Where has the Summer gone? It has passed by us and, as it goes with time, is drawing to an end. With it’s end has brought another inevitable conclusion that we completely forgot about: the ending of Los Angeles’ art biennial at the Hammer. This means that you need to hustle if you want to see the show—and that the winners of the three prizes have been announced. Who could they be? What does it mean? Let us discuss.
First, the obvious: Michael and Magdalena Frimkess won the Career Achievement Award. This is something we knew from day one of the show, when the prizes and “cast list” were announced. None of the other seasoned artists stood a chance and Frimkess’ folksy, wonderful, very Los Angeles work was undeniably getting something. An unquestionable congratulations to them! (And excellent attempt, Marcia Hafif.)
The Public Recognition Award—the one that we all voted for—was both unsurprising and very surprising: delightful oddity and Made In L.A. court jester Jennifer Moon took home the gold. Like the Frimkess, Moon is an easy to love standout of the participating artists. She has spunk and personality and her work—while verbose—is quite great. She brought an expected and unexpected whimsy to the show and her connection to KCHUNG obviously helped further her connection to viewers. Did I vote for Jennifer Moon? No. Did she deserve the prize? Yes. Then again, can you really question who “the public” picked? (This also raises the question of who “the public” is. Maybe all of KCHUNG and their extended family ganged up to applaud Moon? Maybe we’re a lot more scholarly than we think? Maybe her egg really did hypnotize you?)
The biggest prize—The Mohn Award—is where the issues arise. The $100,000 in cash was awarded to the Los Angeles Museum Of Art, Alice Könitz‘s curatorial and artistic mini-gallery in Eagle Rock. The LAMOA’s presentation was an inaccessible, non-touring gallery within the gallery, a mini-survey of artists that was difficult to understand in the sense of its presentation and subsequent unpacking was too light. You cannot introduce a new cast of characters into a room without giving each of them their own, thorough moment. To me, it was an adorable concept executed quite poorly.
What’s even more maddening about this award from art thinkers to the artists is that it was predestined since the beginning: if you remember from The Skinny back in March, Michael Ned Holte and Connie Butler waxed on about themes like “shows within shows” and artist groups, that these concepts are what are defining Los Angeles now. Sure, that has a place in the quilt of Los Angeles contemporary art—but is that LA art now? Probably not. Moreover, the win confirms that the institution setup an assist for itself to slam dunk, a little masturbatory act that can’t go unnoticed: the over excitement for this questionable “movement” was always there. It’s also an example of curators congratulating curators. It’s painfully post-conceptual in the sense that an installation by an artist of other artist’s work—a gesture arranged by one artist consisting of other artists—is what we deem as LA now. The new textbook of what contemporary LA art has been written and clearly had an ironically one-track mind.
Should LAMOA have taken the grand prize? Why not. Who is to say that Könitz’s work was better than who we predicted? All of the participants were worthy of the win. The concern here is that it gets a little troubling when a gallery wins the grand prize of all the solo artists. Including art cliques was a cute idea but ultimately it proves that cliquishness exists in all cultures and in all intellectual spheres. Isn’t that what befell the last show?
Surely, it is not easy being an LA art biennial.