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Faces To Watch 2009

December 28, 2008|Christopher Knight



Austrian artist Franz West, 61, did his first site-specific American installation at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art in 1994. Twenty-eight high-back sofas, made from welded steel re-bar and loosely upholstered in bright fabrics acquired from downtown's booming garment district, transformed an outdoor plaza into a comfy living room crossed with an urban construction site.

In the United States, where the town square has long been replaced by the shopping mall, the dream of a free and open public world has been constrained by relentless privatization. West's European-inspired penchant for enhancing the sociality of public places threw a well-placed monkey wrench into that, as the usually empty plaza became a well-used hangout.

In the spring, "Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work, 1972-2008" arrives on Wilshire Boulevard at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (March 15 to June 7). The sculptor's first American retrospective, organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art, will feature more than 100 works in such typical West mediums as papier-mache and plaster.




In its two venues -- one in a Postmodern building on downtown's Grand Avenue, the other in a repurposed pair of Little Tokyo warehouses -- the Museum of Contemporary Art has become the definitive public face of postwar art for Los Angeles over the last 29 years. In the process, it also became the nation's premier institution for presenting the art of our time.

Now, with MOCA in turmoil in both financial and leadership terms, it's hard to know exactly what that face will begin to look like as 2009 unfolds. Tightened economic circumstances have already led to a trimmed exhibition schedule, with the Little Tokyo space to be shuttered for six months (expect the closure to last longer). On the museum's website, the section that lists future exhibitions now carries a notice that says, reasonably enough, "Please note that all information is subject to change."

One small but not insignificant bit of positive news has emerged from all the agitation. The fervent, widespread interest in MOCA's fate, locally and from far afield, has cemented the stature of its collection and program in the national art consciousness.




In 2006, artist Drew Heitzler, 36, organized a large, savvy group show of some 60 artists and artists' collectives at QED (now Angstrom Gallery) titled "Bring the War Home." With the American occupation of Iraq as a background, rather than a subject, the project of making art was itself offered as a political refusal of powerful establishment values.

Also in 2006, Heitzler opened Mandrake Bar in Culver City (with Flora Wiegmann and Justin Beal), just down the street from the gallery. What does an art bar have to do with a sprawling group art exhibition? At the very least, both demonstrate Heitzler's pointed interest in the collective strength of sociability.

Heitzler's art, which typically incorporates a variety of mediums including sculpture, video, drawing and even Internet ephemera, is planned to be the 10th project in the Museum of Contemporary Art's "Focus" series (Oct. 1 to Jan. 11, 2010). The disparate elements in his usual work, like those in his group show, do and do not necessarily display obvious connections to one another. But somehow they all hang together, allowing a visitor to draw out his or her own narrative of events.

It's sort of like stopping into a bar where you may or may not know the person sitting on the next stool, but it's easy to strike up a conversation.

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