Magazine article Artforum International

Surf and Turf

Magazine article Artforum International

Surf and Turf

Article excerpt

If UCLA were a rock scene, it would be Seattle, right after Never-mind went platinum.

- Denis Cooper, Spin, July 1997

Not so long ago the decision to become an artist was greeted by parents with horror. But with the '80s art boom, the joke was that art was every bit as solid a career choice as dentistry. With more than 10,000 students due to pack off to graduate arts programs this fall, we wondered where tomorrow's MFAs most want to go today and why. With all signs pointing to Los Angeles and a pair of schools - UCLA and the Art Center College of Design - battling for the distinction of Black Mountain by the beach, we asked Andrew Hultkrans to visit the campuses and talk with students in their studios. Photographer Jeff Burton followed with his camera.

As I follow Dennis Cooper's car along a tortuous insider's route to the bowels of Culver City, location of UCLA's graduate art studios, I wonder if I'm being taken for a ride. A disarmingly friendly man despite (or because of) his snuff-film aesthetics as a fiction writer, Cooper has acted as unofficial evangelist for UCLA's MFA students for the past two years. Last summer the novelist (and UCLA faculty member) humanized his proteges for art outsiders in Spin, praising them as much for their wacky behavior - psychedelic drug use, zany costume parties, wrestling in a kiddie pool filled with fake blood - as for their art, which he describes with characteristic faux-naif bemusement as "crazy, large-scale, incredibly ambitious, and very sincere." This spring he brought to New York his "Brighten the Corners: Five Artists from Los Angeles," a show featuring recent grads and current students at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in SoHo. Borrowing its name from a Pavement album, this East Coast coming-out party seems another effort by Cooper to demystify his students' work for a more general public. While certainly more sincere than, say, Subaru's risible recent attempt to equate one of its cars with punk, Cooper's wheel-greasing still begs the question. Can fine art capture the instant accessibility and popular appeal of indie rock? Boesky herself cites the work's "lack of irony and cynicism" as its selling point. Other gallerists are more bold. Richard Telles, a Los Angeles dealer who exhibits recent UCLA students, claims, "The LA schools simply characterize what the art world is interested in right now."

It would be easy to dismiss such comments as self-interested boosterism if it weren't for the overwhelming evidence of art-world fascination with the LA schools, particularly UCLA and Art Center. In addition to Spin, articles in such unlikely venues as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Forbes have touted LA's "hot" art scene, fed by its schools. In these pages last winter, the relative temperature went without saying. For a review of "Malibu Sex Party," a show made up largely of UCLA students, Artforum contributing editor Brace Hainley wrote, "Everyone is by now aware of the hype about the LA art scene." Most telling, though, was the lineup of last year's Whitney Biennial, which featured such an unprecedented number of recent UCLA grads and their famous teachers that Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight dubbed it "the UCLA Biennial." While some point to the emergence of Jason Rhoades as an augury of UCLA's current buzz, the cyclical dynamic that art shares with the what's-hot-what's-not pendulum of fashion provides a more likely explanation. Exactly twenty years ago, the eyes of the art world were on another Southern California art school, looking for the Next Big Thing.

[Cal Arts] offered no drawing classes (craftsmanship was considered passe), but the course catalog included seminars in joint rolling and witchcraft. Classes generally had no assigned meeting time but were considered in session whenever the instructor ran into a student on campus. When an art class held an orgy that first year, news of it reached New York.

- Ralph Rugoff, Vogue, 1989

Art schools have gone in and out of style over the years, generally serving as solid, if unremarkable pedagogical institutions that train young artists to be teachers. …

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