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Orange County Museum of Art 2010 California Biennial
by sarah bancroft
Nov 2010

Like Miko Smiling for Christopher Williams from the Reconsidered Archive of Michelle duBois
Zoe Crosher
B/W Fiber Print
20" x 24"

This year the Orange County Museum of Art presents the "2010 California Biennial," the culminating biennial of the first decade of the 21st century. The biennial has become a cornerstone of the museum's program, supporting young and emerging artists when they need it most and providing audiences with an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the most recent developments in art in California. Presenting approximately 150 works of art and installations as well as nearly 30 programs and performances, the exhibition appeals to diverse interests and continues OCMA's history of presenting contemporary art in California.

So... what is a biennial? How and why does one choose an artist, a coherent group of artists? Can any one biennial capture the flavor and pulse of artists working across the state? And how in the world does one begin the enormous task of taking the pulse of the emerging artists and trends throughout California?

As a relative newcomer--I moved to California in the spring of 2008 to begin work as curator at Orange County Museum of Art--the development of the "2010 California Biennial" exhibition has been a mission of discovery. Arriving with no allegiances nor acquired biases, relative ignorance of the many cliques and groups that define the larger Los Angeles art community, and with no pre-defined "program" to endorse--I set out quietly exploring, with an open mind. Because one doesn't know what the field of artists looks like until you walk through it, I didn't discriminate across media or by defining in advance what I was looking for. I just got down to the task of visiting as many artists across the state as I physically could. And asking myself the whole time, "so what am I going to do? What shall this biennial be?"

Although a group exhibition may be defined by a theme from the outset, a biennial is the opportunity to respond to what is happening rather than to cast the artists in a role according to a prefabricated script the curator writes. For the "2010 California Biennial," the goal is to capture the compelling range of artists and art practices happening across the state today. To start, I compiled lists of artists whose work I'd seen, read about, and whom were recommended by other artists and curatorial colleagues. This list included hundreds of people; artists and collectives who, over the past two years, have provided something of value, something of note, to the scene.

After researching each one, we narrowed the list to nearly 150 people and collectives for studio visits. These studio visits informed who was ultimately chosen for the biennial, a group that shows the strength and wide array of practices across the state, a selection of artists whom I think people should be aware of, pay attention to, and watch going forward.

The artist and studio visits that informed this exhibition were arduous and wholly satisfying. Via planes, buses, subways, bikes, on foot, by car, by boat, on dirt roads, in strip malls, on campuses, in urban centers, in suburban neighborhoods, in galleries and garages, lofts and living rooms, residency programs and cafes, independent art spaces, at fabricators and in offices, the artists shared something of their practice. No visit lasted less than an hour. Some ideas, concepts, or approaches seeped out more slowly than others during these visits; some artists are quite erudite in explaining or presenting their work, and for others the artwork does most of the communicating. The artists I met with and the studios I visited extended from north of San Francisco, to south of the border in Tijuana.

It was immediately apparent that certain artists and collaborative groups would be included in the biennial. For others, the remnants of the visit worked on me for weeks, or for a couple of months before I came to a decision. In either case, the work, concept or motivation may be un-attractive; it may be disturbing or cause discomfit. It might push my buttons. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be exhibited, it simply means some viewers may not want to live with it at home. Artwork in an institution serves different purposes, can achieve different goals than work in a domestic setting. Perhaps this is why "civilians" find museums so difficult. We curators often speak to an in-crowd, people whose language we shareÑart historians, artists, gallerists, writers, critics, and colleagues. But, we are working to bring crucial, new, under-recognized work to a larger audience, to share, to offer something to consider. Not everything will appeal to one's sensibilities, politics, and desires. The goal is to keep looking and to keep the visitor looking.

What is the sum of this undertaking, of this biennial? When the artists and collectives in the biennial were confirmed in May of this year, there were 23 living and working in greater Los Angeles and Orange County, 13 practicing in the Bay area, and nine from the greater San Diego area. The presentation includes many emerging artists (many without gallery representation)--as well as a small selection of established and mid-career artists who have presented discrete bodies of work in the US, and often abroad with a great deal of success, yet remain under-recognized in California or in Southern California at present.

This extremely diverse array of practices includes painting and drawing, film and video, multi-media installation, performance and dance, photography and photographic processes, sculpture, sound and text-based work, and more. The artwork produced by the biennial group touches on local, national, and global themes; and likewise reflects an international set of artists working in California today. There are a number of artists who engage with identity--through religion and race, sexual orientation, nationality, or heritage. Others for whom politics and provocation are part of their practice. Abstraction and figuration still feature prominently in painting practices across the state, they are neither dead nor lost missions as it turns out. Performance and audience participation, local environments and global concerns, collections and typologies, accretion and ablation, memory and nostalgia, presentation and perception, whimsy and gravity, the body and the mind, experience and knowledge, and poetry and prose are all explored and on offer.

