Interviews

Meet LA’s Art Community: Alexis Bard Johnson Is Versed in the Visual Culture of Lesbian Magazines

An interview series spotlighting some of the great work coming out of Los Angeles. Hear directly from artists, curators, and art workers about their current projects and personal quirks.

Alexis Bard Johnson (photo courtesy Center for Curatorial Leadership)

Welcome to the 17th installment of the interview series Meet LA’s Art Community. Check out our past interviews here.

This week, we interview Alexis (Lexi) Bard Johnson, the curator at the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, the largest LGBTQ archive in the world. Lexi earned her PhD in Art History with a minor in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Stanford University in 2019. Her dissertation is one of the few scholarly considerations of the visual culture in lesbian magazines in the United States. Before joining the ONE Archives, Johnson worked at the Princeton Art Museum, the Whitney Museum, and the Terra Foundation for American Art. She is currently organizing an exhibition for the LA Queer Biennial that will feature both archival collections and work by contemporary artists, including the Fairoaks Project, Amos Badertscher, Amina Cruz, Judy Ornelas Sisneros, and Rubén Esparza.

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Where were you born? 

Chicago, IL.

How long have you been living in Los Angeles? 

A little over five months. I moved to Los Angeles from Oakland in September 2019.

What’s your first memory of seeing art? 

At home, growing up, my parents had a lot of art around the house, which I now realize was all contemporary American art and sculptural objects. So visual art was a part of my life from a very early age.

Do you like to photograph the art you see? If so, what device do you use to photograph? 

Sometimes. I often practice an internal rule, which is that I require myself to look at the work for at minimum a minute before I allow myself to photograph it. This forces me to slow down and appreciate what I’m seeing. The photograph can serve as a reminder, and, when I return to the image, then it takes me back to my experience of seeing the work in person.

What was your favorite exhibition in Los Angeles this year? 

Well, I just moved here, so I haven’t seen many shows in LA yet, but the exhibition that is sticking with me at the moment is the one I saw on my birthday — the Shirin Neshat retrospective at the Broad. I taught Neshat’s film Rapture (1999) when I TA’ed a class on Feminism and Contemporary Art while in graduate school, so it was fun to see that film again. I also appreciated the installation of the exhibition. It seamlessly paired her films and still photography, and I felt that certain installation decisions enhanced my viewing experience.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

The best book I’ve read is often the book that I am currently reading — and right now I am splitting my time between two books: Andy Campbell’s Bound Together: Leather, Sex, Archives and Contemporary Art (Manchester University Press, 2020) and Inside Killjoy’s Kastle: Dykey Ghosts, Feminist Monsters, and Other Lesbian Hauntings (UBC Press, 2019). However, I was lucky enough to hear Saeed Jones in conversation with Roxane Gay in October in Los Angeles, and Jones’s How We Fight For Our Lives (Simon & Schuster, 2019) is beautifully written and deeply affecting.

Do you prefer to see art alone or with friends? 

I enjoy both. Seeing art alone is a luxurious pleasure because I can go at my own pace — moving as quickly or as slowly as I want. But, I also really enjoy seeing art with my partner, my mother, or colleagues because I love talking about what I see and hearing what they see and how their experience both contrasts and parallels my own.

What are you currently working on? 

Too many things! As the new curator at the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, I’m planning exhibitions and programs from next week to five years from now. I am most excited about the exhibition I’m putting together for the LA Queer Biennial in June as well as the proposal I’m working on for the next round of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time.

What is one accomplishment that you are particularly proud of? 

I finished and defended my dissertation this year and graduated with my PhD in June 2019. I’m really proud of finishing in six years and writing about lesbian magazines, but I am equally proud of the essay on Warhol and drag that I contributed to the exhibition catalogue Contact Warhol: Photography Without End (MIT, 2018) and serving as a contributor to the revised edition of Art & Queer Culture (Phaidon, 2019).

Where do you turn to for inspiration for your projects?

I’m an only daughter of an only daughter of an only daughter and we are all talkers. Inspiration comes from many places, but I usually hone my best ideas by talking with my mom and my partner.

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