SANCTIFIED: SPIRITUALITY IN CONTEMPORARY ART
Guest Curator: Mary Anna Pomonis
February 9-April 26, 2013
Vincent Price Art Museum
East Los Angeles College
1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez
Monterey Park, CA 91754
The questions below were given to Mary Anna Pomonis by me in response to her exhibition at Vincent Price Art Museum from February 9-April 26, 2013.
1. I read that the idea for this exhibition has been in your mind's eye for about 10 years. How did the show remain true to your original vision and how did it change?
In 2009 I was hanging out with Allison Stewart and Carole Caroompas. Allison, Carole and I had just come back from a show I curated in New York at Space B Gallery in Chelsea entitled, "The Gun Show". We began joking that after making a show about the taboo topic of gun culture it would be cool to do a show about "God". The idea really stuck in my head because I am from the Midwest and a very conservative Greek Orthodox family. On the one hand I rejected those ideas when I decided to become an artist and move away from home. However, like anything else you reject it becomes deeply imbedded in your memory and somehow elements of that rejection become part of your practice.
2.How do your personal politics work with the artists you chose for the show?
I tried very hard to balance the selection of sculptors, photographers, painters and environmental practioners. I also was very conscious of selecting a balance of men and women as well as people of color and people who identify as straight or gay. I found that because so much of sacred ritual is based on diversified ethnicity and social experience, balancing the artists led to a richer array of objects. For example Todd Gray's "Shaman" photographs are shot in Africa where he has a studio. Todd's work is performative, he stands with shaving cream completely covering his body in the middle of the jungle. His photographs simultaneously convey the frightening hood of a Klansman and an African shaman in the midst of a trance. Those kinds of associations are specific to him because of his racial identity and his work resonates with meaning as a result.
I took myself out of the show although my work is deeply connected to the exhibition statement since I am fascinated personally by the connection between modernist notions of aura and contemporary artistic practice. I felt that taking myself out of the show would make the audience experience more about the topic and less about the ego of the curator. I know that it's a protocol that is not always held up however, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
When I am selecting an artist for a show I have to feel a strong sense that in addition to the conceptual linkage with the project, the artist will be a pleasure to work with. I include Allison Stewart in my shows a lot because her work has incredible depth of meaning and I know from experience that Allison brings a level of professionalism and generosity to the projects she is involved with. Allison wrote the most incredible artist statement for the show outlining her project, "American Anthem" connecting her images of young soliders to the Mannerist images of Christ and the Madonna. Stewart points out that images of the tragic hero have become our sacred secular icons, that idea really resonated with me and I had to include her work. There are so many great artists in the show, I could go on and on, I'll just quote the didactic:
"To talk about the divine aspect of art production is as awkward as it
is exciting for the artists Mark Dutcher, Paul Guillemette, Charles
Hachadourian, Paula J. Wilson, Ross Rudel, and Linda Stark. There is a
theology of presence evident in their work; the artist's hand must be present
in the making in order to create an energetic action that is felt by the viewer..."
3. In your statement your wrote that the exhibition was divided by two: those who use ritual in their art and those who use the idea of spiritualism in a cynical way. Would you consider ritual being a part of every artist's process? Speaking for myself, and my creative process, I see having the qualities of spiritual riturals.
Most of the artists I know have incorporated aspects of ritual in their studios. Artists place salt in the corners of their studios, burn sage, hang up images of Kali, the Guadalupe, and collect icons. Although most contemporary artists tend to mock the ideas of faith, they often have deeply repetitive practices in the studio that mimic sacred meditation.
4. How did the agnostics occupy this space?
The response I got most often was a sort of active confusion followed by excitement. Many people at the performance day (co-curated by Adriana Yugovich) were really energized by the performances for different reasons. My boyfriend, Justin Stadel, felt the performances enhanced his relationship to the work. Which really surprised me because his sensibility is more abject. It's one thing to say, "The Semi-Tropic Spiritualists" are going to perform and quite another to watch them build a pyramid and then go inside the gallery and stand in front of one of Paul Guillemette's beautifully crafted pyramids made of recycled wood. The chanting Buddhists led by Jennifer Juniper-Stratford spread out around Paul Guillemette, Adrian De La Pena, Ron Laboray and Allison Stewart's work. Their meditative chanting for me personally changed the experience of looking at Laboray's, "Flaming Monk" and Carole Caroompas' "Dancing with Misfits: Eye Dazzler:Les Desaxes. Both Carole and Ron deal with popular culture imagery and it's easy to think of the images as sarcastic however, there is a layer of Buddhist suffering that come with the images of horror, so evident in both of their works. Krystal Krunch held a workshop to help visitors intuitively read the artwork in the show, so there were a lot of people wandering around and looking at art trying to commune with the objects while performers were performing, Ross Rudel created a beautiful piece entitled "Wet Column", where he stood on a tree stump in a felt suit with a wooden cage revolving around his head while he stood transfixed. Rudel fluffed out his hair in order to prevent the cage from striking him, there was this element of his being like a caryatid and the museum operating as a tie that bound him to the temple column. Finally there was this really interesting dynamic between the calm "Movement Ritual" piece by Dianna Cummins based on Yoga movements and the pure camp of "Barfth" the self-described sludge-metal band.
5. The "White Cube"-occupying the gallery space reminded me of the Suprematists and their search for the purity of only "feelings". Is the conceptual aspect of your curatorial efforts a search for this kind of non-objectivity?
It's interesting you should say that. I definitely think the gallery and museum today are the closest things our culture has to a pure or sacred space. Perhaps its my own efforts that create meaning in the face of total banality that faci. litated my drive to search out a museum venue for the show; to turn what initially started as a joke, into something that could lead to something more.
-Mary Anna Pomonis
Mary Anna Pomonis is a Los Angeles based artist. Pomonis has shown at galleries and institutions including, the Western Carolina University Museum of Fine Arts, the Torrance Art Museum, The Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, POST, Annie Wharton Los Angeles, Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts Miami, Cirrus Gallery Los Angeles, Space B Gallery New York, and 1-Space Gallery, Chicago. Her artwork has appeared in the Huffington Post, Saatchi Online magazine, National Public Radio, Whitehot Magazine and Artweek. Additionally her curatorial projects and essays have been featured at commercial and college art galleries such as the Vincent Price Art Museum, The Whittier College Greenleaft, POST, Peter Miller Gallery and Circus Gallery.
Allison Stewart (photographer) and Mary Anna Pomonis (curator)
Pomonis with Charlie Hachadourian's work