GALA Committee

With the revival of interventionist art practices in the ’90s, which at times decidedly refer to procedures of the ’60s and especially the ’70s, there are frequently moral pretenses at play. Art (market) mechanisms are critically scrutinized, artistic requirements analyzed, and the relationship between public and private spheres and their reciprocal influences investigated. Always, the artists are concerned to condemn prevailing power structures.

Although the project “In the Name of the Place” deals with similar questions, it happily lacks any such moralistic disposition. In 1995, Mel Chin, then teaching at the University of Georgia, was invited to participate in the group exhibition “Uncommon Sense,” which took place in 1997 at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. The theme of the exhibition was the way contemporary art interacts with the public. Chin organized a network of 102 artists, the GALA Committee (standing for Georgia/Los Angeles), and persuaded Spelling Entertainment Group, the company that produced the TV series Melrose Place, to grant them a contract to provide the program with more than 150 props over the course of two seasons. These objects, including everything from everyday objects like bedding and furniture to posters and museum pictures, would subsequently be sold at auction at Sotheby’s Beverly Hills branch.

Through this unusual collaboration between a group of artists and a television production company, the GALA Committee not only influenced the design of the props but also, over time, had a subtle effect on aspects of the series’ plot development. Both the auction and the “Uncommon Sense” opening at LA MoCA were incorporated into the TV show. The GALA Committee made direct reference through individual works and artistic styles to contemporary social and political events. For instance, Fire Flies, 1997–98, a painting in the style of Ross Bleckner, which appears as part of a museum scene, was based on photographs of the bombardment of Baghdad. Further references to events such as the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing appeared in posters integrated into the sets. Viruses are a frequent motif, representing the artistic approach of the GALA Committee: art infiltrating the organism of the television industry. Since none of the works is signed by an individual artist, the project resists the traditional image of the artist and raises questions about authorship. Various aspects of cultural studies influenced the project—media culture analysis, postcolonialism, feminism, and so on—but each of the 102 artists was able to silently emphasize his or her own interests.

In the current exhibition, under the title “Vorabendprogramm” (Prime time), items purchased at the Sotheby’s auction by the Twodo Collection, members of the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, are shown together with episodes from Melrose Place. With the project “In the Name of the Place,” the GALA Committee instituted a working relationship between artists and a production company that acknowledged the power relations of commissioner and commissioned but nevertheless established a broadly effective and uncommon forum for art production. The complicated net of dependencies and reciprocal influences helps make the work considerably more engaging than the often-practiced general critique of the public media.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.