ARTILLERY MAGAZINE : POWER TO THE ARTISTS: CLIFF BENJAMIN

Cool, As a Ticking Bomb

by Tucker Neel · 

May 5, 2015 · in FeaturesMay 2015

For 11 years, Cliff Benjamin and Erin Kermanikian have co-owned Western Project in Culver City. Together they exhibit work that’s consistently challenging and boundary-breaking, representing artists like Tom of Finland (before he was MOCA-acceptable), Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose (whose work is the best kind of shocking), and Ron Athey (who Benjamin accurately describes as “Promethean”). Kermanikian’s unflappable youthful insight compliments Benjamin’s experience, and their dedication to the art and artists they love is palpable every time they talk shop.

Benjamin isn’t like most gallery owners. His arms are covered in tattoos and his attire is often more leather bar than Moet VIP lounge. He’s as queer as can be, a walking assault on normalcy, and that’s just part of what makes him so compelling. He’s also been an artist, professor, art dealer, gallery director and gallery owner. For nearly half a century he's been part of LA’s cultural identity, making him a kind of griot, always ready with a story about something people forgot, don’t know, or refuse to talk about. That’s why I’m waiting for him in a Silver Lake cafe to ask for a story or two.

Cliff Benjamin at gallery with artwork, photo by Joe Schmelzer

Cliff Benjamin at gallery with artwork, photo by Joe Schmelzer

Artillery: Tell me how LA has changed in your lifetime and what do you think about the art world today? 
Cliff Benjamin: I never think of this as a competitive business. I didn’t when I was an artist, and I don’t now as a gallerist. Most gallery owners don’t come from a teaching or a working artist background. I taught off-and-on for six or seven years, and I always liked teaching. I think teaching is more about giving people permission. So I think my background lets me go into a studio, and if an artist is stuck, I know. I get it, and we can talk. I also like that I get to help artists be self-sufficient. I personally know how hard it is; being an artist is the hardest job in the world.

What do you think has been the biggest change in the LA art world?
The biggest change is the illusion there’s a big collector base here. All these galleries move here, and they think they’re going to do this and that. But they can’t make it. Unless you’re from here, you just don’t get it.

Why is that?
LA is so much about lifestyle and unless you understand that endemically, you won’t understand this climate, this culture. If Pace Gallery couldn’t make it—well… .

What do you think people fail to remember about LA’s art world? Who gets left out?
LA has zero memory. So, for instance, the Getty’s PST show had ad nauseam talk about the Ferus Gallery. You would think there would have been an equally huge chapter on Nick Wilder. He was barely mentioned! He was enormously influential. He showed Nauman, Twombly, Alberto Burri, John McLaughlin, David Hockney and so many more. And Nick had these famous openings and crazy lifestyle.

Carole Caroompas, Before and After Frankenstein: The Woman Who Knew Too Much: The Couple Who Had No Umbilicus, 1994, Private Collection, Los Angeles, California, courtesy Western Project

Carole Caroompas, Before and After Frankenstein: The Woman Who Knew Too Much: The Couple Who Had No Umbilicus, 1994, Private Collection, Los Angeles, California, courtesy Western Project

So why do you think he was so absent from PST?
Because it just didn’t have the same buzz as Ferus. Ferus was a press machine.

In terms of artists, who do you think deserves more historical attention?
I will say that PST did a great service to the artists from the late ’60s and ’70s who haven’t been part of the general dialog. But I’m going to be biased. It infuriates me that Carole Caroompas is not in the same dialog as Mike Kelley. Her work is just as crusty, incisive, beautiful and crazy as it ever was. She’s never flinched. She’s taught at Otis for almost 30 years now, and she’s been as influential a teacher as John Baldessari. But because she’s a woman—there have been so many women and people of color who haven’t been put in that hopper. It’s tragic.

