Cohort | LA Abstraction in Conversation

538 N. Western Ave
Nov 04, 6 PM - 8 PM — ends Dec 21, 2023
Curated by Thea Smolinski

Artists Nick Aguayo, Math Bass, Heather Brown, Claire Colette, Gracie DeVito, Allison Miller, Megan Reed and Pui Tiffany Chow

We moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2015, and within a few weeks I was making the gallery rounds with a newborn strapped to my chest. A recovering academic and new to LA and the West Coast scene, I was also just getting my footing in contemporary art in general. Maybe it was my own recent schooling, or perhaps a concerted attempt to learn everything at once, that made me particularly aware of what felt like a uniquely Angeleno taxonomy: at almost every show we visited, and with so many artists we met, someone would eventually say, “She’s ArtCenter,” or “He’s CalArts.” And I would think, what does that mean? It clearly conveyed something necessary that I didn’t understand. Even more baffling, the alumni of these programs went out of their way to signal a debt owed to mentors whose work bore little or no visual resemblance to their own.

The embedded culture of teaching and the extent to which LA-educated artists embraced pedagogy ahead of (aesthetic) school or style felt like a specifically Los Angeles-phenomenon. Artists here not only studied with bonafide art stars that had long been dynamic fixtures on faculty rosters, but these teachers seemed to have little-to-no interest in churning out copycats. Radical feminists loved Paul McCarthy! Realist painters loved Charles Gaines! Everyone loved Roger Herman! The result was, and is, a sprawling network of interconnected artists whose outlooks are so highly personal and unique, but which are also so essentially LA.

Cohort is an attempt to map Los Angeles’s often under-recognized academic tradition through the very specific lens of artists engaging with a non-figurative lexicon. It’s also about the prodigious support, rigorous critiques, and exceptional work ethic throughout this community.  As this exhibition evolved, I came to think about an increasingly expansive definition of a cohort. Immediately, we can trace the academic side to this: Nick, Math, Heather and Allison are all UCLA alumni; Tiffany was a student of Allison’s at ArtCenter, Nick was her TA. But there are also larger social networks, friendships and camaraderie at play. These artists and their peers constitute a large and disparate pack that sometimes shows together, but more often simply show up together.

Image: Gracie DeVito "Shaking Interior"