Bill and Judy drive to the store while Mary paints a picture of fruit.
While walking down the street, Lohbado saw a sign, Spirit Chapel. He went in for a session of the occult with Esmerelda. During the vision quest, he had a memory of a school bus filled with spirits and ancestors, which gradually dissolved into gelatinous bouncing blobs.
Editor’s note: I had to skip a couple of Video Fridays to deal with some deinstallation issues, but we’re back! I figured that since Paulette has revived the Fruit Flies in the interim we should start with her & Lohbado’s most recent videos, then maybe move back into the archival deep dive…
The mouth as a buccal palace, a mucous lined cavern with tonsils at the back, a tongue lying in a bed of saliva, a fence of teeth, food, drink, inhale, exhale, communication, Lohbado presented images based on drawings in his sketchbook. Orality, mysteries of the mouth and the digestive model of existence…
I made it out to Forest Lawn for the opening of Grand Views – The Immersive World of Panoramas which mashes up the history of the Panorama form with the history of the cemetery’s monumental Jan Styka Crucifixion and Robert Clark Resurrection paintings and the more recent history of L.A.’s Velaslavasy Panorama, which has grown into an international hub of idiosyncratic creativity. I’m a lazy sod, so I didn’t get any photos, and I’m not going to do any new commentary (apart from what you’re reading at this very moment) but I did capture this remarkable transitional moment following the opening remarks, and dug out a piece I wrote on the original iteration of the Velaslavasy Panorama before it relocated to West Adams.
“Mimicking the sheer unlikeliness of the [Museum of] Jurassic [Technology] — a pocket of 19th-century cultural anachronism in the middle of a crumbling, sun-blasted commercial neighborhood — the Velaslavasay Panorama sits hunched among the palm trees of Hollywood Boulevard like a UFO with its cultural cloaking device stuck on the wrong era. From the outside, it‘s ’50s tiki-tecture, namely the Tswuun-Tswuun Rotunda, a former Chinese restaurant slightly east of the Walk of Fame, slightly west of the giant hot-dog sculpture next to Le Sex Shoppe.
Inside, it‘s a curious hybrid of pre-modern pop-cultural re-creation and postmodern painting practice. Artist and proprietress (and former Jurassic intern) Sara Velas’ “360-degree marvel” is a revival of a mostly forgotten precursor to cinema — particularly CinemaScope and IMAX. Patented by Robert Barker in 1787 as “an entire new contrivance or apparatus, which I call La Nature a Coup d‘Oeil, for the purpose of displaying views of Nature at large by Oil Painting, Fresco, Water Colours, Crayons or any other mode of painting or drawing,” the panorama, as it came to be known, took on many forms but always boiled down to the use of a painted, illusionistic vista that stretched past the viewer’s peripheral vision, often to form a complete cylinder.
A small industry grew up around this form of entertainment, and many of the hundreds of buildings devoted to panoramas were outfitted for elaborate theatrical displays, including music, narration, sound effects, special lighting and projected magic-lantern slides. A panorama built for the Paris Fair of 1900 re-created a railway voyage from Moscow to Peking in 45 minutes, using ultrarealistic luxury railcars as the theater and four concentric bands of painted scenery, each more gigantic than the last, which spun past at different speeds to simulate the parallax view, at up to 1,000 feet per minute.
In some ways, Velas is more of a purist, using only the single-cylinder format and judiciously dimmed recessed lighting to create her immersive simulation. But touches of less than academically anal fidelity to historical accuracy in many aspects of the presentation queer the deadpan museological pitch of her panorama, opening the discussion to contemporary critical fascination with this particular piece of obsolete virtual-reality technology (beginning with Walter Benjamin) and to the imprint of the artist, whose original chosen medium — Velas studied painting with Sabina Ott in St. Louis — often requires elaborate conceptual framing to buttress its currency.
The painting itself is fluid and sketchy, a landscape of the Los Angeles basin as it might have appeared 150 to 200 years ago, at the height of the original panoramania. The Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes is well-painted in a way that serves its primary illusionistic function, but there is no attempt to re-create the style of the era. Sketched-in pencil marks showing through hazy washes, roughly impastoed daubs of paint representing foreground blossoms, and a general fuzziness of detail constitute an impressionistic take on reality that would have scandalized paying customers 150 years ago.