Carole Caroompas, Uncle Lenny: Right as Wrong/Wrong as Right: Straight Men, 2010, courtesy Western Project

Carole Caroompas, Uncle Lenny: Right as Wrong/Wrong as Right: Straight Men, 2010, courtesy Western Project

In so many ways, there’s so little honesty and kindness in the art world. That’s what we need to cultivate. To do otherwise just seems like too much work to me. I mean, if you’re interested in power then maybe, but not me.
That drive for power, for being cool, is just a cover-up, a hungry ego. The whole notion of being cool is a ticking time bomb. Being cool is the booby prize. It really is.

DION JOHNSON: Chromatic Momentum - January 8 - February 14, 2015

De Buck Gallery / 545 W 23rd Street / New York, NY 10011See on De Buck Gallery Website

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De Buck Gallery is pleased to announce an upcoming exhibition by Los Angeles-based painter Dion Johnson, entitled Chromatic Momentum. The exhibition will be on view at the gallery from January 8 – February 14, 2015. An opening reception in the presence of the artist will be held on January 15 from 6-8 PM.

Dion Johnson does stuff with color that other artists don’t even dream of, much less deliver. The L.A. painter makes color fat, like the belly of the Buddha, at least as it appears in many sculptures of the half-naked sage, whose beaming smile and twinkling eyes suggest a kind of enlightenment that is whole-bodied, pleasurable and an end in itself. Johnson also keeps color taut, like a sail in a gale, stretched to its physical limits in gracefully bulging curves that are elegant, functional and forceful. There’s a sharpness to Johnson’s tangy slice of the spectrum, whose astringent kick gets echoed in the crisp edges of the snuggly abutted shapes his colors take. Their sizzling intensity is similarly keyed up by the lovely weirdness Johnson generates with their out-of-whack juxtapositions, which should be queasy, even garish, almost vulgar, but somehow come off as even more gorgeous for their oddball precision.

Despite the evocative heat that radiates from Johnson’s radically saturated paintings, there’s an implacable cool to their bands and swoops of color: a type of synthetic iciness that avoids the sting of nature’s coldness, the harshness of psychological withdrawal and the anaesthetized deadness of emotional detachment in favor of the ravishing extravagance of an unnaturally enhanced palette—a range of tints, tones and temperature that all seem to be on especially friendly terms with neon and plastic and all manner of artifice, the sexier the better. The razor-sharp lines pin-stripers apply to customized low-riders also lie behind Johnson’s compositions, in which the thinnest sliver of some strange tertiary expands gradually to become a kind of slender penmanship that then morphs into an aerodynamic shape with so much muscularity that it seems to be three dimensional:  an idiosyncratic building block locked together with others in ways that make them feel as if they’re adrift—freely flowing left and right, up and down, forth and back, as if they were not merely breathing but abuzz and ahum and apulse with a rhythm no less palpable for its silence.

- David Pagel

CHAD ROBERTSON - The Long And The Short Of It: New Paintings and Works on Paper - January 10 - February 14, 2015

Western Project is proud to present a new body of work, The Long and the Short of It, by Los Angles artist, Chad Robertson. Two years in the making, the works are visually dense and highly detailed narrative constructions; pictures of epic natural and human events.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote:

"There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object, those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice or good- will to every thing, that hurts or pleases us."

In accordance, Robertson writes:

“I am interested in how the contemporary human mind makes associations with visual recognizable information and our instinctive, inherent need to draw narrative conclusions which are motivated by our desires, obsessions, prejudices, and world views…To find and construct a story using random information.”

Using images from travels in India, the news, Internet, film and popular culture, the artist layers and weaves his subjects into dream-like states, mirroring scientific concepts of simultaneity and constant flux. From political rallies, rogue waves, cyclone fences, to bees flying in the wind, these are pictures of contemporary life, of our current interconnected global condition. Compositions play out ideas of balance and chaos, order and accident. Robertson presents operatic histories ripe for interpretation; mirrors, or mind traps baited for our own enamored thoughts. Meaning is the end game and paradox is the grist and grit for understanding.

Chad Robertson has exhibited previously in Munich, Stockholm, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and at Sixspace in Los Angeles.





