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Working on the Chain Gang

July 23, 2011

About three weeks ago I received an email from an artist friend of mine here in Santa Monica inviting me to be part of a group show at Shoshana Wayne Gallery. The invitation came in the form of a Chain Letter and the “curatorial” premise was that if I wanted to participate I would forward the email to ten more artists whose work I admired. Initially I thought the idea just quirky enough to want to join. It also didn’t hurt that it was Shoshana Wayne, whose gallery program I admire. (Invite)

Traffic Jam—The Art Delivery Family

So dutifully I sent out my ten invites and rsvp’d as per the instructions. Installation Day was to be at the end of July with the show running through August. Fine. Later I got three more invites as the invites ricocheted around the social networks. I got bemused reactions from some.  After a few moment’s thought I did realize that this could turn out to be a cluster fuck of extraordinary proportions.

The End of the Line

The End of the Line

Well Installation Day was yesterday and the landscape could not have been more surreal. My friend Richmond and I showed up at Bergamot Station around quarter after ten to find traffic backed up completely. The ample parking lot of Bergamot was jammed like sardines. We parked about a dozen blocks away and hoofed it in. We found out quickly that the line to install your piece snaked around the compound with easily 300 waiting in line.

The Art Hopeful in Line-The Well Prepared art couple with Beach Chairs

Each artist was given a number and there were already at 287 which meant that 287 pieces were already installed. I switched from artist to journalist and found out that they had received 1700 rsvp’s. I stashed my piece at a nearby gallery and went into the space to document the ensuing tornado of artistic neediness.

The Weight of the Virgin Mary-Beware the Red Bunnies-Uhaul with Tube Socks

The immediate metaphor was that of an open casting call where all the wannabes and hopeful aspirants had a chance to trot out their stuff. But this wasn’t an audition. You showed up, you could place your piece. No curatorial oversight, completely democratic.

Inside Shoshana Wayne Gallery at 11am

Chaos! The range of work swung from the possibly sublime to the grotesquely ridiculous. I qualify sublime with “possibly” because I suspect that any quality that was there couldn’t possible be seen through the miasma of diletant outpouring. Now here is where it all gets really tricky. I vowed at the onset of writing this that I would try my hardest not be negative, surly or aloof. Excuse me while I put my inner cynic back in his cage.

So with this narrative groundwork set out for you, let me address a couple of issues at play.

1.) The Number of people out there who think of themselves as artists is staggering.  It’s humbling to be sure but the number of serious, dedicated professionally practicing artists are far fewer.

2.) The gallery and curatorial vetting system is a blessing. The art world is no place for democracy.

3.) Logistically, the curators failed on two primary basis. First they didn’t stagger the installation process over three or four days. Second they imposed no size limitations for the work. This latter element lead the needy egos to trot out their largest and most unwieldy pieces.

4.) Evidence of democracy only works when all participate. One person, one voice. The potential of a lively chorus is there, but it was quickly obvious that those artists who had galleries didn’t feel the need to participate. In fact the persons who invited me weren’t there nor were the artists I invited.

5.) The venue was way to small for the undertaking. The performative aspect of this spectacle would have played out much better in an abandoned 30,000 square foot industrial space, many of which stand empty in desolate areas all around the country. At the writing three additional spaces were being readied to accommodate the overflow.

6.) Throughout this experience I remained delighted by the human parade of creative hope that seems to spring from bottomless wells. The creative act is indeed for all to practice. It manifests itself in scrapbooking and needlepoint. knitting and landscape plantings. Where it becomes wistfully sad and uncomfortably tragic is when aspiration exceeds knowledge, practice and discipline.

7.) Of one thing I am certain: An event-stunt-experiment of this caliber-insanity-ambition would never happen in NYC. I am truly thankful I live in Los Angeles.

8.) A similar gridlock of traffic and artistic souls is expected to converge on the gallery and Bergamot in general tomorrow when the show opens. With 1700 artists participating and you know they’d invite at least a couple of friends…well you do the math. As of Friday evening there were 1800+ attending on the Facebook Invite page and a full 5000+ who had been invited but had not responded. Erh Hello fire Department…

9.) I’m still sort of a fan of the initial concept. A Chain Letter was an early version of the social network after all. Graphing out the connectivity of the art community would have been an interesting exercise.

Picnic with Art--Moussad, My new favorite Art Critic

After leaving the melee, Richmond and I reached the car only to find that I had locked the keys in the car. We got some lunch at a food truck which was parked adjacent, propped up my painting and set up a picnic while waiting for AAA to arrive. Along came Massoud a wonderful Iranian who admitted to wanting to buy a food truck of his own and serve Iranian cuisine. He looked over at the painting and asked me if I had done that. I proudly claimed my artistic effort and he provided a 3 min interpretation which included seeing soldiers and police. It was a stunning off the cuff crit and I thanked him for his insight and interpretation. He said I was as good as Picasso. Little did he know that I prefer Matisse. My day was made, I wasn’t in an exhibit and it was only noon.

Mario M. Muller. Los Angeles, July 22nd, 2011


From → Breaking News

  1. I love your blow-by-blow account. I hear your voice. What a zoo. I really admire your locking, some of, your cynicism in that Pandora’s Box that is your brain.
    I hope video goes viral of the chaos; it would make the perfect grace note.
    And the capper for you was to be installed in the pantheon above Picasso by your new found pal.
    Great read! Reminds me a postcard show in 1969, every entry exhibited, required much less space for the 1,000+ entries and its transitory nature was completed by a shredder.

    • Love to know more about that postcard show and the trajectory of democratic exhibition attemps. I heard from a good friend that Walter Hopps mounted a similar attempt called 5×7 but he installed it and there was that size limitation!
      Now I lay in wait for that Iranian Food Truck to show up.

  2. really thoughtful and much appreciated description of what went on there yesterday. i arrived at around eleven and tried to find a parking spot. gave up and came home. was nice to be invited however.

    • Thanks Miki,
      Happy that you found this. I failed to mention that I faxed my entry. No idea if it was accepted or even if the fax came across. That’s besides the point. I agree, being invited made me feel like part of a community which is why I like the art world in the first place. And there’s more community here than in NYC that’s for sure.

  3. BossMoss's Boss permalink

    ohmygawd, Mario– this is a stunner!! Not just the lowbrow high-concept wackness upon which you have commented so brilliantly, but the added fun you managed to put into the dyfunctionality of it all, in typical Mario-style! This is your best blog to date, boyo, and they’ve all been great. ( fave: Issue #2, with a bullet, right between the eyes.)

  4. wow – not in the mood t read right now – but “my 10 favorite artists” and the photos make me smile – truffle hunting makes me happy!

  5. Sums it up with great humor. Wouldn’t have gone had you not encouraged me and now I feel I wouldn’t have missed if for the world. And I wouldn’t have participated as an artist for the world having gotten there….but it was great watching it play out.

    The photos turned out nicely!

    • Of course I was devastated that I didn’t give you Photo Credit! Thanks for your intrepid Joyful Pessimism.
      Truffle On!

  6. Victoria Burns permalink

    I had no idea. What a hoot! So glad you shared this, I will definitely check it out.

  7. FABULOUS!! Thanks for the critique. What a wonderful read. I’m ready for the Iranian food truck!

    • Thanks Rick! Feels great that your reading the posts. Let us know if you ever make it out west of the 405!

  8. Bob White permalink

    Please make the shift to video. These pictures need to speak!

    • You’re right Bob. If only I could edit video as quick as I type. As this with two finger typing. For an extra flavor of the day I did find a video somewhat impressionistically made. Check it out at

      Hunt On,

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