But early on in its evolution, the panorama was already sensational — the moral equivalent of Sensurround — and the reduction in stimuli between bustling Hollywood Boulevard and the serene, low-impact Velaslavasay Panorama environment is jarring in an inverse way to its ancestor. Velas has plans to include three-dimensional diorama effects and projected slides (some audio would be nice) in future displays. Having recently applied for nonprofit status, she hopes to establish her quirky anachronism as a new kind of Hollywood landmark, changing the show periodically as the institution settles into the neighborhood as a fixture for locals and a stop for offbeat tourists.
I’m reluctant to feed the AI image and text hype beast since there’s nothing intelligent about it and I have a gut feeling that it will prove useful mostly for spammers and bureaucratic communications. AI won’t lead to either a Skynet apocalypse or a work free utopia but rather more soul sucking tasks and even more lifeless memos. It’s in Silicon Valley’s interest for us all to think that their products are more useful than they actually are.
But at the very least, the recent spasm of bizarre AI images and videos proves Fredric Jameson’s notion that the guiding pathology of late stage capitalism and postmodernism is schizophrenia. As evidence of this schizophrenia please enjoy Donald Trump fishing for and eating an octopus with Obama and Conan O’Brien eating fried chicken and then crashing his car.
The witch in this video, who prefers to remain anonymous, has a dog. In folklore, many witches had cats. This dog, Freddy, is able to see evil spirits. If one takes the sleep sand from a dog and puts it into one’s own eyes, one could see what the dog sees. To have dog vision could drive a person loco crazy.
Inspired by Victoria Reynolds, Mary paints a meat painting while the fruit flies look at a green thing and a red thing.Show less
For anyone unfamiliar with the amazing world of art produced by the developmentally different in California’s Progressive Art Studios, here are a couple of ancient texts that shed some light: The first is an article from 2002 about ECF, where I first encountered the phenomenon, and the second is a catalog essay for the Radiant Spaces : Private Domainexhibit at Track 16, curated by Elena Mary Siff in 2004.
Outside In L.A.
Lonnie Thompson, Love Shark, ca 2000, marker on paper bound in book
In a large, aging brick office building in a nondescript commercial strip just next to the Magic Johnson Theaters on MLK Jr. Boulevard in Baldwin Hills, 100-some artists — ranging in age from 18 to 65 — are at work. Some are working harder than others, but most come in for at least six hours a day, five days a week. Tammy Brakins methodically paints one of her trademark arrangements of babies, toilets, telephones and mallard ducks. David Sinclair Walton fashions crowns out of foil and wire, or draws up oversize charts detailing the structure of a hypothetical medieval kingdom. Lonnie Thompson fills page after tiny page with his jewel-like Gary Panter–esque pictographs, and Eric Yates covers every side of a boxlike form with jumbled masses of scrawled text, found and invented. The artists‘ space is equipped with a small printmaking shop, a loom, a ceramics facility — even a small gym — and is provided free of charge. As are materials, technical instruction and assistance. The host organization, called the ECF Art Center, mounts exhibitions for the artists several times a year and arranges for the work to appear in high-profile film and television productions. And while the money generated from these sales isn’t enough to live on, most of the artists qualify for state assistance with their living costs, so they get by. What is this — some kind of communist nightmare?!
This would be a sweet deal for most artists, but most wouldn‘t be willing to take on the extra challenges that come with the deal — Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism and assorted organic mental abnormalities. The ECF Art Center is a private nonprofit foundation, or rather, the most visible segment of a larger one — the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, which has existed since 1946, and operates a wide variety of programs that help the developmentally disabled cope with every aspect of life. From eight or so locations in the Los Angeles area, the charity provides residential services, life-skills development, assisted-workshop employment and recreational facilities to more than 1,500 children and adults with congenital or traumatic biological mental problems. The Art Center, founded in the late ‘60s, is technically one of ECF’s Developmental Activity Centers, where clients (or “consumers”) learn and practice job skills that allow them to participate in allegedly normal society. (Yeah, right — that‘s what they told me at art school too!)