11 YEARS - Anniversary Group Show: December 6 - 23, 2014

11th year Anniversary Exhibition

Ron Athey / Josh Bolin / Daniel Brice / Thomas Burke / Carole Caroompas / Cole Case / Alec Egan / Samantha Fields / Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose / Tim Forcum / Eric Freeman / Sush Machida Gaikotsu / Margaret Griffith / Dion Johnson / Ali Kheradyar / Patrick Lee / Joe Lloyd / Zachari Logan / Bob Mizer / Matthew Penkala / Nancy Riegelman / Chad Robertson / Joe Schmelzer / Nicolas Shake / Aaron Sheppard / Arne Svenson / Christian Tedeschi / Tom of Finland / Mark Dean Veca / Wayne White / Jessica Wimbley


Western Project proudly presents our 11th Year Anniversary Exhibition marking a decade and a year of programming. As one of the pioneer galleries of the Culver City arts district, the show will include gallery artists and some special guests; each an irregular, unruly and often impolite force of nature, all burdened with the disease of individual thinking and a call to find a greater depth of human experience. We celebrate with abandon and humor, knowing our job is yet unfinished.

MARK DEAN VECA :EVERLAST: Paintings and Works on Paper - October 18-November 29, 2014

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Western Project is proud to present the third solo exhibition at the gallery by Los Angeles artist, Mark Dean Veca. His new body of work, EVERLAST, is comprised of seven new paintings and twelve works on paper. Veca grew up around the San Francisco Bay Area surrounded by words; words in the sky, words on the streets, words on the billboards, on trucks and grocery stores, liquor stores – everywhere – an environment of language, letters and images. For this work he writes:

Particular street signs and logos started to jump out at me as perfect combinations of subject matter and composition. I'm not picking words or images at random, but those that I find have some kind of resonance personally as well as universally, be they mundane or iconic, and are redolent of my 1970's California upbringing…

For years now I've been interested in the negative space in and around letterforms, particularly logos in a certain script, like the Fender logo. When I see these spaces I get an urge or compulsion to define and articulate them, to make them the figure, not the ground.

It is the atmosphere which seems to have won out as an undulating miasma or vapor, enveloping the signage from neighborhood stores (LIQUOR MART), to international corporate logos (EVERLAST and Zildjian). Perhaps they recall the brown smog atmosphere from the 1970’s in LA, along with the Pop culture explosion of the era; his paintings reek of immersion in a climate of billowing energy, a charged atmosphere where background shifts to and fro:

Duality seems to be a consistent theme in much of my work. In these word paintings the eye wants to flatten the text, especially from a distance, but upon closer inspection the forms flip. The atmospheric quality that fills the letterforms heightens the effect of creating depth and contrast to the crisp linework defining the biomorphic abstraction surrounding them.

Veca’s paintings are indeed icons; not ironic, but psychedelic celebrations. FENDER is enveloped by a surging purple ooze (or is it haze?) while BREAKFAST BURRITO is a crazy trip down the street at sunrise; both seemingly familiar visual sensations. And what’s that funk of adolescent testosterone wafting around the paintings? His deft and masterful drawing skills give the works a tremendous gravity and visionary exactness; think Keith Haring, R. Crumb, and Warhol. It is an un-academic rigor compounded by immaculate craftsmanship. The logo paintings are punctuated by early Warner Brothers Looney Tunes characters: Tweety Bird (created in 1945), and the Tasmanian Devil (1957). Each image is an historic cartoon favorite known for their wacky and cunning charms. Having survived endless cliché and a million bad tattoos over the years, Veca’s images are now more sirens luring contemporary audiences to reconsider an un-snarky and daring, new attitude in the 2010s. FLY UNITED is a sexier side, from an image recycled from a 1970’s underground poster; the image is a wink and a nod to human desire (the mile high club), stealing back the method of corporate advertisement into mainstream erotic humor. Perhaps this is the covert messaging of the artist – employing logos more as flavors, manipulating corporate identity into notions of pleasure, emotion and imagination. The words become formal playgrounds for both the artist and audience to reinterpret experience and memory as subjective space. Taking back an age of greed to a realm of personal exaltation.

