For some years now, I’ve been shooting thirst traps into the world via social media. Whenever doing so, I feel the mighty tentacles of self-consciousness squeeze me hard: is this really necessary? What does the fact I chase likes via topless self-portraits taken in gym locker rooms actually say about me? Does my body really look like it is mostly made out of strawberry yoghurt, or is this chronic body dysmorphia kicking in? I’ve taken these unpleasant thoughts, as well as my most Hollywoodesque smile with me to the tangerine-colored blur of Los Angeles. Upon setting foot on Californian soil, I decided my mission here would be to find my own definition of American culture; an ambitious goal I’m not so sure I’ll be able to reach before coming back to Europe in 6 weeks. But I’ll give it a try.
So far, what I’ve mostly noticed about LA is that you’re never left in peace by what you’re supposed to aspire to. Concepts such as community, coolness or adequateness have been taken to capitalistic heights that would be almost exotic if they didn’t come with a dangerous aftertaste of uniformisation: LA is the ultimate thirst trap of ultra-liberalism. Take for example the shared working space NeueHouse, which among other things offers members a class called “meditation for assholes”. A hip temple of digital nomadism, its slick premises house beautiful, likeminded people wearing extremely fashionable footwear and pitching social media strategies to upscale fashion brands from handsomely designed wooden desks.
NeueHouse was also the location chosen to announce the participants to this year’s “Made in L.A.” biennale, organized by the Hammer Museum; how odd it was to hear the curators discuss artists worried about the soon-to-come eviction from their affordable work space in a work space so far from affordable. Aside from that, the artists were picked very well; the presence of Celeste Dupuis-Spencer, Candice Lin and Christina Quarles felt particularly welcome and – I hate the word, but can’t get around it – urgent in the current political climate, which is almost as horrible as the various Scientology-related creep-complexes that litter this city’s neighbourhoods.
Equally hellish are Jansson Stegner and Will Benedict’s visions of America(na): the first one involves unnaturally shaped, terrifying, mostly caucasian women (and a couple of boys) probably named Becky or Sharon, rendered in oil on canvas and on view at Nino Mier; the second mixes various nightmarish fragments of found material and the artist’s own imagination – densely populated by interspecies hybrids – into forlorn video works, shown at Overduin and co. While the voices in these exhibitions had only little in common, their message seemed similarly troubling: ideals and archetypes of American culture have been over-fetishized to a point where they can only implode, and once they do, only an indefinable mess will be left behind.
At Hauser & Wirth’s downtown fortress, quite the opposite greets the visitor: everything is perfectly in place, from the sales associate’s impeccably curated hairdo to the seductive, blooming succulents and obviously, the art on view. Three achingly exquisite shows by Geta Brătescu, Louise Bourgeois and Mark Bradford each channelled such meticulous poignancy I basically felt I didn’t deserve to look at them (especially with the Bourgeois show). Sitting in the gallery’s courtyard after seeing all of this, everything converged into a moment of absolute conceptual, commercial and curatorial accomplishment; I almost wished for this unctuousness to be disturbed by a misprinted wall text or a badly dressed intern. But alas, Hauser & Wirth’s LA dépendance, this ultimate cultural thirst trap, seems immune from such calamities. Next week, I hope to find some glitches in the system.