The ECF Art Center is among the oldest of many similar programs throughout the world — one of the more conspicuous being the Creativity Explored program in San Francisco, which has successfully integrated its clientele with the mainstream art world via exhibitions at S.F.’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and at commercial galleries here and in N.Y. “The Creativity Explored people came down here when they were getting started, and modeled themselves after us,” says ECF Art Center‘s director, Dr. Richard Webb-Msemaji. “People come [to see us] from all over the world. Some of them are very selective about who they let in their program — they aren’t equipped to deal with the same degrees of behavioral issues that we are. Some of our artists come from very messed-up homes. We try to emphasize our role as a creative, therapeutic milieu, and we don‘t have the academic or art-world connections that give places like Creativity Explored their greater exposure.”
The Center doesn’t exactly bury its head in the sand, though. ECF artwork has been seen in movies like Erin Brockovich; Spider-Man; Girl, Interrupted; Training Day and Red Dragon, as well as in TV shows, including Seinfeld, Ally McBeal and, somewhat subversively, as student work at the elite “LacArts” school in HBO‘s Six Feet Under. Aaron Brothers turns over exhibition space to the Center several times a year, and Warner Bros. Records in Burbank hosts an annual sale. Currently, the Center is bustling to prepare for its annual Holiday Open House, which takes place this Saturday, December 7, from noon until 4 p.m. only, at the actual King Boulevard studios.
The calculated scarcity of objects in the art market is just one of The Art World’s delusional sacred cows barbecued by the kind of art created at the ECF Art Center — generally known as Outsider Art or Art Brut. Outsider Art has become a catchall for all kinds of self-taught or marginal idioms of self-expression, but its roots as an art “movement” lie in the Surrealists‘ fascination with the Prinzhorn Collection, an archive of drawings, paintings and sculpture created by inmates of the mental asylums of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the early 20th century (many suffering the same developmental differences as the ECF’s population).
Since the ‘80s, Outsider Art has commanded an enormous market parallel to the conventional gallery system, generating an equally enormous animosity from threatened insiders, and resulting in separate systems of distribution and valuation. The mere presence of Outsider Art takes The Art World to task on a number of fundamental issues — the labored and reactionary dismissal of the obvious link between mental “difference” and visual creativity; the idea that meaningful contemporary art is the pinnacle of some sort of societal evolution best left to university-educated professionals; the centrality (or even necessity) of verbal, theoretical rationalizations to the process of making art; and, most damagingly, the denial of art’s therapeutic power — as a form of psychological and spiritual healing and growth, as a way of being in the world.
The real force behind these issues is the tremendous formal strength of the work. Not only do Outsider works compete (without a handicap) in the basic languages of colors, composition, surface, line, texture, spatiality and value, but they also possess tremendous humor, emotional impact, and deep, preverbal conceptual complexity, vitality and novelty. They also compete in price. Collectors have already discovered the work of Tammy Brakins, as well as Milton Davis‘ intricate black-and-white figurative ink drawings. But even their prices — and we’re talking framed original painting — top out at around $500. Equally substantial works are available for less than $100, with many original pieces going for as little as $5 or $10.
As the validity of The Art World‘s monopoly on cultural importance erodes, the relative value of Outsider and Insider will become more proportionate. Perhaps this will inspire academics and mainstream cultural workers to question some of the assumptions underlying their positions of authority, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. In the meantime, one thing is certain — these prices won‘t last!
I first became aware of the extraordinary fine art workshops profiled in this catalog when my friend Veronica Lajambe, having graduated from the prestigious MFA program at CalArts, took a job at the Educational Children’s Foundation (ECF) Art Center in the Baldwin Hills community of Los Angeles. I had known about Art Brut, Outsider Art, Visionary Folk Art, and even the work of autistic savants such as “Nadia” since I was a teenager, and immediately recognized the commonalities between the startling and original work I saw (and began to collect) at ECF and the still-controversial but firmly entrenched parallel art world burgeoning in pockets around the globe.
