly) Caucasian, and about 70 percent male. The show doesn't open until March, but in the meantime for those keeping score at home, here follows a brief overview of the California delegation. Loosely grouped into big-tent genres, and without knowing exactly what will be shown in March, the lineup promises to deliver a balanced and engaging American biennial in which the home team is poised to make a big impression in all the Biennial's most major categories.

Zackary Drucker
Zackary Drucker

Performance and performance-based video: One of the most interesting artists working in Los Angeles today, Zackary Drucker -- along with frequent collaborator, the filmmaker Rhys Ernst -- is a writer and performance artist whose smart and sexy work is both transgressive and heartfelt. My Barbarian is a performance collective founded in 2000 by Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade who mix up media channels and crowd-sourced movement-based installation, and are working in increasingly complex interdisciplinary formats. Catherine Sullivan works with film and live performance, producing quirky, math-based yet emotional vaudeville, upending conservative social taboos. taisha paggett creates danced-based performance art in specific locations, full of DIY urgency and modern archetypes. What Lisa Anne Auerbach does is more of a social practice than a performance practice; but her adaptation of what was once called radical craft has yielded politically-charged textiles, closely examining the cultural aspects and activist potential of all manner of public costume.

Laura Owens
Laura Owens 356 Mission
Tony Greene

Painting: Laura Owens has become one of the best known figures in the LA art world; as a painter, mentor, and now exhibition space operator, her efforts to create vibrant, salient abstract paintings have never ceased to evolve, and her latest, larger-scale paintings are particularly compelling. The late Channa Horwitz was known for her mathematical drawings and installations, pursuing a rules-based geometric abstraction that communicates like conceptual semaphore on graph paper -- and is a bit like seeing the Matrix in technicolor. The late painter Tony Greene (whose presence is curated by his friends and colleagues Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie) demonstrated influences ranging from Robert Mapplethorpe to Nayland Blake and Derek Jarman. Rebecca Morris has a painting practice that is at once abstract and folksy, with an Outsider-style ritualized mosaic quality; her work is messy but urgent, measured but rough, deliberate but expressive. Karl Haendel makes these impressive realistic figurative drawings, often based on vintage photographs, that have this retro flavor and a masterful specificity that lend them an eerie nostalgia and evocative dematerialization.

Victoria Fu
Victoria Fu
Fred Lonidier

Photography and Film: Victoria Fu makes photography and video installations, but her work seems to be after the same goals as abstraction in painting -- generating vibrant op-art, crisp and ethereal at the same time. Dashiell Manley's videos, objects, and site-specific installations examine the relationship of space to language. The late Allan Sekula has been one of the most influential photographers and thinkers in the overlapping realms of contemporary photography and social theory for the last several decades. Fred Lonidier (San Diego) also approaches photography as a catalyst and function of social change. Stephen Berens works in photography mainly; but his reductivist, pattern-seeking, serial works are both quasi-abstract and grounded in experience and observation. Miljohn Ruperto works simultaneously in several aesthetic modes in his video and photography, creating apparently dissonant bodies of work often shown together in installation form.

Ricky Swallow
Shio Kusaka
Joel Otterson Wall-of-China

Sculpture and Installation: Morgan Fisher's sculptural, architectural color-blocking, deploy bright and primary colors that look like early video games melded with op-art and then turned into a room you can walk around in. John Mason is a pioneer of ceramic sculpture, whose decades of education and work embodies the history and heyday of progressive ceramics in L.A. Shio Kusaka also makes vessels, with strong influences of this innovative ceramics tradition, employing a multiplicity of techniques, and with her Asian heritage as an aesthetic touchstone. Ricky Swallow makes sculpture that defies, belies, and transcends its own materials -- for example ordinary objects rendered as bronzes that look like random cardboard, in a witty Yoko Ono meets Marcel Duchamp kind of way. Joel Otterson and Shana Lutker, each in their own way, also riffs on the ordinary object, transplanting and rendered them into dystopian sculptures that resists specific narrative. Sterling Ruby loves to site serious sculptures in wacky places, and wacky sculptures in serious places, morphing monumental color-driven modernisms with pop humor and industrial scale.


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Publishing: There's a large number of publishers and independent writers represented in the Biennial, including some surprises. A.L. Steiner works in installation, video, and performance, in addition to producing books and zines. Ben Kinmont (Sebastopol), is an artist, publisher, and antiquarian bookseller -- consciously blurring the boundaries between projects, events, and publishing. Jonn Herschend (San Francisco) among other things co-curates and publishes THE THING Quarterly, as well as making short films. Semiotext(e) is an acclaimed publisher of artist books of tracts on the philosophies of art-making. Gary Indiana, while known primarily as a writer, also works as a filmmaker and visual artist. David Foster Wallace -- that's a bit of a head-scratcher. They have only said that the author will be "recognized posthumously," but no one really knows what that will look like.

Check out more works from the California artists here:

Channa Horwitz
My Barbarian
My Barbarian

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