Story of Two Exhibitions: One Friendly, The Other Not

Hosted by

One of the best kept secrets of LA's downtown art scene is REDCAT, a cutting-edge performance and exhibition space run by CalArts. Don't feel guilty if you haven't been there yet; it's not easy to find, as it's tucked away on the ground floor of Disney Hall, far from the main entrance of this famous building. Since its opening a few years ago, REDCAT has hosted a number of ambitious exhibitions, often presenting challenging conceptual and performance art not necessarily intended for a general audience.

Last Sunday I drove by REDCAT, wondering if they had an exhibition on display. But knowing that for whatever reason they never use banners to announce their shows, I decided to take a chance, parked the car, and found my way into the gallery. The young attendant – absorbed in his reading – didn't even raise his head to acknowledge my presence, though I was the only person in the large, sprawling space. The gallery floor was covered wall to wall with several dozen plywood sheets, connected in pairs by hinges. Interrupting the uniformity of the installation, a few of the sheets were folded, revealing the cement floor underneath. For a second I hesitated, uncertain whether visitors are supposed to stay away or step on the plywood floor and thus to engage with the artwork. I took the risk and walked across, trying my best to connect with this austere piece by Brazilian artist Renata Lucas, not sure what to make of the installation. There were no labels or wall text to lend a helping hand, so if the intention of the artist and exhibition curator was to alienate, even slightly intimidate visitors, it worked - at least in my case. Luckily, I discovered the pamphlet with an essay about this well-regarded artist, but it was not much help, as it was written in the dense, impenetrable jargon favored by ArtForum magazine and the CalArts in-crowd. At this point I decided to enlist the help of the attendant, and he turned out to be quite a charming and eager fellow. Thanks to him, I learned that Renata Lucas actually wants the public to have a hands-on experience with her artwork, and it is her intention that visitors grab and fold the plywood sheets and rearrange them at will. But obviously the curator of the exhibition had no desire to communicate clearly to the public the artist's intentions. I left the exhibition feeling like an uninvited guest crashing the party.

I found refuge across the street at MOCA. It was the first day of the exuberant exhibition by young California sculptor Matthew Monahan, who has already been exhibited on the east coast and in Europe, but this is his first museum show. One cannot imagine a more friendly and generous way to be introduced into the phantasmagorical world of this artist's imagination. His figurative sculptures combine large, intentionally crumpled drawings with crudely shaped body parts made of foam, wax, drywall etc., and here and there one can see surprising traces of gold leaf. It's for the visitor to decide if these strange creatures are demons, saints, or fallen angels, but I definitely intend to see this exhibition more than once to enjoy Matthew Monahan's unstoppable inventiveness.

Renata Lucas: Falha (Failure)
On view at REDCAT
through August 26, 2007

MOCA Focus: Matthew Monahan
On view at MOCA Grand Avenue
through October 29, 2007

Banner image: Renata Lucas, Cruzamento, 2003, plywood; outside the Centro Cultural Oduvaldo Viana Filho (Castelinho do Flamengo), Rio de Janeiro