We need new terms and vocabulary to process current artistic trends. The world is still focused on modernism, and as such we’ve recycled its description and use words like postmodernism, post-postmodernism, meta-modernism, alter-modernism, and global modernism. But the modernist philosophy belongs to the 20th century. It was the face of the previous millennium. Modernism is described as a philosophical movement and set of cultural changes and trends in society that shaped the 20th century. But what movements are informing and shaping the 21st century today?
There is no denying that a new discourse, or language of vision, is bourgeoning in the Southland. It is a conglomerate of ideas related to public art, work on canvas, graffiti typography, tattoo art, literature, calligraphy, photography, film, sculpture, and several other mediums. The Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment at MOAH Lancaster presents this vastness, including gang-style cement carvings meant to convey fragmented American nationalism by Jose ‘Prime’ Reza, social commentary on urban renewal by Susan Logoreci, and satire on class and race-mixing by Sandow Birk. These are just a few examples that juxtapose the climate and built environment of Los Angeles’ post-war period with the Los Angeles of today, which we refer to as the Post-Recession Era. Similarities of both eras include the emphasis on new ideas in design that invite radiant colors, simple treatment, and casual aesthetic, while paying close attention to monochromatic imagery. The message was the same then as it is now – dare to be different, champion individuality, experiment fearlessly with all areas of society, while holding technological advances in high regard. An example of this concept can be seen in Jason Hernandez’ Dictum Factum, which pays homage to Space X and the City of Hawthorne, and the story of planetary exploration as champion of progress. Another example includes the commemorative mural done by Fishe and Dreye, which recognizes the contributions of science, math, and aviation in the host region of Lancaster and the Antelope Valley.
However, the exhibition also acknowledges the social anxieties we face today, such as globalization, poverty, homelessness, density, war, addiction, gentrification, and others. The Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 had a direct impact on consumerism, and this idea can be seen in Alex Schafer’s political commentary in Black Friday. But, new approaches to design, medium, and theory emerged as a response to the crisis, and can be observed in post-industrial architecture and interior design, drought-resistant landscaping, and abstract murals. Public art and murals today have different messaging than murals done in service to the state, or those that conveyed social realism. Public art that was once considered guttural and found homes in public housing, decrepit yards like Belmont Tunnel, and the concreted L.A. River, are today being commissioned to adorn commercial/residential buildings, public facilities, and the entire Metro system. But the return of public transportation brings a new set of concerns, like the displacement of residents and the reappearance of the gentry. And the draining, exhumation, and concreting of the Los Angeles River in the 1930s, has today resulted in a public art biennial. It is within this social dichotomy that we seek to contribute to the national arts and letter dialogue.
The manner in which public art is done today has also shifted. Technological advances in social media have facilitated the way we engage with art, and in a way, they have sped up the artist’s work ethic. Large-scale murals that once took years to execute, can be done in weeks, days, and even hours. There is no question that the most exciting rupture in the art scene of the 21st century is associated with art on the streets. The true essence of this phenomenon is that it came from the slums and trickled up from the bottom, but to dismiss it as street art or simple graffiti, or to devalue its contribution to the larger discourse of American and international art is a languid scholarly approach. Despite this artistic boom, there are few scholars and academics dedicated to this research, but in a way, it is what makes it avant-garde. Similar to literature, some of the most exciting work in the last hundred years has been hard-boiled or noir, also considered unsophisticated because of its streetwise approach. And in fine arts programs across the country, there is little emphasis on crime fiction, or vandalism as a form of artistic resistance. In our Built Environment exhibition, we seek to build a bridge between literary crime fiction and fine art. In Jose ‘Prime’ Reza’s Payphone installation, which depicts the physical crisis of neighborhood street corners of the 80s and 90s, I respond by creating a short, minimalist story that demonstrates the existential, cold and tough exterior, needed to survive in such harsh conditions. Moreover, in Michael Alvarez’ Neighborhood Watch, he seeks to guide the observer through a first-person narrative amongst the community of El Sereno.
The Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment exhibition, is an attempt to deconstruct the Los Angeles school of thought by using a multifaceted approach, and a diverse array of artists. It is only in reexamining our metropolis’ design trajectory that we can truly appreciate the creative advances made in local arts and culture, since Los Angeles’ biggest criticism comes from not having a comprehensive past. Los Angeles is a fledgling metropolis. The Southland region, which has long stood for and celebrated individualism, has yet to succumb to the imperial nation-building concept of the continental United States’ sphere of influence. Los Angeles has come to represent a city of the future – a manmade utopia in the middle of vast emptiness. The city’s massive horizontal and open space has turned the region into the largest urban laboratory in the world, and the testing ground for many ideas, theories, and styles. Dark Progressivism, which comes directly from the streets and is directly informed by the built environment, is one of those styles, and today it is being duplicated around the world. —Rodrigo Ribera d'Ebre
Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment runs from November 11, 2017 to Janauary 14, 2018