Veca will be included in the upcoming Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of HI-Fructose @ Virginia MOCA, Virginia Beach. His work was recently acquired by the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California. The monograph, Mark Dean Veca: Twenty Years, was recently published by Zero + Publishing. He has exhibited at the Instituto Cultural de Cabanas in Guadalajara, Mexico, a career survey at the University of California, San Diego, site specific Phantasmagoria at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles and Raging Opulence at The San Jose Art Museum, the 2013 California-Pacific Triennial at OCMA, Newport Beach, California, plus numerous other exhibitions in New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, Berlin and Bern, Switzerland. He is the recipient of the 2010-11 COLA Individual Artist Fellowship as well as grants by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts, plus residencies at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, and the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Veca has created designs/products for both Nike and Burton Snowboards.

West Room: JESSICA WIMBLEY: The Belle Series - New Works on Canvas

Jessica Wimbley : The Belle Series: New Works on Canvas - West Room - October 18 - November 29, 2014

More on Jessica Wimbley

Western Project is pleased to present the second solo exhibition by Jessica Wimbley. The Belle Series is a group of digital works on canvas based on ideas of origin: biological, genetic, cultural and historic. Working on multiple conceptual levels and visual modes, the series is hauntingly narrative and subjective. Her constructs also use 'biomythography' (originally a literary form created by the poet Audre Lorde) which blends elements of autobiography, the novel and personal mythology. It weaves together these elements into new kinds of representational compositions. She writes:

In my work, I investigate and question identity and history, merging both the genetic and biological with socio-historical, creating narratives that shift between micro and macro representations. The one-drop rule -a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as Black of individuals with any African ancestry; i.e. any person with "one drop of Negro blood" was considered black, is used as a framework to consider the formation of identity. The one-drop rule is still utilized in forming understanding of race in America, however, is problematized in an era of shifting demographics, integration, and multi consciousness. Furthermore, the information contained in the "one drop" of blood in conjunction with contemporary understandings of genetics and anthropology reveals implicit and explicit identities; with subsequent narratives that reveal differing yet simultaneous histories. By investigating the one-drop rule at a micro level (DNA and genetic information contained) to a macro level (origin of humanity) the African diaspora is reframed in the context of the African as the original colonizer and explorer of the earth. Using aesthetic elements such as collage, digital imagery, appropriation, panoramic landscapes and space imagery, as well as images of microscopic biological entities, including t cells, melanin, stem cells, and DNA, provides both a conceptual and visual metaphor for the macro and micro- galvanizing what is seen and unseen, and questioning the scope of the human experience and identity. The figure in these narratives straddles both objectification and subjectification, as a result, creating narratives that conjure multiple histories through the codification of landscape, objects, and the body.

Literary references to science fiction novels by Octavia Butler, as well as popular culture media are used to compose narrative, in conjunction with photographic images, painting and drawing. The hybridity of images in the work reflect the way in which one composes culture in the digital age, integrating gazes by reflecting the mass consumption and democracy of the internet. The finished work reflects historical artistic approaches of painting and drawing with Photoshop, collage and digital photography, itself becoming a hybrid.

The Belle Series continues the investigation of identity by integrating images of myself with my grandmother, great grandmother, and other relatives dating back to the early 1900's and historical stereographic images of Native and Black American women from the Turn of the Century. The stereograph, being a popular medium for disseminating images of Americans during the Turn of the Century, was also instrumental in helping create visual representations of American life and inform American identity. Through the merging of images, I seek to create a hybrid, which exposes the shifting of identities in relationship to both historical and social political understandings.

The five canvases in the exhibition are but a portion of The Belle Series. They are masterful meditations on ancestry and heritage; becoming universal musings by the shifting micro/macro, intimate/cosmic imaging. Her pictures present an unorthodox way of looking at family; challenging notions of authorship and lineage - perhaps a most useful set of windows to reconsider our limited definitions and assumptions about who we think we are, and the stories we believe.

