The Curatorial Arts of Yael Lipschutz

Tirs Reloaded Performance (Homage to Niki de Saint Phalle) Noah & Karon Davis (Boys in the Hoods, 2012, Fabric, stretcher bars & spray paint) | Photo by Zac Prange, Pine Flat Studios, Courtesy of LAXART.

In partnership with 18th Street Arts Center, an artists' residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making.

Yael Lipschutz is 18th Street Arts Center's 2013-14 Curator-in-Residence. She is a curator and art historian whose focus is on under-recognized artists from the recent history of Los Angeles. As Archivist for the Noah Purifoy Foundation, she has been instrumental in bringing this important artist's work and message to a broader public. She is collaborating with two Los Angeles museums on retrospectives of influential but lesser known artists, Purifoy and the Beat-era occultist and painter Cameron, who was associated with Wallace Berman's Semina circle. She has curated exhibitions including For the Martian Chronicles at L&M Arts in Venice, a group show that paid homage to the late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. For Pacific Standard Time, she curated a shooting range where artists shot at targets of their own making, in reference to Niki de St Phalle's "Shooting Pictures" created in the California desert 50 years before. Lipschutz, who earned her PhD from USC, is a curator who favors the offbeat over the academic. These different projects all reflect her love of iconoclastic artists, defined by deeply personal visions, whose work and visibility benefit greatly from her scholarly attention.

Yael Lipschutz's work with the Noah Purifoy Foundation has, in its own right, firmly established her dedication to Los Angeles art history. With Franklin Sirmans, she is also the co-curator of Purifoy's upcoming retrospective exhibition at LACMA to open in spring 2015. Purifoy, who died in 2004, spent much of his life working in the city and was deeply affected by the 1965 Watts Rebellion. Lipschutz writes, "For Purifoy, what was lost in the rebellion was an ideal: the ideal of the commodity -- as -- life -- fulfilling -- wish -- image; the lifestyle this ideal implied (bourgeois); the idea that obtaining such a lifestyle would somehow allow one to move past the racial/class barriers that structured African American life."1 His work took a similar turn as he began to work with discarded materials and detritus of the streets and to abandon his earlier Modernist aesthetic. Purifoy pursued his commitment to humble forms of art-making and to art education with great passion, and abandoned art for decades with equal fervor. His resurrection as an artist came after years of working as a social worker in public mental health services, after which time he was invited to serve on the California Arts Council and reengaged as a leader for social change through the arts. Purifoy's Foundation is on the site where he developed a large outdoor sculpture installation, late in his life, after having abandoned or destroyed much of his earlier creative output. He is an artist whose community-oriented values and keen sense of social justice resonate strongly with 18th Street Arts Center's own founding mission.

Noah Purifoy, Untitled, 1990, salvaged wood and shoes, 63 x 32 x 34 | Courtesy of Purifoy Foundation, Photo by Joel Spitalnik
Noah Purifoy, Untitled, 1990, salvaged wood and shoes, 63 x 32 x 34 | Courtesy of Purifoy Foundation, Photo by Joel Spitalnik
Noah Purifoy, Untitled (Car Door), 1992, salvaged scrap metal, 73 x 101 x 13.5 |  Courtesy of Noah Purifoy Foundation, photo by Joel Spitalnik
Noah Purifoy, Untitled (Car Door), 1992, salvaged scrap metal, 73 x 101 x 13.5 | Courtesy of Noah Purifoy Foundation, photo by Joel Spitalnik

Lipschutz is also adding to the list of canonical women in the arts by mounting a retrospective of the art of Cameron. Marjorie Cameron was an artist, writer, and occultist who lived and worked in the Los Angeles area in an era when these interests were strong but underground. Her role in Kenneth Anger's film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome made her out to be a dark priestess, but her qualifications for that role were established through her marriage to Jack Parsons. Parsons was a jet propulsion engineer and acolyte of Aleister Crowley. Cameron's paintings incorporate pagan iconography in a Surrealist vein that was enhanced by her time spent in Mexico, a haven for mid-century women artists including Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. Back in California in the 1950s, Cameron grew close to poet Wallace Berman and graced the cover of the first issue of his influential journal of art and literature, Semina. Lipschutz is developing this exhibition in partnership with MOCA, to open in October 2014.

A recent group show curated by Lipschutz addressed the connections between science and mysticism in a different way than Cameron's occultism, through the medium of science fiction and the beloved writer Ray Bradbury. The Los Angeles Times review of For the Martian Chronicles praised how "The smart installation makes terra firma feel extraterrestrial. Realism segues into science fiction as objectivity gives way to something stranger and stronger than subjectivity."2 For the Martian Chronicles grew from the history of now-defunct Venice gallery L&M Arts, which was built on a site once occupied by a house where Bradbury wrote his famous novel, The Martian Chronicles. Lipschutz organized the show in memoriam to the late writer, including artists Yves Klein, Vija Celmins, Ed Ruscha, and John McCracken, whose works addressed the topic of Mars directly to varying degrees. Some works reflected the alienation and sterility of space travel, others wrestled with the implications of other worlds. Lipschutz also curated a film program for the exhibition, including works by Matthew Ritchie, Kenneth Anger, and Scoli Acosta that resonated with her theme of cosmic consciousness.

