Aug 06, 2012
Sue Bell Yank is the Associate Director of Academic Programs at the Hammer Museum. She also writes about contemporary art for various arts outlets, including her own blog, Social Practice.
On Friday July 13, I rented a pink beach cruiser (with a basket!) on the edge of the Santa Monica-Venice border and rode south to check out the Venice Beach Biennial. A weekend-long affair organized by Hammer curator Ali Subotnick in conjunction with the Hammer’s first Made in LA biennial, the VBB took place Friday-Sunday in public spaces between 17th Ave and Ozone Ave on Ocean Front Walk, with a cluster of activity in the recreation and parks area. Although I am a Hammer staff member, I was uninvolved in the planning of the biennial and had few expectations other than a vague notion that “white cube” artists (contemporary artists who traditionally show in gallery and museum venues) would be exhibiting their wares alongside artists who were Venice Beach regulars.
When I hit the joyful chaos of Venice, the activities of the VBB blended so seamlessly with the wandering tourists, sidewalk artists, s¬¬and sculptors, skateboarders and loungers that I cruised around a little aimlessly for a while. Slowly, as I got my bearings, signifiers of the VBB began to pop into focus – legions of bobbing pink balloons emblazoned with Arthure Moore’s Funky Pussy logo on most vendor stalls, and screen-printed VBB posters and t-shirts peeked through the crowds. I circled the recreation and parks area for a little while, said hi to Ali and a couple of artists I know, and began to notice some interesting stuff. A little Ooga Booga Chinatown façade by Pentti Monkkonen, some Barbara Kruger stickers on the ground, Liz Craft’s strange yellow Weed Couch, a stark Jason Meadows sculpture, and my buddy Nery Gabriel Lemus stenciling finely ground colored sawdust into precise patterns on the ground. Matt Merkel Hess, wearing a straw fedora, was selling his beautiful, useless ceramic sunglasses in one of the vendor stalls, and Alexis Smith and Scott Grieger were selling a variety of funny objects included gold-plated dog poo (“We made about a hundred dollars,” Alexis shrugged). I tried to use the pink and yellow Hammer-produced map to figure out where everything else was, but the work was so embedded and hidden (in cafes, bookstores, or in the very social systems of the boardwalk itself – like Erika Vogt’s special IOU currency, which I never glimpsed) I quickly gave up, threw the map in my cruiser basket, and began to notice everything interesting¬, VBB or not.
Which, of course, was precisely the point. The curatorial framework of the VBB was almost the negation of structure – it insisted on fluidity and non-definition. The organizing principles of VBB did not attempt to reign in, but punctuated and interwove a professionalized art world familiar to the Hammer (the university-educated, gallery-represented, MFA set, plus donors, viewers, collectors, and other afficionados) into the slipstream of culture that is the organized chaos of the Venice Boardwalk. Ali Subotnick was intentional in preserving these undefined edges – she told me she was specifically not trying to “go and take over” the boardwalk, but rather to intensify an awareness and serious consideration of all the multivalent artistic activity in Venice Beach, and to highlight its very unique cultural community. “Where is the art?” people would ask. I would answer this by borrowing a phrase from artist Mario Ybarra, Jr., “You’re breathing it in.”
-Sue Bell Yank, Associate Director of Academic Programs
Filed under: Venice Beach Biennial