Mistaken Identity

Kevin McGarry on Korakrit Arunanondchai at the Mistake Room in Los Angeles

Left: Korakrit Arunanondchai's installation at the Mistake Room. Right: Artists Korakrit Arunanondchai and Boychild. (All photos: Kevin McGarry)

IF YOU ENTER “KORAKRIT” into Google, the first, second, third, fourth, fortieth results to show up are for Korakrit Arunanondchai. In just a year’s time, the Thai-born artist has come to epitomize a very contemporary stripe of art-world ubiquity, appearing not only in a spate of exhibitions and performances in galleries and museums (including a solo project at MoMA PS1), but in a grandiose, self-directed pool Happening during Art Basel in Miami Beach, on Klaus Biesenbach’s Instagram feed (even more frequently than Lana Del Rey), and, as of this writing, at the top of ArtRank.com’s “BUY NOW < $100,000” column.

Hype is indubitably a double-edged sword. It places an X on one’s back, but precritical popularity (and market speculation) can also translate to resources, and, more ineffably, spectacle capable of pushing beyond the membranes of the art world. People are clearly finding something new in Arunanondchai’s work; maybe it simply begins with how in-sync his exuberant interdisciplinarity is with how contemporary art is cross-pollinating other fields.

Last week, Arunanondchai’s most ambitious project to date opened at the Mistake Room on the industrial outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. The nascence factor was off the charts: This was not only the young artist’s first show in town but also the grand, post-renovation reopening of the new space that bills itself as “LA’s only independent nonprofit cultural institution devoted to an international program,” but which to date is better known as LA’s only nonprofit to open (a couple months back) with a big Oscar Murillo show.

Left: Fahrenheit's Martha Kirszenbaum and artist Caroline Mesquita. Right: Artists Jesse Stecklow and Sean Raspet.

At the preview last Thursday, small groups filed into a narrow antechamber and sat to watch a short video that began, “My name is Korakrit. I was an artist, now I’m an orb.” The sound of rushing water around the corner led everyone, pupils dilated, into a cavernous space stocked with the artist’s take on Emperor Qin’s terra-cotta army: a grid of mannequins of varying heights and facial inflections, uniformed in Spartan, flowy white shirts and pants. At the room’s center is a disembodied hand hovering over a futuristic fountain and holding a bar of soap, the central motif of the artist’s new miniepic, which is projected huge on the gallery’s back wall. The part of Korakrit, the denim painter, is played by the performance artist Boychild, who experiences a fall from and return to innocence, after being cleansed of the paint in which she revels.

On the other side of Skid Row, a dinner was held in the underground party quarters of the corporate Mexican restaurant Mas Malo. A rumor had circulated via text that Brangelina would be in attendance. In truth, there were more exciting guests, visiting from afar, like newly appointed Whitney curator Christopher Lew, MCA Chicago’s Naomi Beckwith, and the Stedelijk’s Hendrik Folkerts. When the artist took to the floor for an impromptu toast, he quickly fell into an earnest, Oscars-style litany of thank-yous—to director of photography Alex Gvojic, actor Cherisse Gray, his assistant Zanzie Addington-White, and a dozen or so others. Instead of being played off by the orchestra, he closed with a forebodingly optimistic summation of our present state of affairs: “There’s no boundaries anymore, and we can change the world together, for better or worse.”

The Mistake Room indeed blurs the boundaries of a conventional nonprofit. Its fund-raising enterprise is both opaque and curiously central to the face it puts forward. Who are some of the members of the “Mistake Patron Membership” and “Big Mistake Patron Membership” groups that paid for such an outsize show at a fledgling space? (Neither of which has anything to do with Patrón tequila, I only realized the next morning; the mood had set my mind in the mode of thinking in sponsorships.) Assuming the dinner was mostly attended by these backers and guests of the artist, why was everyone lobbied to cough up $20,000 for artist editions in the literature occluding the menus at each place setting?

Left: Production designer Alex Gvojic with Zanzie Addington-White and production designer Tanatip Arunanondchai. Right: Artist Gina Osterloh and dealer François Ghebaly.

Rather than embodying a tangle of unresolved commercial and charitable impulses, on Saturday another recent addition to the neighborhood, a complex adjacent to Night Gallery, hosted openings for its diverse tenants, each of which operates squarely within existing art-world domains: François Ghebaly gallery, which holds the lease on the space; the French-friendly artist residency and project space Fahrenheit; the media archive LACA (Los Angeles Contemporary Archive); and two book presses, 2nd Cannons and DoPe Press.

For her first outing at Ghebaly, Gina Osterloh filled the hangar-size plot of the building with photographs, a film, and a theatrical flat stretched with several layers of vibrant paper, all of which were subject to the sequence of instructive actions that made up the title of the show: “PRESS, ERASE, OUTLINE, SLICE, STRICK, MAKE AN X, PRICK!” Fahrenheit’s group show down the hall, “The Space Between Us,” almost serves as a tangent to Osterloh’s show, as another kind of meditation on performance and lines. Inspired by ongoing conversations like the programming around MoMA’s “On Line” exhibition yoking drawing and dance, Fahrenheit curator Martha Kirszenbaum invited French artist Caroline Mesquita to make an in situ network of sculptures rendering steel rods into anthropomorphic forms to anchor works by Piotr Lakomy and Aaron Garber-Maikovska. While there was ample space among the hordes of gallerygoers inside 2245 East Washington Boulevard, like a kitchen magnetizing guests of a house party, somehow just about everyone in LA wound up in the parking lot.