Darin Klein is an independent curator and program coordinator at the UCLA Hammer Museum, where he recently organized an exhibition with Los Angeles based artist Christopher Russell as part of the museum’s Hammer Project initiative, which remains on view through April 12th. His support of projects such as artist-run spaces, weekly performance dance parties, and independently produced publications has proven crucial to Los Angeles’s thriving non-commercial art scene. In a conversation with Danny Jauregui, Klein discusses his experiences working in Los Angeles or as he calls it, “the western edge of western civilization”.
DJ: From your start in San Francisco to your recent work at the Hammer Museum, emerging artists have always played a roll in your curatorial practice. Could you tell us more about that trend?
DK: When I recognize potential in artists and believe in their work, I make it my personal goal to make that work known. The thrill of drawing attention to work that hasn’t yet reached a large audience is a major motivator. Experience has proven that emerging artists are enthusiastic and ready to work and there’s no shortage of them. It’s also rewarding to watch as artists grow in their personal and professional lives. I feel a sense of pride knowing that I’ve worked with many artists who have later gone on to be represented by galleries, exhibited in museums and written about in respected publications.
DJ: In addition to working with emerging artists, you’ve also worked with artist–produced publications, or ’zines, having described them as “exhibitions in print.” Recently, you curated a show for the Hammer Projects series with Los Angeles-based artist and zine writer Christopher Russell. Russell sees his installations as “walk-in novels.” Could you talk about the similarities and differences between these models of exhibition making?
DK: By “exhibition in print” I mean that the publisher takes on a curatorial rather than editorial role in the execution of what ends up looking like a book, but acting like an art show. A ‘zine - maker’s sense of freedom and experimentation resulted in Christopher’s Hammer Project – a particular combination of texts, photographs and objects that rely on each other to make up the total experience of his novella Budget Decadence. The same can be said of his last gallery exhibition, a novel entitled Together. The overlap is that Christopher took the zine genre to new levels with his own irreverently designed and intricately produced publications; his Hammer Project questions the idea of what a book should or can be. There’s a distinct physical difference between this model and the exhibition in print – while there are books in Christopher’s Hammer exhibition, they are linked to the other work in the show. ‘Zines and other publications that I admire tend to be objects that stand alone and generally rely on their own content to illuminate the conceptual impetus for their production.
DJ: There are many non-commercial, artist-run spaces in Los Angeles. It seems that many major galleries and established curators are attending these events and seeing these shows; the weekly performance/dance party, Wildness, comes to mind. As a curator who has been involved in this sc
ene for a long time, what do you make of that? Is that something new? To what can we attribute this trend?
DK: Parties, nightclub venues and other creative outlets not connected to traditional art institutions are rich with artistic possibility. The raw energy of DJ sets, live music and other types of performance sets a great atmosphere for conversations about what people are creating in other fields as well. I have meaningful relationships with many artists I’ve worked with. Some of those relationships began in and have flourished naturally in social settings. I may approach a performer who I just watched on stage five minutes ago, or someone could casually mention over a cocktail that they are a painter or a video artist or a dancer. I’m pretty good at following up with people who intrigue me on a personal level. If frequenting these kinds of venues is a curatorial trend, I’d attribute it to the fact that adventurous curators won’t wait for artists to be widely documented, anthologized or critically reviewed before getting involved with their work.
DJ: As a curator you’ve worked in both established and underground venues. Do different venues affect the type of projects you conceive? Is there a significant divide between the two?
DK: The main difference between established and underground venues is money, obviously. But I’ve found that people working in both types of places are there because they believe in the work. A higher budget can enhance the overall outcome of an exhibition, but my approach to the actual work and the artists themselves is the same whether or not there’s money involved. Without a budget, I just get the artists to work with me on the installation, publicity, documentation, et cetera. Experience in non-commercial, D.I.Y. and underground spaces and situations is incredibly valuable. It’s important to know firsthand what it takes to drive a nail, to handle and install artworks, or set lights for a performance, to write a press release -- any of the multitude of components involved in the preparation of an exhibition or art event. At the Hammer, it was a luxury to work with an amazing staff of professionals trained to handle every aspect. But I believe that coming in with the experience gives me heightened perspective and informs the relationships I have with each person involved in executing Christopher’s Hammer Project.
DJ: Your focus has recently shifted toward time-based media. Could you talk about that within the context of your previous interests?
DK: When I found myself in situations where a venue was specially equipped for those mediums, or if I had a limited amount of time in a venue -- say two nights or a week as opposed to a full month or more -- I began to explore more temporal possibilities. I was involved in the literary and live music worlds before I started curating, and I easily translated the ideas of author events and rock shows to film presentations and performance showcases. Pairing a performance with a visual arts exhibition can also serve to elaborate on its themes or concepts in a way that adding more objects to the exhibition can’t. The same can be said of projected works that are presented as special screenings rather than installations.
DJ: You seem to be a person who moves fluidly between many scenes. What is your evaluation of Los Angeles’s artist-run practices? Do you see the city as a fertile site? In many ways these events are flourishing---I’m thinking here of performance parties or of artists Eve Fowler and Lucas Michael’s Artists Curated Projects (ACP) in which artists curate shows in Fowler’s Hollywood apartment. Are these practices evolving because of, or in spite of the city’s larger scene?
DK: I am endlessly amazed by the abundance of energy and creative output this city has to offer. I believe that the weather, the ocean, the insane network of freeways, the landscape, Hollywood, the number of art schools in the vicinity, and a million other things make this an amazing place to find inspired people and projects. People start projects like the ones you mention to fill gaps or to contribute to current conversations. The motivation seems to be community-driven in both cases. At the western edge of Western Civilization, the spirit of independence is still banging around and we’re lucky to be haunted.
Images courtesy the UCLA Hammer Museum.