Max Presneill: He Dreamed of Sunshine, Skateboard Parks and the Next Big Center of Art

Departures Arrivals Max Presneill2.jpg

KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from Max Presneill. He's an artist, curatorial director of ARTRALA, and curator and director of the Torrance Art Museum.*

"In 1995 I was participating in one of the biggest art exhibitions of my career up to that point.

"Being excited at the whole prospect of seeing my work on the walls of the most respected museum in the city I was living in at that time, I went in to the galleries during install week only to find that my grid of eight 5 x 5 ft paintings had been cut down to four and rearranged out of sequence. I immediately found the young curator and asked what had happened.

"She told me she preferred the work this way. As insulting as that was I replied that I didn't mind the reduction in number but that the layout had to be returned as they were painted in a kind of conceptual sequence. She refused. We argued LOUDLY.

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"Her final argument for screwing with my work was that it was her reputation on the line. When I pointed out heatedly that it was MY name on the wall and so everyone would feel that I had failed or succeeded, not her, she said it was too late anyway.

"During this whole barrage of enmity the installers for the museum had stood open-mouthed at this soap opera of artistic drama and 'creative differences.' I turned to them and asked how long it would take to rearrange the work on the wall.

"They looked at each other, then her, then back to me and one of them said, '10 minutes.' The curator swore and stormed off, the installers shifted the order back to my original layout (for 4 works only) and I drove home feeling like the furnace of the Titanic - too hot and about to sink.

"When I arrived home I was bursting with anger. As it was midday during the week everyone I knew was at work and I needed to vent with someone. I phoned my mother who calmly asked what my problem was and what did I intend to do?

"I threw myself through a long list of complaints about my life, art, the art world, my job and anything else I could throw into the mix. She said, 'Then why don't you move if that is not the place for you?' A light bulb appeared above my head glowing fiercely...

"I quickly gathered a notepad and a pen and talking myself through it, with my mother as a sounding-board and occasional quizmaster I started plotting my escape.

"An hour and a half later I had a written a plan, many pages long, that covered everything from where I wanted to move to, how much money I would need to gather, what business I would start when I got there and probably my lunch menu for the first week too. That day I went to work on what had become The Plan.

"A year and a half later, of taking business classes for accountancy, entrepreneurship, of working long, dreary sentences of 12 hour days for seven days a week at [terrible], dirty jobs and probably more visits to the American Embassy than the American Ambassador made, with all the paperwork filling that entailed, I was ready.

"I had a big goodbye party for all my friends and family and the next day got on a plane bound for Los Angeles - the city of my childhood dreams of sunshine and skateboard parks and where I believed the next big center of art would be.

"On February 17th, 1997 I stepped off the plane with a backpack, got in a taxi and headed into my new life here in L.A., to start being the person I wanted to be, with the life I wanted to make."

-- Max Presneill
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)


Photo: Courtesy Max Presneill


*Jeremy Rosenberg is the 2010-2011 Writer-In-Residence at the Torrance Art Museum

**This post originally was published under the headline, "Arrival Story: Max Presneill"

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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