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The Main Museum – Star Montana: I Dream of Los Angeles, Alice Könitz: Circle Chairs, Triangle Chairs

The Main Museum

Star Montana: I Dream of Los Angeles

Alice Könitz: Circle Chairs, Triangle Chairs

(May 7-July 23, 2017)

Surely one must consider institutionally-presented work on its merits. In the case of the Beta Main phase of the emergent Main Museum, however, context is the king of meaning. Here is a circumstance where setting is both message and medium for the inspired interdisciplinary pairing of Star Montana’s photographs and design prototypes by Alice Könitz. Los Angeles is watching the museum build and design itself, giving itself conceptual programmatic and physical form in real time and in public—deliberately making the historic site’s architectural renovation, adaptive reuse and LA-focused studio residencies a sort of meta-spectacle of content and openly discussing what the Main’s personnel call “the museum-making process.” In that setting, not only each showing, but the pairing itself, is as much about giving that process meaning as it is about the work being exhibited.

Montana began her residency at The Main in November 2016, and many of these works were created during that time, building on an existing project. Many of the subjects of Montana’s portraits are strangers from East L.A. or South L.A. Some are friends, some answered an open call. Each of these casually heroic, character-driven portraits is accompanied by a short but evocative and integral text describing the person’s life and the artist’s experience of meeting them. Montana operates with unsentimental empathy and a lack of obvious agenda beyond a desire to equalize the demographics of the institutionally-represented. Her project is driven, as so much great art is, by an integration of the artist’s education, her autobiography and an expression of the present cultural moment.

We talk a lot about dreams, but what do we know about who is dreaming them? And where are they sitting, seeing and being while they look toward the future? A woman who wears the saints on her sleeve and a flower in her hair as the magic hour light caresses her thousand-yard stare. A man who wishes to be seen as both the paragon of strength and a welcoming presence. A young woman who embraced the arts of her own ethnic heritage as an escape from the oppression of her circumstances. A young man who buries it all in a sleepwalk through an assimilation-wrapped ennui. And Montana herself an artist from the neighborhoods she now inhabits anew, who left and prodigally returned to find both the place and herself unchanged and unrecognizable and actively uses her artistic practice to figure out what is really going on with all that.

Considering the environment along with its contents is a huge part of the ethos of The Main—itself occupying, celebrating and enacting the transformation of a historic neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles. So is the idea of assembling itself as a sort of long-term performative act; almost an inverted residency of itself. It’s very meta. And it reflects the institution’s commitment to all things local, and to welcoming an expanded audience that includes but transcends the cognoscenti.

Design is always to some degree a question of function exercising a nuanced dominion over aesthetics. Könitz’s sculptural practice is responsive to its location and to its own existence as a social site, even when it is not functional per se. Or it is a hybrid, like a stage set. In the case of her sectional, reconfigurable seating designs (circle and triangle), Könitz’s lively, colorful, puzzle-piece and Op Art-inspired furnishings both activate architectural space and generate interactive optical impressions. Visitors are encouraged to take a survey about the pieces, asking them to consider that aspect of the visit which might otherwise be taken for granted: actually being there.

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Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Los Angeles. She is currently LA Editor for Whitehot Magazine, Arts Editor for Vs. Magazine, Contributing Editor to artltd., and a contributor to Flaunt, Huffington Post, Montage, Desert Magazine, Porter & Sail and KCET’s Artbound. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes loads of essays for art books and exhibition catalogs, curates and/or juries a few exhibitions each year, and speaks in public every chance she gets.

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