For the Martian Chronicles (November 8, 2012 - January 5, 2013) Installation view | Courtesy of L&M Arts, Photo by Joshua White/JW Picture
For the Martian Chronicles (November 8, 2012 - January 5, 2013) Installation view | Courtesy of L&M Arts, Photo by Joshua White/JW Picture

The environment of Mars envisioned by Ray Bradbury is not wholly dissimilar from that of the desert. "I am also very interested in artists' relationship to the Mojave desert, where I was born," Lipschutz says. "Some years ago I organized an exhibition about the desert called 'Somewhere on a Desert Highway,' and I am currently working towards a major site-specific exhibition in the desert." For Somewhere On a Desert Highway at JK Gallery in Los Angeles in 2010, she invited six local artists including John Outterbridge and Ben Patterson to respond to the city's relationship to the desert from which it was wrested. More recently, in 2012 Lipschutz organized a group of artists to create and destroy targets in Niki de Saint Phalle Tirs: Reloaded, an homage to French artist Niki de Saint Phalle's Shooting Paintings of 1962. Eschewing the gallery for a shooting range, Lipschutz' contribution to Pacific Standard Time's Performance and Public Art Festival was inspired by De Saint Phalle's creation of these works in the California desert with the assistance of her partner, Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, and Los Angeles artist Ed Kienholz. Kienholz' son Noah provided the armory from his father's collection of weapons used by artists to hit their artistic targets at the event. For the re-enactment, Lipschutz invited Los Angeles artists including Alexandra Grant, Brigitte Zieger, and Lara Schnitger to create their own painted or sculpted "targets" to destroy in a celebration of the cycle of life and death. Writing in Art in America, Paul David Young expressed how the original Tirs was rooted in de Saint Phalle's "struggles as a French woman in the years immediately after the bloody Algerian revolution and the ensuing consternation of France as a soon-to-be post-colonial empire. The obviously political nature of the assemblages took on issues of race relations, gender equality, and the authoritarian state." Tirs: Reloaded had a more festive approach: "guests greeted the gunfire and explosions with pleasure, awarding each of the riflepersons with polite applause, like at a golf tournament."3 Despite the lighthearted tone, Lipschutz' motivation was to celebrate both the exuberance and the criticality of de Saint Phalle's work.

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For her residency at 18th Street Arts Center, Lipschutz is developing a new body of research around the intersection of art and technology. Specifically, she is interested in the developing field of robotics and how that technology has deviated from anthropomorphic forms into a space of machine biology that is uncanny in its adherence to, as well as its deviation from, animal norms. Lipschutz is convening a panel of notable curators of art and tech, including Zhang Ga and Julia Kaganskiy, who are leading efforts by museums globally to address the needs of artists working with technology and to bridge the distance between inventors who use engineering and those who use art as their medium. Lipschutz' interests reflect her awareness of Santa Monica's evolution into a new technology stronghold in the Los Angeles area, and her commitment to engaging new audiences for contemporary art.

18th Street Arts Center's annual award for a California curator is a yearlong residency designed to support curatorial research and to promote the development of critical discourse in the field of contemporary art. Through this initiative, 18th Street Arts Center rewards innovative curators with time, space, and a $10,000 prize to investigate and develop ideas within a thematic framework fundamental to his or her practice.

Tirs Reloaded Performance (Homage to Niki de Saint Phalle), Yael Lipschutz shooting Henry Taylor's Collateral Damage, 2012, [Noah Kienholz, participating artist and gun handler of the performance, on the left with the wide-brimmed hat. To the right of Henry Taylor's piece is: Matthew MonahanExit wounds, 2012; And to the right of Monahan is: Brigitte Zieger Women are Different from Men, 2012 Printdrawing, Eye-Shadow and glitter. To the right of Zieger is Schnitger; then Noah Kienholz's lime green box | Image courtesy of Joel Spitalnik


1 Yael Lipschutz, "'66 Signs of Neon' and the Transformative Art of Noah Purifoy," in eds. Connie Tilton & Lindsay Charlwood, LA Object & David Hammons Body Prints, Distributed Art Publishers, 2011. Reprinted here, p. 7.

2 David Pagel, "Review: 'For the Martian Chronicles' salutes Bradbury at L&M Arts," Los Angeles Times (November 29, 2012)

3 Paul David Young, "PST Causes Explosions Over Los Angeles," Art in America (January 24, 2012)


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