Grossly Underinformed CalArts 2010 Open Studios Preview

April 9, 2010

It’s that time of year again: the time where I promote artists I’ve never met and raise some iconoclastic questions rooted in jealousy concerning CalArts and my beyond-fringe position in the LA art world.  So now that we’ve gotten my bitterness out of the way:

Open studios are this Sunday, April 11, and most of the work on the website looks fucking amazing.  You must go, if you are in LA, because what you’re going to encounter is going to be less a series of studios than really tiny galleries.  Bring your checkbook, seriously.  If I had cash I would be dumping it on a bunch of the people mentioned below.

Another way of saying the above is saying that most of the work looks “gallery ready” by which I mean it is polished, it has been carefully made, and a lot of thought and cash has gone into its presentation, both on the website and in the numerous MFA show installation shots.  This is both impressive and somewhat troubling.  Impressive because hot damn, work by Valerie Green ( and Erich Bollman makes me want to physically experience it like crazy.  This is a good sign when more and more artists are incorporating video into their work without putting much thought into it: the work on the site mostly makes me want to see it in person.  Feeling like you’re missing something by only seeing the documentation is always a good sign.

And I dropped “problematic” in the above paragraph because part of looking finished and presentable is that you have probably invested a shitload of money.  I don’t have a quibble with something looking expensive; but when I see expensive-looking art I always think both about the work on its own merits and also think “I wonder how much money this took to make, and in turn what sort of socioeconomic class the artist belongs to.”  That last part is because I still have class consciousness firmly planted in my critical reception of nearly everything, but on the other hand I realize that in our society some people are just wealthy and that gets reflected in their work, consciously or not. 

The piece I’m thinking about when writing this is my favorite piece on the site, Untitled by Cammie Staros, which is a piece that consists of a wax sculpture of a bent mattress covered by two brown coils of wrist-thick rope hanging from the ceiling.  It’s amazing and gross and beautiful and incredibly unsettling all rolled into one, which is getting a lot done with wax and rope.  I keep thinking, though: that thing looks very difficult to move and expensive to have made and relatively difficult to install.  

The work brings up all sorts of associations about fetishism and power and abjection and fetishizing abjection and sex and the phenomenolgy of the body, but it also looks like it involves, via its existence, a whole lot of labor, a whole lot of people, and a lot of money (I could be wrong about the cost of wax and rope though, but I’m thinking of sheer quantity).   So there’s a tiny part of it that looks expensive (to me alone, probably) in a “I’m Matthew Barney and look what I can get away with” way but this work is much much better and if I could afford to collect art that thing would be mine.

Anyway, let’s let go of the fact that I will never be as wealthy as most of my peers and get back to the work.  The kids this time around are a lot better at providing contextual information without overdoing it, but there are still some artist profiles that make me want to shake my computer screen and yell “explain yourself!”   Case in point is Rasmus Rohling.  There are three images there, none of which seem to relate to which other but all of which range from the interesting (the WDCH parking lot) to the intriguing (a photo labeled St. Francis Dam that is actually a portrait) to the oh-my-god-what-is-going-on, in the final image where a man (the artist?) is in a motel room starting to get intimate with a cardboard cutout of another average-looking male figure.   And that’s all you get.  So my first stop if I were in LA would be his studio to say, okay, show me more, but on the other hand being coy can backfire and you can end up with the feeling “if you’re not going to meet me halfway…I’m going to skip your studio.”

Again, all of this is important probably only to me.

Anyway, there are too many highlights to cram in here but let me talk a bit about a few folks.  I mentioned Erich Bollman (; his work, in various media, leaves me feeling cheerful and uncomfortable at the same time and it looks like he has the skill/talent of a perfect deployment of materials to achieve that effect, particularly the open wood frames in candy colors stacked against the wall and holding up a lonely-looking Spiderman mask.  There’s at once both not enough and too much there to think about, which is exciting, as is the work of Donna Brown.  There’s no indication of whether her images are photos or video stills or what, but everything important is contained in the simple presentation of the woman in the images and her shifting relationship to the lens.  Also of note is Jinyoung Koh’s series of urinalysis hues, which are both elegantly beautiful and brimming full of Foucauldian discourse.

And I didn’t even talk much about the percentage of work that’s politicized and the huge amount of video (you may need to bring your own monitor) but the ultimate point is that there’s lots more that’s just as intriguing and so you should make the drive and go.  It will probably be very hot because Santa Clarita is a firepit so dress accordingly but I can’t endorse this year’s turnout enough.

Please don’t spam me with spam comments.  Thanks.  And here’s that Rasmus Rohling image  (rollover for title):


2 Responses to “Grossly Underinformed CalArts 2010 Open Studios Preview”

  1. the pillar Says:

    Cammie made the bed herself. Witnessed the construction and pour in the super shop and subsequent display on various visits to campus for students. Sometimes previous education pays off for jazzy results, i.e. you learn a trade like fabrication.

    Rasmus is a trickster.

    • Nicholas Says:

      Good to know, thanks. And I want to underscore that of course just because something looks fabricated (by professionals) doesn’t mean it is, and that there’s nothing wrong with fabrication anyway, and that a lot of my radar for what looks like “expensive” is a result of jealousy because there’s stuff I’d like to have made/know how to make that I can’t because I lack skills and cash.

      Plus I so would totally buy that if I had money and a place to put it.

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