Jessica Wimbley is the co-curator and participant of the upcoming exhibition, Biomythography Secret Poetry and Hidden Angers, at the East and Peggy Phelps Galleries, Claremont Graduate University Claremont, CA. Her work was recently featured in "The Beautiful: Contemporary Art Featuring America" curated by Rachel T. Schmid, at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA, and "ANEKANTAVADA Diverse Perspectives in Art" curated by Karin Skiba and Quinten Bemiller at Norco College Gallery, Norco College, Norco, CA. She has also shown at Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art, Chaffey College, Rancho Cucamonga, CA, the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art in Athens Georgia, California State University at Long Beach, California, National Palace of Culture/Lessedra Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria, 21st Century African Youth Movement, Sierra Leon, Africa, and other galleries and institutions in the United States.

The artist lives and works in Claremont, California.

Main Gallery: MARK DEAN VECA: EVERLAST - New Paintings and Works on Paper

pink box : Aaron Sheppard Performance with Sylva Hattington - July 26, 2014 - 7:00-9:00 PM PERFORM CHINATOWN 2014 : CHAOS REIGNS

pink box, Aaron Sheppard performance with Sylva Hattington July 26, 2014, 7:00-9:30pm – at L.A.’s 6th Annual PERFORM CHINATOWN 2014 : CHAOS REIGNS

Curators / Doug Harvey, Lee Lynch, Paige Wery

For 2 1/2 hours, Sheppard and Hattington were closed inside a transparent and metal box measuring 48” x 48” x 13” and attached 10-feet above the ground on the facade of The Arcade building at 936 1/2 Mei Ling Way (across from New Dragon Restaurant and down from Hop Louie’s Bar). The two performers repeatedly changed restricting positions within the box while caressing one another’s bodies in a public display of affection. A water hose was attached to the box which kept the couple’s entangled bodies wet, and transformed the box itself into a steamy sauna dripping with a constant pitter-patter of rain.

The light box was pre-existing signage that had at one time been used as advertising, left to sit vacant for years. For pink box Sheppard and Hattington stripped the box of its electrical, replaced brittle and aged plexiglas with new vibrant fluorescent panes, and painted the structure pink. The performance within then became something video-esque and surreal to the eye, contrasting with the environment and landscape.

pink box was video-taped from two different angles: from close-up inside, and; from street-level outside the box (videography by Jaime Scholnick and Sally Coates).

PERFORM CHINATOWN 2014 : CHAOS REIGNS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JULY 18, 2014 LOS ANGELES, CA

PERFORM CHINATOWN 2014: CHAOS REIGNS! DOUG HARVEY, LEE LYNCH, PAIGE WERY, AND THE GALLERIES OF CHINATOWN PRESENT: L.A.’S 6TH ANNUAL SHOWCASE OF PERFORMANCE ART

SATURDAY JULY 26th BETWEEN 12 NOON AND 10 PM

The sixth edition of L.A.’s premier performance art gathering will present over 40 performers, distributed across a host of Chinatown galleries and public spaces on the 26th of July between 12 Noon and 10 PM.

This year’s rendition pools the complementary curatorial talents of Doug Harvey (Chain Letter, LA Weekly Annual Biennials), Lee Lynch (The Murder of Hi Good, headmaster of Teenage Wasteland of the Arts), and Paige Wery (The Good Luck Gallery, Artillery magazine).

Perform Chinatown 2014 : CHAOS REIGNS! stretches the boundaries of Performance Art to include live experimental music, historical reenactments, survivalist workshops, guided meditation rituals, chess tournaments, poetry, dance, video, and food – as well as the cutting edge New Genre happenings that define the field.

