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dear franklin

Post #238 • March 17, 2004, 6:51 AM • 1 Comment

An actual letter to (with salutation added and real name withheld):

Dear Franklin,

Well, I've joined the MoCA family, or some such nonsense, as a MoCA "Shaker" (I know, it sounds ridiculous). Mind you, I don't think MoCA is any great shakes. I only did it to have access to special events for collectors only open to certain levels of membership, starting with the Shaker level. I keep telling myself that I've done nothing wrong, yet why do I feel vaguely like a prostitute?

All Shook Up

Dear ASU,

Feelings like yours are common among people who become members of museums that they're a little less than gung-ho about. And who could blame you? Right now MoCA's showing young, hyped, photogenic Laura Owens mere weeks after an exhibition of young, hyped, photogenic Inka Essenhigh. Despite the fact that curator Paul Schimmel called Owens one of the most important artists to come out of Los Angeles in the last decade, a walk through her exhibition reveals her to be an underwhelming, lightweight painter. One untitled canvas after another shows that she's at her best when aping other artists: a little Alex Katz here, a little Elizabeth Peyton there, a dash of indeterminate Chinese ink painter, a sprinkle of Cy Twombly, and so on. She makes Essenhigh look downright formidable. Perhaps not since the 1980s has a reputation so outstripped a talent.

You feel that your high standards have been compromised by supporting a museum whose values are quite different from yours, even if you gain entry into members-only events in return. I forgive you, ASU, and you should try to forgive yourself. MoCA is the only game in town for this sort of thing, if you don't count MAM, and often you can't. MoCA director and curator Bonnie Clearwater is a force to be reckoned with, and usually she's the one putting up the exciting shows down here. Or if not exciting, at least they float into town on a big enough mass of hot air that you can pretend they're exciting. In Miami, sometimes that's the most you can ask for.

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March 18, 2004, 1:48 AM

I saw the Owens show. First of all, nobody who's early thirties, with less than ten years of professional career, deserves a museum retrospective--as a matter of principle, if nothing else. Principle, of course, is not exactly what the game's about these days.

I found the show to be blandly pretty and pretty pointless. The huge dimensions of a number of paintings suggest someone's been getting rather too much encouragement. While I didn't think highly of the Essenhigh show, at least her work was more cohesive and consistent, more focused. Owens apparently wants to be too many different things.

Her attempts at abstraction are especially weak, like something Martha Stewart might have conceived. Her signature pieces, with cute little animals and such, are faintly embarrassing eye candy (though they'd make excellent illustrations for children's books). Her fairly straightforward figurative works were the best in the show, but too reminiscent of other people, notably Elizabeth Peyton.

It's all very easy on the eyes, cozy and accessible, but also thin and insubstantial, and the fey factor soon becomes cloying. There is stronger work than this being done locally by people who are more or less ignored by the Miami art establishment. I could list names, but those whose official job it is to find talent should be able to do so on their own. That's what they get paid for.



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