Most surprising to me was the fact that there was so much of this art being produced right under the L.A. art world’s nose, with almost zero recognition; even the Outsider Art community seemed disinterested. It occurred to me that the issue was more quantitative than qualitative: market tinkering in the mainstream international art trade is taken for granted, but even in the Outsider art world, scarcity makes the artworks more interesting and valuable. The ECF had racks full of dazzling work, formally beautiful and inventive, funny, deep, and occasionally touched by what I can only describe as genius. The questions posed by this superabundance of material and its unlikely source were simply too big and fundamental for the art world to comprehend.
Then I began to learn of the existence of many similar centers throughout California, where artists with a wide variety of developmental disabilities could work uninterrupted for up to forty hours a week. They’re supplied with materials, space, technical assistance, and opportunities to exhibit and sell their artwork. Usually the only qualification, other than being developmentally different before the age of eighteen, is the desire to make art. This seemed to me phenomenally progressive––would that “real” artists (meaning me and my friends from art school) could swing such a deal with the government!
It turns out this unusual arrangement is a result of something called the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act of 1969, a landmark piece of California legislation that guarantees financial support and regulation of facilities for people with such developmental differences as Down’s syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and so on. The Lanterman Act which emphasized the autonomy of the “consumers,” established a precedent of respect and empowerment which has allowed previously segregated populations to develop life skills and integrate with mainstream society. One aspect is the fostering of artistic skills in the various centers whose artists are included in Radiant Spaces: Private Domain.
As I looked further into the world of art by the developmentally disabled, I learned about the cluster of centers in the Bay area set up by Dr. Elias Katz and Florence Ludins-Katz in the 1970’s, in particular Creativity Explored (CE). At Creativity Explored, artists Harrell Fletcher and Elizabeth Meyer instigated a series of hybrid projects that blurred the boundaries between contemporary mainstream art practice and the more conservative media favored by the art centers. In particular, they published a ‘zine of called Whipper Snapper Nerd and produced videos with David Jarvey, whose obsession with the pilot episode of Star Trek fueled much of his work. Whipper Snapper Nerd , an exhibition of work from CE, was mounted at the prestigious Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and subsequently at commercial galleries in L.A. and New York. Jarvey’s video work was included in Tyler Stallings’s UFO-themed exhibition Are We Touched? at the Huntington Beach Art Center, and a subsequent collaboration with Fletcher was included in the Whitney Biennial.
These efforts are of particular interest to me because they transgress––or perhaps blithely ignore––those emphatic but unspoken boundaries that segregate the wealth of art objects produced by art world outsiders, and the Trojan horseful of implications it embodies, from the arena of mainstream contemporary art. As an artist and professional art critic, I find myself constantly posing the same questions: “What is Art?” and “Who decides?” Almost all artwork produced nowadays is predicated on a host of assumptions about why art is made in the first place, and why some of it is more meaningful, and/or valuable, than the rest. Not coincidentally, the channels by which art finds its level of cultural and economic significance tend to be labyrinthine and heavily policed by those with a philosophical or commercial stake.
It isn’t so much a conspiracy but rather the lowest common denominator of individuals looking out for their own interests. Obviously, even if it occurred to him, Jasper Johns (who incorporated the image of an anonymous autistic child’s drawing into a series of paintings in the early 1990s) wouldn’t refuse millions of dollars for one of his canvases just because the system that sets its value is skewed. And while mainstream institutions are occasionally willing to exhibit outsider work, it is invariably positioned as such, Radiant Spaces: Private Domain being a case in point. These exhibitions are essentially a positive celebration of the work, but they never quite cross that line.
Even if, for example, Judith Scott were to be included––which, in my opinion, would be entirely appropriate–– in a survey of the most exciting contemporary sculptors in California, it would be remarkable, an anomaly, and a statement of some kind. The investment in the idea that art is an accomplishment and that art objects are trophies of the triumphs of the artist’s intellect and the collector’s discernment is so deeply imbedded in our galleries, museums, and universities (not to mention the literature of art theory and criticism) that most art world professionals are unaware of how blatantly it overrides the evidence presented to their senses.
Artists themselves are more willing to trust their eyes. Most of the people I know who express unqualified appreciation of art by the developmentally disabled are, in fact, practicing artists. They regard developmentally disabled artists as equals and are unmoved––as artists generally are when evaluating others’ artworks––by pity. Many of the creative struggles I have witnessed in these art centers are the same creative struggles I continue to face in my own studio practice.