The exhibition has been organized to give both a sense of place--what is happening in certain regions--and to present diverse practices thematically and by media. There are galleries devoted to works on paper, to photography, and to painting; discrete presentations that feature Bay Area and San Diego-based practitioners; spaces fully occupied by an individual artist; and a gallery activated by works that address the idea of transcendence, travel, and passage in distinct ways. Although it would be a challenge to neatly summarize what is happening in the state or in individual regions, there are compelling trends: San Diego has a great number of artists practicing sculpture, a trend noted during my studio visits and that is reflected in the selections for this biennial. While planning the layout for this exhibition, I noted a great deal of amassing collections and creating typologies amongst the practitioners in the Bay Area, whether through sculpture, painting, photography, or process-based work. Los Angeles is home to many rigorous practitioners of large-scale installation and conceptual work who use video, text, objects, even taxidermy. Of course, these observations do not define the practices in these geographic areas; there are no hard and fast rules.

In a change from previous formats, this exhibition catalog will serve as a document of the exhibition--with a detailed map of the installation layout and installation shots of site-specific works therein. To do so, this publication will go to print just after the exhibition opens, to allow the exhibition to be photographed and the final arrangement in the galleries to be plotted. California is an inimitable and variegated environment in which to work as an artist, something this biennial captures. My purpose is foremost to champion emerging artists and celebrate a selection of more established practitioners working in the state today, and to create a rich presentation that speaks to the exhilarating work made not only in the fertile climate of Los Angeles, but in Northern California and the Southlands as well. This is a focused exhibition, smaller than the last biennial, yet providing a deeper presentation of artists from San Francisco and especially San Diego. More than that, this exhibition is about creating a forum for the artists, for the artwork, and for audiences to participate. People come to museums to see something new, be exposed to work they wouldnÕt otherwise have the opportunity to experience, to be pushed in some way, even inspired. And so, my role, my desire, is to provide an opportunity for that engagement.­­

Artist Interviews:
For the 2010 California Biennial exhibition catalog, curatorial team at the Orange County Museum of Art conducted extensive interviews with each participating artist to discuss their practice. The statements highlighted below were excerpted from these interviews and give an idea of the wide range of voices and approaches included in the exhibition. Full interviews will be published in the catalog.

David Adey
"The idea of creating something new through an objectÕs destruction and restoration is where many of my ideas begin, but each piece is informed by the particular process and takes on its own meaning. I think there is potential for a range of implications to develop out of these processes, but investigating personal and cultural ideas of faith, consumption and identity are continued areas of interest for me."

Brian Dick
"I like when things fall apart in a funny or interesting way. I am taking what would normally be considered practice or private space and putting it in a public context, allowing for all the false starts, mistakes, and happy accidents to be out in the open. I suppose it is a process of creating equality between artist and audience if they are interested in playing along."

Zoe Crosher
"The question became how does one take this mass of photographs, ultimately things, and go beyond a simple re-presentation, beyond simply adding more strange images to the pre-existing and already fetishized world of the amateur photograph? As I am obsessed with the fiction of a singular image or approach to history, I realized mining the concept of the archive, and this archive in particular (given its bizarre meanderings and wonderings) had a way of exposing the fissures, that I was interested in, from the end of the analog/materiality to questions of what to include/not include in the meta-narrative."

Dru Donovan
"Working with the twins was a really interesting experience because of their deep connection. At one point when I was making that photograph I asked one of the twins to hold the other's face and look directly into her eyes. My flash broke, so I stopped photographing to fix it. After a minute or two I looked up and saw that one of the twins was still holding the other's face. Their eyes were locked on one another as if in trance. It is this connection, this uncontrollable element, that I can't make up when photographing."

Finishing School
"Performance, participation, collaboration, and audience activation are important to social practice, which provides personal, open-ended contact; accountability; and intimacy with the artists and their ideas: dialogue that is human, interpersonal, as opposed to dialogue that is solely mediated in the form of a work of art. Also, people love to role-play. We try to capitalize on that. Children naturally do this. We try to bring that to our work as well."

Glenna Jennings
"I both fear and rely on the 'personal" and the 'universal' for artistic inspiration and production. Inheritance came about after my father passed away and left me seventeen guns. I had no idea how to deal with these 'loaded' objects either physically or ideologically. The resulting portrait work is very personal, not because I consider myself an incredibly interesting subject, but because I trust direct sources. The death of a loved one is a common catalyst for artists and writers to consider the expendability of our time in this temporary space."

