As the editors of Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to bring you an excerpt of Lane Relyea’s essay on “networked culture” and nascent art scenes. This article was originally published on August 13, 2014, in East of Borneo, and we thank their editors for making this series possible. Enjoy!
In the catalogue for the 1996 show Life/Live, a survey of ’90s art in the U.K., curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist wrote that “artists’ initiatives” were one of the main “reasons for the extraordinary dynamism of the British art scene.” Two years later, Obrist found himself similarly weak in the knees when confronted by the scene in Los Angeles. While interviewing recent CalArts alumnus Dave Muller about his ongoing project Three Day Weekend, Obrist confided, “When I made studio visits in L.A. earlier this year I found that the dialogue between artists is stronger than in New York. It actually reminded me of the Glaswegian situation where spaces like Transmission go hand in hand with lots of other artist-run initiatives.”
Muller generally agreed. “The issues that Three Day Weekend might bring up through its sheer existence—the nomadic, DIY, temporality, situational/context, non-monumentality—I see as being topics pertinent to my immediate generation.” In many respects, Los Angeles and Glasgow couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. Rusting Glasgow on the one hand, trying desperately to deflect tourist money its way by selling nostalgia for its ye-olde maritime industry, versus L.A. on the other, global behemoth of such virtual industries as media and finance, with its aerospace futurism and showbiz culture and seeming lack of any past. In terms of their art scenes, though, both cities had long experienced marginalization. Los Angeles suffered under New York’s shadow, much as Glasgow felt eclipsed by London’s, both deemed provinces, quirky at best, otherwise just sparse and irrelevant.
Also like Glasgow, in the mid-’80s L.A. began to invest heavily in the arts as a way to shore up its global reputation. In 1986 the Museum of Contemporary Art opened (its name changed from the originally planned Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art, thus “signifying that it would present art from an international rather than regional perspective”), and a year later the city hosted a sprawling, big-ticket international arts festival. As with the “Capital of Culture” campaign in Glasgow, in L.A. the response was admiration from afar and disillusionment locally. “Potemkin Village,” scoffed Linda Frye Burnham in the L.A. Weekly. The city, she lamented, “touts itself as the next capital of art, but treats its artists like illegal aliens… We adulate state-supported geniuses like Pina Bausch and Maguy Marin, whose spectacles are the product of healthy arts environments elsewhere… [while] L.A. artists are in a desperate state, fighting over scraps, without career opportunities, funds, or housing.” But of course local artists weren’t the ones the festival’s sales pitch was aimed at.