Many of the issues addressed by John MacGregor in the interview in this catalogue (as well as his other writings) ring as true for most “real” artists I’ve known as they do for those with developmental differences. For example, the pressure to please noncreative authority figures is at least as prevalent. Moreover, most artists who claim to know what they are doing and why they are doing it seem to be more caught up in sublimating the anxiety inherent in channeling the irrational than in harnessing their intelligence to expand their creative work. That is, if they are actually involved in creative work at all. As MacGregor observes, “The average art student and the average artist are merely imitating what they think art is at any given moment.”
Perversely, due to the attention and commerce attending the Outsider Art World, quite a few “average artists” are now imitating Outsider work in hopes of making career inroads––try searching “Outsider Art” on eBay or Google. Five years ago these artists would have been making elegant retro geometric abstractions; today they’re wrapping dolls in yarn or charting out imaginary kingdoms in cramped doodles, or worse, claiming that their preexisting formulaic mediocrities have been ignored by the mainstream because of their dangerous “Outsider” cachet.
There are, of course, plenty of genuinely creative modern and contemporary artists who have incorporated influences from the art of children, the insane, the naïve, or the developmentally different, as has been the case for the entire history of Outsider Art –Nolde, Kandinsky, Picasso, Klee, Ernst, Bellmer, Dubuffet, the COBRA group, the Hairy Who?, Borofsky, Kelley, Shaw, and on and on. Others have fully detailed these correspondences elsewhere, but I suspect that if a survey were conducted and archives were sifted for evidence, a picture would emerge far different from the prevailing concept of a homogenous elite condescending to exploit the raw and unsophisticated energy of Outsider art for their higher purposes.
What would become apparent instead is a picture of a decentralized, nonhierarchical network of individuals who are blessed––and cursed––with an ability to make art and who are able to a greater or lesser extent, to recognize their fellow cursees. Plenty of mainstream artists could be (and many have been) diagnosed with the same or similar pathologies as the artists in Radiant Spaces: Private Domain . Many of the art school-trained people who teach the developmentally different testify to having experienced an epiphany as a result of working with their clients: they have awakened to the real, hardwired, ahistorical context of their creative work, a context whose existence the mainstream art world (particularly the academic branch) seems bent on denying. Yet repeatedly, these artist/teachers express the tremendous relief at the realization that they don’t have to prove themselves in the arena of postmodern theory to have permission to do what they want. The only difference between such artists and the artists in Radiant Spaces: Private Domain is that the latter don’t have all this excess cultural baggage to slough off before they start working.
One answer to “What is art?” which has held up so far is “the documentation of extraordinary states of consciousness.” It doesn’t seem far-fetched to me to describe Art Worlds–– Mainstream, Outsider, whatever–– as systems for the containment and regulation of potentially revolutionary subjective realities; certainly the ghettoization of Outsider Art from the mainstream protects sacred and profitable fictions about scarcity of product and the value of an MFA.
When I set out to write an essay this catalogue, I had a few ideas – the most tempting of which was to write as if this were a group show of contemporary mainstream artists: I would discuss the works’ formal qualities and conceptual content without mentioning of the artists’ status as “Other.” But that would be a statement. I realized it’s that “as if” that needs to be gotten rid of. I also realized that this was an issue only for the part of my mind engaged in art critical and historical issues, and that as an artist, I couldn’t care less. Art speaks to art, and those who are able take part in the conversation. The rest of us stand around talking about it.
A dance, audio video poem recorded the day after Lohbado’s hernia surgery. When one pauses to examine or contemplate what appears to be really happening, a complex molecular world of point instants and atomic activity becomes evident. A huge city manifests as a theater of molecular activity, a place of speed, noise, surveillance, vanity, power struggle, confusion, ecological concerns, horror, aesthetic activity and appreciation of beauty and friendship.
Roughly translated as “Music From the Garbage” Kinshasa’s Fulu Miziki prove that great music does not begin with a trip to the Guitar Center. Let us hope Hollywood will abandon its dreary and repetitive ways and invite Boots Riley to direct an Afrofuturist epic that will star Fulu Miziki, blow all of our minds and touch off the Glorious Revolution.