Seminal moments of my year as told by my favorite art exhibits.
January – The Lowline
Early in January of 2016 I went with my mom to see The Lowline in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The Lowline is a sustainable initiative to build a fully functioning botanical ecosystem in an abandoned subway station. The space was beautiful in a very futuristic kind of way. (It’s still open now until February 26, 2017 for anyone interested in seeing.) It was like walking into a dark room with a small halo of plant-life sprouting from fiberglass and wood boxes in the middle of the room.
Personally, the Lower East Side is my favorite part of Manhattan. I love its history. I love the roots of tenements and its turn-of-the-century cultural sprawl that leaves remnants in form of 1 dollar pizza and markets relatively unmarred by the fingers of gentrification. The day I spent there with my mom, I was possibly the most hungover I had ever been, the type of hungover that was coupled with intense anxiety. It was heartening that January morning to be in the epicenter of New York’s melting pot, exploring this park of the future where worlds can grow from the darkness.
February – The LA Art Book Fair
Going to the LA Art Book Fair was probably the first time I spent a day in LA out by myself. At home in New York, I often feel liberated wandering the city myself. When I lived in Paris, I would find excuses to explore gardens or rues alone. But Los Angeles was different. It was a city that did not open itself to me. At this point in the year, many of my experiences and relationships during my time in LA had been shown to me in a different light. The only romantic relationship I had ever been in fell apart and proved to be rather unhealthy, and a lot of my friendships didn’t survive the shift. In many ways, it was like turning around to look at the past and realizing much of it had been cardboard-cutout-experiences.
The Book Fair was held by Printed Matter in the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. All of the art on display was modern, edgy, amazing. All of its artists stood beneath their work, chatting with people, casually living their dreams as if they didn’t even notice
where they were. There was an air of nonchalance: art in a whitewalled warehouse space, ogled in jean-
jackets stuck with handdrawn buttons.Wandering its labyrinthian isles, pawing books of postmodern poetry and rare Salinger, I found myself in a situation that had become alien to me. I was alone feeling very not alone. I walked with myself as if I was holding my own hand. I bought myself coffee. I felt the sun on my face.
March – Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle
For spring break I took a road trip with two friends up the west coast. The furthest we drove was Seattle. Nestled beneath the Space Needle is a museum entirely dedicated to famous glass blower, Dale Chihuly. Life in Los Angeles at the time was tumultuous and drama-ridden. I had never been to Seattle, and the excitement of this adventure, with two of my favorite people, was like stepping out of a suffocating room into a clean cold morning. My friend Matt knew about this glass exhibit. It is half outside, which if you’re visiting Seattle in the winter and have only a peacoat, is pretty impossible to bear, and half inside. The exhibit eventually opens its halls to a large glass room like estuaries to the mouth of a river. From here you can see all of the glass structures in the garden, and a large spindly structure hanging delicately from the ceiling. The glass looks like blown sugar against the sky.
April – Mapplethorpe at The Getty
In Spring 2016, I took two art classes: oil painting, and contemporary art history. I loved both of these classes dearly, and both involved field trips to the Getty, which happened to fall on the same day. For my contemporary art class, we were there to see Mapplethorpe. His X, Y, and Z portfolios, along with some polaroids and earlier portraits, were split between the Getty and LACMA. The Getty, the more sophisticated of the two, hid much of the Z Portfolio–comprised of explicit sexual images of gay men engaging in BDSM–behind a wall in a separate gallery. It put Mapplethorpe’s Y Portfolio–rich images of flowers–in front of the wall. It felt embarrassed to me. Why shy away from the pain of dying, the pleasure of controlled pain in the face of death? Why have the tour guide show us only the flowers and the polaroids? I thought about this while I sat on the sloping lawn while I waited for my painting class field trip to begin.
June – Cindy Sherman and the Infinity Room at The Broad
The Broad is one of my favorite modern art museums I’ve ever been to. June through October, they had on display their entire collection of Cindy Sherman photographs. Admission to the Broad is always free (you just have to reserve tickets way far in advance), but this special exhibit was $18. It was a few galleries of her work, all
expectedly rich in tone and color, ominous and leering in their beauty. Many of the photographs worked with the female form and expression in jewel-tones. All of the photographs were film. It was worth every single of the 18 dollars.