Some of the noteworthy happenings scheduled include: - a rare appearance by legendary media prankster Joey Skaggs; - a ritual invocation of Eris, Goddess of Chaos, by Skylaire Alfvegren and the Southern California Discordian Society - the premiere of Hipponymous -- a righteous new performance work by the Reverend Ethan Acres; - a live video feed of performances in Tehran, Iran organized by Maryan Vayghan - Brad Spence providing “Free Airbrush Body Paintings” to the public - DJ sets by Don Bolles, steve roden, and KCHUNG Radio; - Everything is Terrible – the Ride by eponymous psychedelic found footage comedy website mavens - former Los Angeles Cacophony Society “leader” Al Ridenour bringing Krampus in July - the first live performance by F (Marnie Weber, Dani Tull, Doug Harvey, & Daniel Hawkins), since the Mike Kelley LAFMS memorial at The Box; - a Human 4-Leaf Clover of Positive Energy led by China Adams

performchinatown.com

Angeleno Magazine - Art And Culture Spotlight - "Walk The Line" - Joe Lloyd : New Paintings

Angeleno_July 2014_2Marrying left and right brain sensibilities, abstract painter Joe Lloyd seamlessly melds beautiful imperfections and errant geometries. An impressive emerging talent and 2012 MFA grad of Claremont Graduate University, Lloyd creates complex, architectonic works. Inspired by the limitations of mathematical geometry to capture the variance of organic forms, the artist uses geometric motifs in his paintings loosely, rather than formulaically, to invoke the observed discrepancies found in landscape, objects and architecture. Delineating space intuitively with line, texture, color and edge, Lloyd explores pattern as an aggregate of imperfect symmetries. His deceptively concise work conveys an energetic painterliness rarely associated with geometric abstraction. Joe Lloyd: New Paintings, on view July 26-Aug.29 at Western Project, is the artist’s first major solo exhibition in Los Angeles, and a must-see debut. Gallery director Cliff Benjamin says of the highly anticipated project, “[Joe Lloyd’s] work reflects the dynamic qualities of L.A. It is razor-sharp, unexpected and unapologetically beautiful.” Who knew that math could be so interesting? Western Project, 2762 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.,310. 838.0609, western-project.com

–Marieke Treilhard Modern Luxury / Angeleno Magazine / July 2014

 

THE CONVERSATION///ART PODCAST : COLE CASE

CryingSuzonWithHornets

About THE CONVERSATION :

The Conversation is a contemporary art-centric podcast, which includes both the Conversation 3-Way, in which artist Michael Shaw and two guests/co-hosts discuss temporal as well as evergreen topics, and the original format, featuring one-on-one exchanges between Michael and artists, collectors, curators and dealers.

ALEC EGAN: Luminous Opera - New Paintings

JUNE 14 - JULY 19, 2014 Opening Reception:  Saturday, June 14, 6:00 - 8:00 PM

Western Project is proud to present the first solo exhibition of Los Angeles artist, Alec Egan. An MFA graduate of Otis College of Art and Design, the artist spent the last year on a new body of work, Luminous Opera. Egan’s language is aggressive and visceral, based in questions of authenticity and art historical myths and clichés. Reframing Van Gogh’s pictorial language, moreover, using it as a trope with his own subject matter, Egan creates a muscular vocabulary with dense, excessive surfaces akin to Anselm Keifer and Leon Kossoff. His application of oil paint is a constructive process; images built into large scale, tactile landscapes and portraits. They are a fecund and material totality. Egan’s subjects are both personal and historic; familial portraiture to Van Gogh’s fields and trees. His depiction of Van Gogh’s green parrot is transformed into a double edged allegory; now a diving acrobat, or a descending Icarus figure? Using commercial poster art or Star Trek references, Egan rides a confluence of humor, tragedy, nature, and Pop influences to investigate ideas of masculinity, beauty and culture. His works are a deliberate statement on the ecstatic wisdom of making pictures; a belief in the power of the artist, and a declarative howl.

Egan graduated from Otis College of Art and Design in 2013, Kenyon College in 2007 with a BA in creative writing and is a published poet. He has shown at Sebrof International Gallery, New York, ROOM, in Hartford, Studio 2507, Portland, Box Eight Gallery and Poor Dog Studio, in Los Angeles, among many others. Additionally, he has participated in multiple residencies nationally.