A Pacific Standard Time Travelogue, Part 1

For someone interested in Los Angeles art, Pacific Standard Time (PST), the Getty Initiative that connects over 60 Southern California cultural institutions and museums in an 11-month exploration and celebration of postwar Los Angeles culture, feels like a limited-time offer for an all-you-can-eat buffet. I have been visiting my parents’ home less and less over the past few years, feigning adulthood, but the advent of PST has rekindled my interest in visiting the old ancestral stomping grounds. This school year (2011-2012), I am capitalizing on my family connections and making three trips to Southern California—over Thanksgiving break, winter break, and in February for the CAA conference—to take in as much of PST as possible. Here, I’ll report on my pilgrimage in a series of three posts.

Las Palmas Dr. in Fullerton on 21 November 2011

Itinerary: 10 exhibitions, 1 panel
Money spent on parking: $26
Money spent on tickets: $10
Tanks of gas: 2.5
Freeways traveled: the 10, PCH, the 60, the 5, the 91
Exhibition catalogs purchased: 1
Tchotchkes purchased: Corita mugs ($52.50 for four)

My November trip to PST was only four days long, so I packed in as much as I could, the priority being exhibitions that would close before my next trip. This emphasis made for a diverse and surprising itinerary.

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Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism


The Modernist[1] design aesthetic is so tightly woven into our Ikea-furnished everyday lives that it is rather easy to forget its origins as an attempted movement toward a Utopian fantasy of the built environment. In visual contrast to many proto-Modern design practices, the Corbusian aesthetics that emerged in the early twentieth century exhibited an at times brutally rigid geometric quality. A stylistically modern organization of space seemed to respond to the contemporaneous disarray of the wartime human condition by making a silent demand for a more controlled way of life. Indeed, as modern architect Berthold Lubetkin stated, “The philosophical aim and orderly character of [Modernist] designs are diametrically opposed to the intellectual climate in which we live . . . my personal interpretation is that these buildings cry out for a world that has never come into being.”[2] In other words, modern architecture seems to have been the defense mechanism of a zeitgeist. It tried—as some would argue, in vain–to represent an environmental solution to a problem that was actually unsolvable. Continue reading “Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism”

Christian Marclay’s The Clock

Christian Marclay’s The Clock at White Cube

“Somehow this suggests that the cinema offers an illusive or temporary escape from physical dissolution. The false immortality of the film gives the viewer an illusion of control over eternity – but ‘the superstars’ are fading.” – Robert Smithson

After having debuted last fall at White Cube in London to a torrent of critical acclaim and popular fanfare, Christian Marclay’s The Clock enjoyed no less flattering a response during its run at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea. Indeed, few works on view recently in New York have attracted such a degree of attention. Arriving at the gallery at about ten after two on a weekday afternoon during the last week the show was open, I had to wait in line for more than half an hour to be admitted. Apparently the lines grew to at least two or three times that long by the end of the week.

So what was all the fuss about? The work consists of a single-screen continuous 24-hour video montage composed of a vast array of movie clips, with source films ranging from yesterday’s Hollywood blockbusters to early- and mid-century foreign classics. The scene in each clip occurs at a distinct time of day, which is made known to the audience by a clock in the background, the dialogue, or some other means. Marclay presents these clips in such a way that the time in each corresponds to the actual time of day in which it appears on-screen. So, for example, when the clock in the background of a clip reads 2:30, it actually is 2:30, and the time in whatever clip comes up five minutes later will read 2:35. The work is thus, to a certain extent, exactly what the title says it is – a functioning clock – although not the kind one would want to live by, for its references to time are frequently somewhat hidden, encoded, or otherwise obscured.

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Comment: Learning from Las Vegas

The following is adapted from a longer presentation by Brett Lazer at the IFA In-House Symposium on January 22, 2010.

Learning from Las Vegas and the Antinomy of the Postmodern Manifesto

Along with Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966), Learning from Las Vegas (1972) forms Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s classic articulation of a new path for architecture in the face of late Modernism. The basic assertion of the book is a turn towards the vernacular – not a vernacular of gables and dormers, nor Modernism’s industrial vernacular, but rather the commercial vernacular, with its apotheosis in the neon lights of the Las Vegas strip. Venturi and Scott Brown see the Modernist rejection of history, ornament, and denotative symbolism as irresponsible, empty, boring, and inappropriate. The expressionistic use of space and light that Modernism requires is incommensurate with the scale of American society, reformatted in recent years to the automobile and the highway. As Venturi puts it, “articulated architecture today is like a minuet in a discotheque.”[1] However, taking on Modernism is no easy task, requiring rhetorical contortions that call into question the very foundations of Venturi and Scott Brown’s project.

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Found: Textile and Tradition

Photo: Matthew Septimus

For Sergej Jensen’s “first American museum survey,” MoMA PS1 has put on an exhibition of over twenty recent works that Jensen constructed with many types of fabric and colorants, from burlap to cashmere and chlorine bleach to acrylic paint. Most of Jensen’s textiles are found, and his use of them is analogous to his use of found conventions, as he interprets inherited modernist traditions through scavenged fabrics. This acknowledgment of disorder and process renders Jensen’s works moving in their honest exploration of fraying edges and uneven seams.

The 2008 piece Blessed presents this function most directly. Two pieces of cashmere are sewn together and pulled taut, unevenly stretching the warp and weft. At the single horizontal seam, which is neatly stitched, the irregular end of each piece is clearly visible through the thin textile. Fabric edges are usually hidden and tucked away—similar to folding the end of wrapping paper, hemming is a way to disguise the imperfect sides of cut or torn material. But here Jensen displays both realities simultaneously: the polished product and its unrefined components.

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