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PST, A to Z: ‘Exchange and Evolution’ at Long Beach Museum of Art

November 28, 2011 |  3:00 pm

Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

Kids tour of Bjorn
In 1974, the Long Beach Museum of Art turned its attic into a video production studio and became a home base for the then-nascent video art scene. It was a good deal for artists, who were free to use the facility as long as they donated a copy of what they made to the museum’s collection. The museum also initiated a wide-ranging exhibition program that brought in artists and video works from all over the world.

This ambitious initiative, which also included unrealized plans for a museum cable channel, came to an end in 1999 as desktop editing and commercial facilities became more widely available. The museum’s collection sat in storage until 2005 when it was acquired by the Getty Research Institute, which restored and presented selected works as the centerpiece of the 2008 exhibition “California Video.”

That expansive show is a hard act to follow. For Pacific Standard Time, the LBMA decided to revisit the collection with a focus on international exchange, featuring works by artists from abroad and by U.S. artists who address cross-cultural issues. All of the works in “Exchange and Evolution: Worldwide Video Long Beach 1974-1999” were either created or shown at the museum. The result is a bit scattershot — “cultural exchange” is a big theme — but the show does demonstrate one of the key benefits of PST, bringing otherwise forgotten or under-known works to the fore. 

One of the highlights is Japanese artist Ko Nakajima’s unflinching “My Life,” a two-channel, black-and-white piece that spans the years 1974 to 1992, juxtaposing footage of his mother’s deathbed and funeral with the birth and growth of his daughter. There are some unsettling comparisons — coffins and cradles are both boxes for bodies — but the poetic work suggests that coming and going are just part of the same process. The piece also has two separate soundtracks (playing through two pairs of headphones), meaning you can never quite take it all in — like life.

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Also stretching the limits of comprehension is Spanish-born Antoni Muntadas’ “Between the Frames: Conjugating the Art World in the 1980s,” an impressive examination of the rise of the contemporary art market. It consists of eight video loops, each running on its own monitor and representing a different segment of the art world: dealers, collectors, galleries, museums, docents, critics, media, and an epilogue. The monitors are arranged around a circular couch, but the pieces are not synchronized, and some are almost an hour in length. Seeing the whole thing could be more than a day-long commitment. (It would also require at least a basic comprehension of Spanish, Catalan, Italian, French and Portuguese.) Yet dipping into this sea of information, opinion and theory yields a fascinating snapshot of the conditions that set the stage for our current, even more globalized art market. (It’s also a chance to hear from a 1980s-era Christopher Knight.)

Other works in the show don’t hold up as well but are interesting as products of their time. Norwegian artist Bjørn Melhus’ “Again and Again (The Borderer)” from 1998 uses then-new video effects to create a manic hall of mirrors of his own image across a row of eight monitors, foreshadowing the even more hyperbolic performative spaces of Ryan Trecartin. And Japanese artist Mako Idemitsu’s “Kyoko’s Situation” from 1989 is a heartfelt if heavy-handed look at the conflicting pressures of being an artist and a mother.

Although the exhibition includes just 12 installations, it has a small screening space that features a different single-channel work each week, 18 in all. There’s also an appropriately innovative use of the Xbox 360 as an interface for browsing images from the museum’s catalogs and other exhibition ephemera — more fun and space-saving than looking through vitrines — but the distance between the squirrely touchpad controls and the large, projected images is unfortunately too close for comfortable viewing. Still, “Exchange and Evolution” is very much in the spirit of PST, a valuable expansion of what we think of as Southern California art.

-- Sharon Mizota

Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 439-2119, through Feb. 12. Closed Mondays through Wednesdays. www.lbma.org

Photos, from top: Children watch Bjørn Melhus' "Again and Again (The Borderer)," 1998. Eight‐channel color video installation with sound, 6 minutes. Collection Kunsthalle Bremen—Der Kunstverein, Bremen, Germany. Credit: Sandro Dukic. From Long Beach Museum of Art.

Installation view, Antoni Muntadas' “Between the Frames: Conjugating the Art World in the 1980s,” 1983-1993. Credit: Sandro Dukic. From Long Beach Museum of Art.

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