Critics’ Picks

View of “Odds Are Even Wolves Were Raised: Nikki Darling, A Retrospective,” 2019.

View of “Odds Are Even Wolves Were Raised: Nikki Darling, A Retrospective,” 2019.

Santa Cruz

Nikki Darling

The Greenhouse Project
January 19–February 23, 2019

“As you can see, I have always been very artistic,” Nikki Darling says to the camera, flipping through one of her glittery teen journals. Such naked sincerity only lapses in humor when it’s chased by seriousness: Those collaged pages are part of the Nikki Darling Papers, archived in sober-looking filing boxes at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Hers is the kind of sunny self-assurance all artists surely crave, but achieving it, especially in a sunny, self-assured place like Los Angeles, is surely what makes the rest of the country hate those who do. The video, Tattletale, 2018, is a three-channel mini-documentary produced with Angel Alvarado as part of “Odds Are Even Wolves Were Raised: Nikki Darling, A Retrospective,” a party the artist threw for herself at Visitor Welcome Center in Koreatown.

I knew of Darling first as a rock critic and later as a poet, novelist, and performance artist, but her origin story is peppered with the additional mantles of actress and dancer. She now wears all of them at once, madcap-magpie style, under the aegis of “artist.” That attitude suffuses the eight large mixed-media works hanging above glass-topped vitrines filled with the artist’s aforementioned journals (dozens!), press clippings, old headshots, love letters, and other tchotchkes of self-mythology—the mess of a life, now splayed and laurel-wreathed in the clean lines of institutional displays. Keep Trying I Love You, 2016, seems to be the key to Darling’s gambit of clear-eyed mawkishness: Pastel-colored certificates and “Awards of Merit” arranged around a provisional watercolor of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse—exhorting you to “keep trying,” and adding “I love you”—are made out to Maria S. A. Rodriguez, the artist’s grandmother. Maria’s efforts to submit poems to magazines for pay-to-play honorable mentions are now perfectly preserved by the artist’s frame, caught in the slipstream of Darling’s enchanting archivism. Their endeavors have paid off.