L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
“Becoming a human being isn’t just something you get with your birth,” novelist Zadie Smith told Bookworm’s Michael Silverblatt in 2006. “It’s an exercise and it takes your whole life.” Smith said this following the publication of On Beauty, her relentless opus in which 450 pages of identity-searching ends in disaster—slander, scandal and death, all somehow stemming from the characters’ frustrating fixation on the question, “who am I?” The better question, according to Smith, and the one art should really help us ask, is, “Do other people exist in the same way I do?”
I thought of Smith earlier this week, while viewing Joint Dialogue at Overduin and Kite. This new exhibition of old work by Lee Lozano, Stephen Kaltenbach, and Dan Graham certainly treats being human, like being an artist, as a lifelong project. But, more provocatively, it also questions whether people can exist through each other and refuse to be each other at the same time.
Curated by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, the exhibition looks deceptively pragmatic, with text pieces tastefully spaced on each wall of the first gallery and a series of old Artforum magazines placed on wall-mounted pedestals in the second. But Joint Dialogue (the title, a double entendre, refers to joining together and smoking together) is actually irreverently curious and funny, and it traces a convergence that would make even Lawrence Weschler proud: in New York in the late 1960s, Lozano, Graham, and Kaltenbach were all grappling with the difficulty of living honestly and using drugs, sexuality and money to pull others into conversations about being artists (and just being in general). In fact, the explorations of Lozano, Graham, and Kaltenbach seem so entwined that, at time, it’s easy to forget they are three distinctly different personalities who would go on to have three distinctly different legacies.
The psychology of Dan Graham’s Income (Outflow) Piece (1969/1973), in which Graham attempted to sell shares in himself and to become solvent by “coming on” in the right way, seems to extend into Lee Lozano’s Real Money Piece, in which she offered a jar of money to other artists, who could either contribute or extract funds at will. Lozano wryly recorded people’s reactions; some, like Brice Marden (who apparently laughed at the idea), refused to take anything; others, like Graham, took and returned money on loan. It became a document of artists’ divergent opinions about money and its distribution. Lozano’s Dialogue Piece (1969) worked similarly (and again, Graham played a key role: “Dan Graham and I have important dialogue in that definite changes were immediately effected because of it,” Lozano wrote). She contacted, or tried to contact, art world all-stars like Robert Morris and (less successfully) Jasper Johns, simply inviting them to talk. The openness or aversion her peers had to this idea of dialogue, coupled with the fact that Lozano made herself vulnerable in order to draw others into an undefined, possibly precarious experience, give the piece its backbone. Lozano’s diaristic descriptions, which pointedly omit the actual content of each conversation, give the piece its charm. One of my favorites: “we discuss ‘the Revolution,’ Brice [Marden] talking almost entirely abt shitty business practices in the art world, & shitty treatment of artists by each other.“
Around the same time Lozano made her Dialogue Piece and Graham made Income (Outflow) Piece, Stephen Kaltenbach was attributing his work to others–he attributed a clock he made to Lozano–and gifting to and borrowing from the practices of his peers. His mostly steel Time Capsules, two of which he included in Joint Dialogue and some of which he dedicated to friends or acquaintances, were often engraved with pithy instructions (one said “open before my retrospective at the Tate in London”) and gave his seemingly transient, interaction-based art a comical permanence. Like Graham and Lozano, he set himself apart by wholeheartedly engaging other people.