Los Angeles

Lauren Davis Fisher, TBD, 2015, papier-mâché, wire, 64 3/4 × 29 3/4 × 19 1/2". From “Recesses.”

Lauren Davis Fisher, TBD, 2015, papier-mâché, wire, 64 3/4 × 29 3/4 × 19 1/2". From “Recesses.”

“Recesses”

Park View/Paul Soto

Lauren Davis Fisher, TBD, 2015, papier-mâché, wire, 64 3/4 × 29 3/4 × 19 1/2". From “Recesses.”

As might have been expected, much of the talk around this group exhibition—and it did generate a great deal of talk—blithely skimmed over the art on view. Comprising works by the class of MFA students who dropped out en masse from the USC Roski School of Art and Design this past May to protest the dramatic restructuring of their program by its new dean, “Recesses” was a contextually loaded event, and one in which at least two intersecting spheres of influence must be taken into consideration. The first is academic, institutional, and in some sense public, although USC is, of course, a private university. Just how private the school keeps its affairs is precisely what has been exposed, indelibly, by the news of its recent art-department debacle (in brief, changes to the program and cuts to student financial packages resulting in an exodus of faculty as well as of the school’s 2016 class). The second sphere is Park View, the venue in which this band of outsiders chose to exhibit what would have been their first-year MFA show.

Park View is a commercial gallery located in Paul Soto’s small, largely empty MacArthur Park apartment, and the dialectics of public and private were clearly at play here, too. The “USC Seven,” as Julie Beaufils, Lauren Davis Fisher, Sid M. Dueñas, George Egerton-Warburton, Edie Fake, Lee Relvas, and Ellen Schafer have come to be known, are the talk of the town, and any number of venues in LA would have welcomed the chance to mount this displaced group exhibition; that the seven chose such an intimate and outwardly unprepossessing one was, on first take, surprising, yet it was also tactically adroit. Over the course of its barely yearlong existence, Park View has also garnered a fair share of buzz.

Phoning the gallerist from the sidewalk to ask him to unlock the building’s entrance gate, I was reminded of visiting spaces like Tom Solomon’s Garage, Bliss, and the Guest Room in the early 1990s, and of the low-key thrill of seeing an art exhibition adapt to such resolutely non–white cube, domestic settings. Here, as well, the architecture was commanding. Mounted in the bedroom were several works about sleeping, dreaming, and sex, including Egerton-Warburton’s April (all works cited, 2015), which actually does resemble a diminutive bed. The structure serves as a plinth for a massive remote-control device (purchased from Sharper Image), among other casually scattered items. Meanwhile, works about plumbing (Davis Fisher’s TBD, a Gumby-like sculpture of an oozing pipe protruding from the wall) and hygiene (Schafer’s Fold, Container, a neat stack of white T-shirts encased in wax) were arranged in and around the bathroom. In the living room, one came across works that did not explicitly reflect their surroundings, but were nevertheless marked by them. Take, for example, Dueñas’s collage/painting s, s, s, and ƨ, ƨ, ƨ, which features an array of floating, semiabstract, vaguely salacious shapes alongside faintly penciled-in cursive text with the word PARROT scrawled over and over. It is an undeniably well-executed piece that invites comparison to figures like Donald Sultan and Laura Owens, but in this setting, it also inevitably became tethered to a metanarrative about collecting and ownership. What sort of person would live among all these things?

Following the economic downturn of the late ’80s, which crippled the local gallery scene, artists turned their homes into show spaces to take up the slack. Today, such makeshift locales are instead proposed as alternatives to the rampant expansion of art-related real estate in LA. The meager square footage of these venues determines not only the scale of the works on view but their ideological import as well, for smallness is here implicitly embraced as a virtue in direct opposition to bigness. One could say that this gambit suited the material shown at Park View to a T, but only if one believes that the Roski School really was an emancipatory island in the USC system, struggling against, but finally unable to withstand, the encroaching wave of corporate interests. This is obviously a naive view, for one could easily argue that, of all the MFA programs in Los Angeles, USC’s has long been the most vigorous in courting (culture) industry ties. If a show like this works, it is because it confronts us with interiors that cannot be extricated from exterior forces, and with situations in which no one ultimately wins or loses. That a school’s tanking may have provided a career boost for its ex-students is also a thought that has occurred to some amid the expressions of support; and that it has reminded us that we are all—artists, gallery, audience—in the same boat, all of us eager for mutiny but still leveraging the extent of our compromise.

––Jan Tumlir