Liberal Media

Los Angeles

Left: Dealer Susanne Vielmetter. Right: Activist Pat Maginnis with Andrea Bowers and REDCAT director and curator Eungie Joo. (All photos: Julie Lequin)

Striking an apposite balance between serious and celebratory, Wednesday night’s opening of “Nothing Is Neutral: Andrea Bowers” at REDCAT drew both laid-back locals and conspicuous invitees. The two-project exhibition marks the LA debut of Letters to the Army of Three Displayed, 2005, an installation that redeploys archived letters written to the three founding members of the first Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, and the US premiere of Eulogies to One and Another, 2006, a series of hand-copied obituaries that traces the political work of two civilian activists, an American and her Iraqi counterpart, and in the process exposes Western media biases. “Both bodies of work hover between a very charged, urgent political present and a loaded recent past,” said REDCAT director and curator Eungie Joo. “The stakes are high now and I think Bowers’s work challenges the aestheticization of political struggle vis-à-vis radical ideology or action itself.”

Bowers elaborated the point. “I always use the aesthetic to seduce viewers into intense historical content. The show centers on female activists, from the ’60s and now, and specifically women who have been written out of history because they were so radical. I feel these women’s history is disappearing but there are still things we can learn from the model they presented.” Proof that this project has a polarizing force came when a gallery-goer allegedly vandalized one of the Letters . . . works while it was recently on view in Texas, although Bowers allows that the large, poster-size artist book (which is encased in a protective vitrine at REDCAT) may have simply been mishandled.

Left: Artists Dave Muller and Ann Faison. Right: Artist Christopher Williams with LA MoCA curator Ann Goldstein.

Tucked beneath the silvery lining of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, the roomy venue prevented a clash between the show’s gravity and those out to support Bowers and have a good time. In front of the intimate works, viewers were quiet and introspective, but around the corner at the REDCAT bar, the vibe was alive as artists like Catherine Opie, Mark Bradford, and Stephen Prina hobnobbed to artist and DJ Maryam Kashani’s proper mix of ’60s and ’70s soul classics. Joining the revelry, I was immediately approached by the slight but vivacious Pat Maginnis, founding member of the “Army of Three” and a major catalyst for today’s reproductive-rights movement. In her late seventies and still politically active, Maginnis recounted her recent participation in an Oakland protest (whispering its catchy title, “Boobs not Bombs”) at which many women (several in decorative pasties) and some men peacefully demonstrated against the war. She offered me a flyer featuring her own artwork—political cartoons more sobering than satirical.

“I’m not sure how the work will be received, but LA is my home and I do have lots of friends here,” Bowers continued, and many were in attendance, including artists Jessica Bronson, Dave Muller, and Thomas Lawson; curators Ann Goldstein of MoCA and Aimee Chang of OCMA; and dealers Bruno Delavallade and Susanne Vielmetter (with whom Bowers will present a new solo show in January). Towards the end of the evening, I spoke with Vielmetter, who suggested that Bowers would start composing her new work in two weeks (she can’t work all the time); I was also told that new videos were already underway and that Bowers was even shouting out editing ideas while installing “Nothing Is Neutral.” Just then, the title of Bowers’s “Flower Magick” sculpture recently included in Vielmetter’s group show across town hit home: You just “don’t fuck with the ladies.”

Left: Artist Mark Bradford. Right: Blum & Poe associate director Alexandra Gaty with dealer Bruno Delavallade and artist Mark Hagen.

Left: Artist Andrea Bowers with assistant Jennifer West. Right: Collector Peter Gelles with artists Nate Harrison and Sam Durant.

Left: Artist Thomas Lawson with collector Peter Gelles. Right: Pat Maginnis.