Triple Threat

Dawn Chan on Triple Canopy and Jeff Koons and John Waters in Los Angeles

Left: Artist Phil Chang, Triple Canopy editor Molly Kleiman, LAXART's Eric Golo Stone, Martine Syms, and Triple Canopy editor Lucy Ives. Right: Dealer Martha Otero and artist Shana Lutker.

LAST YEAR I had to reckon with the fact that online magazine Triple Canopy was no longer just some little-known project run by friends. A public program of theirs in New York had sold out, and we were left shivering on Freeman Street. “But I know them!” And more pathetically: “I was in a band with one of them in college.”

Saying that they’ve “blown up” is a tad hyperbolic—after all, our context is that of publishing and nonprofit art spaces. Plus, some of you out there probably knew Stefani Germanotta at NYU. Still, the fact is, the group is now six years old and has already worked with the New Museum, MoMA PS1, and MoMA. They’re participating in the upcoming Whitney Biennial. Also, The Guardian ran a piece that described them “eating salads.” (If having your diet reported on by British press isn’t a sign of celebrity status, what is?)

This past weekend, TC left Brooklyn to head across the country, where editors Molly Kleiman and Lucy Ives gave a talk at UCLA. They were there to present the relaunch of the magazine’s online platform and “Alongslide,” its latest open-source layout. “Triple Canopy is no People magazine,” a friend said. “They’re rigorous.” That point was driven home as Kleiman, Ives, and developer Seth Erickson dissected common Internet-layout problems that are felt but not articulated by your average schmo.

After, speakers and audience alike made their way through rush-hour traffic to Silverlake, where Triple Canopy cohosted a party with the LA Review of Books in the house of author Joshua Wolf Shenk. LA, so I’ve heard, is on the brink of a drought, but that Friday evening was dewy, and a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd had amassed by 8 PM, around cheese and clementines inside, drinks from a bar at the balcony out back, and the pool and hot tub beyond. (When you’re coming from New York, any pool at a party seems magic and insane.)

“I didn’t know who’d be here,” said artist Shana Lutker, back in town for Project X’s benefit this weekend, “since it’s not quite an art opening.” And still, familiar faces: the Hammer Museum’s David Morehouse, Various Small Fires dealer Esther Kim, artists John Houck and Eve Fowler, and illustrator Joanna Neborsky. Artist-run spaces and nonprofits were in the house, with reps from Ooga Booga and Human Resources, among others. (“Artist-run spaces mean a lot more in LA,” said educator-editor Ronni Kimm.)

Kleiman and LAXART’s Eric Golo Stone discussed Common Practice LA—a newly minted advocacy group that counts LAXART, REDCAT, East of Borneo, and the MAK Center among its seven founding partners. (As it happens, Triple Canopy’s a member of Common Practice New York). “Small-scale art organizations don’t have a lobbyist,” Kleiman said. “So how do we make a case for the sector?”

A hush in the crowd paved the way for toasts. From the stairs, Tom Lutz, editor of the Review, spoke protectively of the magazines’ missions and prospects. “Advanced literacy and the arts are going against the flow, but also going with the flow of our culture too,” he said. Shenk used his toast to draw parallels between the two projects: “Both take advantage of online technology. But now they’re also letting us touch them.”

He paused. “And here we all are. Crowded and getting ready to touch each other.”

Fearful of what that scenario might look like, I escaped out front, where artist Phil Chang had gone for a smoke. We pondered conceptual connections between Triple Canopy and LA. Reflecting that Triple Canopy editors originally lifted their name from a private security firm, Chang pointed out that the city of angels also offers a huge military-industrial presence. “Usually it’s the production of cinema that becomes a parallel to artmaking in LA.”

So was arms manufacturing a better foil?

“Well,” Chang said, “LA’s truth is still stranger than the fiction it produces.”

Left: John Waters with Eli Broad and Edythe Broad, Johnny Knoxville, and Jeff Koons. (Photo: Ryan Miller)

Tell that to professional reality-TV-jackass Johnny Knoxville, who drew a flock of paparazzi on Monday at the Orpheum Theater downtown. There, he (and two thousand other Angelenos) convened to hear a conversation between John Waters and Jeff Koons. The event was part of “The Un-Private Collection,” a series of talks hosted offsite by the Broad Museum while it waits out delays to the completion of its $140 million building. (Apparently the museum’s tiled exoskeleton is what’s holding the project back.)

Ushers in velvet and brocade directed everyone to their seats. And everyone means the toniest of the LA art world’s movers, shakers, makers, and breakers—Paul Schimmel, Ed Ruscha, Alma Ruiz, Jeffrey Deitch. And so forth. People coming through town (like the Whitney’s Scott Rothkopf, curator of the upcoming Koons retrospective) and people who seem here to stay (Michael and Eva Chow).

“That was a very presidential-debate entrance,” Waters remarked, after he and Koons (both in suits) strode out from opposite ends of the stage and shook hands. And though they were clearly each other’s fanboys at the end of the day, there was a slight clash-of-candidates aspect to the whole affair. It was yin versus yang. Flamingo versus teddy bear. Prison psychologist versus Landmark life coach. For instance:


Is menace always lurking in your work?


What’s menacing for me is . . . to waste an opportunity . . . to experience the vastness of possibilities.



Let’s look at slide thirteen: the caterpillar with the ladder. To me that’s threatening! I mean, everybody knows you don’t go under a ladder!


The way you view something, it’s perfect. Whatever experiences you have in life, your interpretations, the art that you’re feeling: that’s perfect.



(bringing up an image of Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988)
Slide 18, to me, is your scariest work. Does Bubbles know the truth?


Actually, this piece always reminds me of King Tut. There’s aspects of the Egyptian, in the gold, in the light. But then, also, this is the Pietà.

If Waters was indeed the evening’s prison psychologist, he even became downright parole-board inquisitive—drawing laughs. “Do you smoke pot?” (“No. Well, I’ve tried things.”) “You try LSD?” “You ever been arrested?”

Left: John Waters and Jeff Koons. Right: Gus Van Sant with Eva Chow and Michael Chow. (Photos: Ryan Miller)

There was common ground, too. “I think we really do share a core,” said Koons at one point. “And that core is acceptance.” (Plus, Waters noted, his mother and Koons’s aunt had lived in a retirement home together.) And both seemed genuinely grateful for their success. Koons said that he could live in a trailer—and do what he wanted—for the rest of his life.

“Success [is] two things,” Waters quoted. “You can buy every book you want without looking at the price—and you never have to be around assholes.”

His words lingered as a portion of the crowd headed downstairs for the VIP reception hosted by Gagosian, and found itself facing a phalanx of five-plus bouncers with lists. Inside, in the wood-paneled room, caterers passed out crabmeat on spoons. “This is the Dom Pérignon from Koons’s balloon Venus,” nodded Gagosian Beverly Hills director Deborah McLeod, pointing at the champagne being poured.

Reactions to the talk ranged. “I was enjoying their opposing charms,” McLeod said. “Such wonderfully diverse styles.” Meanwhile, Bettina Korek, of ForYourArt, pondered: “Koons almost said something new.”

Waters appeared happy: “LA audiences are great. This is the only place you can say, ‘Maybe art for the people is not a good thing’—and get applause.”