Getting Lost On The High Ground Of Greater Than L.A.

at Desert Center, Los Angeles (through 21 July 2018)
Reviewed by Shana Nys Dambrot

There’s something about Los Angeles that makes people constantly wrestle with what it means and never tire of describing how life is lived here. No other place, not even Paris or New York, has sponsored such a compendium of self-reflexive art and literature, almost all somehow both obsessive and ambivalent at the same time. L.A. is the kind of place where people who’ve never been here have more passion and frequently more insight about its nature than natives, which is to say, Hollywood especially, is such an aspirational, archetypal place, that there’s almost more cultural currency in projection and fantasy than in a direct yet diffuse experience of it.

L.A. possesses great natural beauty, egregious urban design, racial and economic inequality on an operatic scale, high-profile social progressivism, an industrialized science realm, and the twin-engine rush of celebrity worship and intensely casual spirit-balm self-care. Its nifty quality of light is legendary, its emblematic palm trees are non-native, its water supply is stolen, “Chinatown” was a documentary, and the people that live in Los Angeles think about Los Angeles all the time. Its cultural standard bearers and the ancestors they claim form a lineage of insider/outsiders, or perhaps it’s outsider/insiders, a cyclical and inter-generational situation with visual artists working across all mediums, whose investigations are never-ending, irresolvable, ongoing, historically engaged, and wide awake to the present moment.

For culture critic, art writer, and curator Michael Slenske (himself a recent transplant to the city, flush with curious enthusiasm in both his personal life and profession), the opportunity to occupy a space with an ersatz gallery program presented the ideal occasion to unpack all of these omnivorous and omnipresent ideas through the lens he knows best — visual art. The resulting show, Greater Than L.A., inaugurates a short-term-ish run of shows and projects in a second floor courtyard space on Beverly, by taking this plurality of related topics head-on. When it comes to physical L.A. itself, it’s not, as has famously been said, that there’s no there, there; it’s that there are too many theres there to know which there to start with.

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Larry Bell’s “Alpha Wave Image-Venice Beach-1968.”

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Hans Weigand

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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