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In his 1962 essay, “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art,” film critic and painter Manny Farber championed creative pursuits that bore down unrelentingly on the mundane, banal, odd, and everyday, with no greater aspiration than total immersion into their own particularities. “Good work usually arises where their creators … seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture,” he wrote in the essay, “but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn’t anywhere or for anything.”
In her swan song MOCA exhibition, One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art, outgoing curator Helen Molesworth takes this premise and runs with it to delightful effect. The show brings together several paintings by Farber — which usually feature common, but deeply personal objects, floating on a canvas divided into brightly colored quadrants — with a diverse group of 30 or so artists who use their own lives and surroundings as inspiration, including Joan Brown, Wolfgang Tillmans, Lorna Simpson, Charles Ray, and others.
Blame the Audience, an accompanying four-part program put together by artist Jason Simon, a former student of Farber’s, brings the focus back to the world of film, presenting cinematic works that resonate with his teachings. This week’s screening features short films by William E. Jones, who digs into archives, modifying their original content to reframe the stories they tell; Mike Kelley, whose idiosyncratic works across a wide spectrum of media offered a window into his interior world; Danny Lyon, who immersed himself into various communities to create iconic photo series on bikers, the incarcerated, and the ’60s activist group SNCC; and US-born Palestinian filmmaker Jumana Manna, whose research-based films delve deeply into their subjects, from the struggle to preserve the biodiversity of seeds to a moving study of traditional Middle Eastern music. The event is free, but MOCA members get priority entry.
When: Thursday, December 13, 7pm
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Grand Ave. (250 South Grand Ave., Downtown, Los Angeles)
More info at MOCA
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