While wandering the galleries shortly before close, a docent approached my friend and I and offered us access to the Infinity Room, usually a full day’s wait.
We jumped on it and entered the room together. The Infinity Room is an installation by artist Yayoi Kusama, which is only on display until October 2017, so if you live in LA, go see it soon. It feels like stepping into the milky way, surrounded by LED lights, mirrors, and water. It’s nothing short of magical.
July – Monet’s Water Lilies at LACMA
In July, I took an acrylic painting class at LACMA. It was a little expensive, but they supplied all of the paints, a stretched canvas, and personal attention from a professional painting instructor. It was definitely a highlight of my summer. At this point in the year, I was interning downtown, forcing Los Angeles to open itself to me. I dyed my hair blonde, which sent me into an existential tailspin for a few weeks. I brunched, bar-ed, metroed, worked, yoga’d, explored and arted like an Angelino. I roamed the city holding my own hand often.
In this class, not only did we get uninterrupted studio time, but we also received instruction by entering the galleries and discussing the work there. The class was five weeks long and each week we entered a new gallery, but the ones I remember most vividly are the two water lilies by Monet. I’ve seen some of Monet’s water lilies before at Paris’s Musee d’Orangerie, where they’re stretched along the walls of an ovular room as if you’ve physically fallen into the pastel strokes. But the ones on display at LACMA are smaller. And browner. They are not immediately beautiful to look at. They are artfully painted, of course. But they don’t look like the capital “A” Art we think of when we think of Monet’s water lilies. They look like regular lily pads in a pond. They look like real life. And in a way that’s what makes them even better than capital “A” Art.
August – Museum of Ice Cream
I went home again in August and went with my mom to the Museum of Ice Cream, which was in a pop-up gallery across the street from the Whitney in the Meatpacking District. This exhibit was invented for instagram. Bathed in candy-colors there were cone lights hanging from the ceiling, a pool of sprinkles, and at the end they gave out ice cream cones with “magic berries” that turned your sour taste buds to sweet. It was amazing, nothing held a lot of gravity, there was nothing to induce any anxiety. Afterwards my mom and I exchanged all the pictures we took over beers at the Spotted Pig.
November – Enchanted Forest of Light at Descanso Gardens
This fall semester was a very busy one for me. With all the classes I was taking, writing, reading, and other creative projects I was working on, I didn’t have a lot of time to go out and see art. It was also a time of seismic shift, in a slow rumble, major things about my life were changing. I didn’t notice how different things were until I looked up.
In November, a guy took me to a holiday light exhibit around Pasa
dena. I made the mistake of wearing a dress and was absolutely freezing the whole time, but it was nothing short of bewitching. There were eight different light exhibits set up in the different gardens. The woman taking our tickets told us the seventh was the best one. I was skeptical because one of them was comprised of huge circles of light that changed color as you jumped from one to the next, but we searched for seven, regardless. After accidentally skipping it, we found it. The Ancient Forest. Towering trees and vines were bathed in green and blue light. No photo does it justice. The trees felt to me as big as redwoods. It was breathtakingly beautiful and the light, the vines, the trees, the cold, all made me feel as small as a fairy. Like I had walked in on some ancient magic, unnoticed.
December – Pixel Forest at The New Museum
Currently on display at the New Museum in the West Village is Pixel Forrest, a series of installations by contemporary artist Pipilotti Rist. One room is a series of hanging lights that change colors and look like a jellyfish forest. I went to the museum with my mom and my best friend Hayley, as a way for them to meet each other. Among those lights, possibly also made just for instagram, both took extensive iPhone photos of me, like I was surrounded by paparazzi. Being the awkward person I am, it made me uncomfortable, but it also made me strikingly aware of the fact that I was among my two biggest fans. That receiving love from my favorite people was casual and never-ending. While very little about my art-viewing habits changed over the past year, I doubt this is a realization I could have had last January.