Barry MacGregor Johnston
"My goal is complete and violent ignorance of the place and its wishes. Too much of life is dictated by the place it possesses. The question of place is: can we exploit our present condition more than it can exploit us? Actually, the real question is: can live entertainment stop time and therefore destroy space? Or can live entertainment stop time so that we can find, in the intensity of our togetherness, an instant of love that banishes the very possibility that any other place in the world can even exist? É And then we must go further and banish the space that we are supposedly inhabiting right now, banish the 'here.' We are not even here."

Stanya Kahn
"Humor has also been a central device in all the work IÕve made. I discovered its power in performance, specifically as a way to connect with the people. To establish camaraderie and give permission to laugh (because inevitably at some point the work also gets heavy). Once you're in, humor is freed up to start working on more complex levels as a strategy: upending expectations, disrupting norms, subverting meaning, interrupting hierarchy, critiquing the status quo.
At its best, humor plays with lines of agreement, while simultaneously relying on agreements: we laugh because we recognize. Freud says part of what gives us pleasure in humor is the experience of recognition."

Andy Kolar
"I don't really think about being an 'abstract painter' specifically. I make a lot of different work and really donÕt differentiate between the practices whether I am making paintings, sculpture, etc. I do work abstractly though as I think that there is more potential through the work having a sort of vague quality. By this I mean that, I find it difficult to work with images or with objects that already have imbued meanings or distinctions. I would rather make work that does not already require knowledge of a codified language of a specific image, text or whatever, leaving the end result open to the interpretation of the viewer."

Camilo Ontiveros
"To think about success and failure in a project predetermines its outcome. In my practice, I leave the outcome open to change and I accept that how it develops comes out of the many steps of the process. My process is dialogical. I often see myself as the middleman who presents a platform upon which things happen."

Taravat Talepasand
"Traditional Persian miniature painting is a type of storytelling. I was trained in Iran but had always tried to modernize the tradition of Persian painting. Rather than depending on the past I had become more interested in the present and future. My choice of painting with egg tempera is my way of connecting to the history of painting while the content deals with the now. Tremendous changes are happening culturally and the best way to follow that is through media, politics, and popular culture. Living outside of Iran I found my way into Iranian Pop culture through the Internet. Following the lives of Iranian youth and their struggle has been my obsession."

Nina Waisman
"Art (and non-art) reception is always participatory--perception of objective matter is actively shaped by perceivers' physiological and cultural histories. As a former dancer, I'm interested in how we think through our whole bodies--not just our eyes--thus many of my works bring such body-based thinking to the surface. The spaces I create, though tech-ed out to varying degrees, are often odd exaggerations of everyday interactions that I'd like to raise experiential questions about."

Patrick Wilson
"Over the last ten years or so, my work has gradually evolved from somewhat minimal to something more frenetic and full of energy. With the increased amount of information, I often have to walk the line between dissonance and harmony, but I think that kind of tension helps to keep the paintings from feeling sort of sleepy. I'm never quite sure where IÕm headed, as one thing leads to the next, but knowing when a painting is finished is often as simple as a sudden rush of adrenaline."

John Zurier
"For the past couple of years I have found myself drawn to blues not just in nature, but also when looking at paintings in museums. I saw a painting by the Swedish painter Torsten Andersson, The Sky between Us. It is a very light blue, and I was thinking of this painting when I made my first Muuratsalo painting. And there are two paintings, both Depositions from the CrossÑGerard David in the Frick, and the Rogier van der Weyden in the Prado--in which, for me, Mary's grief is expressed and felt through the blue. In both paintings the blue goes from the deepest blue to the faintest light blue as if the color is traveling through the painting like a scent. The airiness and tenderness, the way the blue mirrors feeling, in these two paintings were in my mind when I started both the Muuratsalo and the Night paintings."

On View October 24 - March 13, 2011

2010 California Biennial Artists: David Adey, Agitprop, Gil Blank, Nate Boyce, Luke Butler, Juan Capistran, Zoe Crosher, Brian Dick, Dru Donovan, Mari Eastman, Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab, Carlee Fernandez, Finishing School, Eve Fowler, Rebecca Goldfarb, Katy Grannan, Alexandra Grant, Sherin Guirguis, Drew Heitzler, Violet Hopkins, Alex Israel, Glenna Jennings, Barry MacGregor Johnston, Vishal Jugdeo, Stanya Kahn, Andy Kolar, Jennifer Locke, Los Angeles Urban Rangers, Tom Mueske, Tucker Nichols, Camilo Ontiveros, Nikki Pressley, Andy Ralph, Will Rogan, Paul Schiek, Taravat Talepasand, Wu Tsang, Zlatan Vukosavljevic, Nina Waisman, Flora Wiegmann, Allison Wiese, Lisa Williamson, David Wilson, Patrick Wilson, John Zurier.

To download a PDF of the ORANGE COUNTY MUSEUM of ART 2010 CALIFORNIA BIENNIAL, please click here.

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