So, this missive is a bit late, I know, but this was by far the busiest CAA I have been to in years. It was also the friendliest. Perhaps everyone was feeling the celebratory spirit of the CAA Centennial. Nowhere did I see the heckling or browbeating of scholars or artists by those who consider themselves superior, which is often thought of as de rigueur for the conference and a rite of passage for first-time attendees. Instead there was an overwhelming sense of ease and relaxation.
The lack of Internet at the hotel was not so great, however. The only WiFi was in the Student and Emerging Professionals Lounge, which almost always had a fresh urn of hot coffee, colleagues from across the fields, and easily accessed Internet. I miss the printed-paper abstracts. I know CAA puts them online now, but that doesn’t help when you’re choosing sessions on the fly, with only paper titles. It was like trying to judge a book by its cover – and I wonder what nuggets of scholarly gold I missed.
In my experience, the best panels by far were the two official ones devoted to “Tourism (and) Culture” and the mini-symposium on this topic held at the University of Southern California. Convened by Laurie Beth Clark, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the panels and symposium discussed the role that culture plays in defining tourism and the role that tourism plays in defining culture. Clark did an amazing job organizing this group of over 20 scholars, which I had the privilege of joining. The presenters were a lively mix of art historians and visual artists, but all presented thoughtful research in an engaging way that also stirred great conversations, which extended into the concourse of the Staples Center. The three panels looked at artworks made for sale to tourists, artworks that represent tourists, and artworks that derive from the experiences tourists have. Papers analyzed various existing tourist venues, creative works derived from tourist experiences, and new paradigms for the production of tourist culture.
Every time slot held at least one session of interest. Adam Lerner’s and Steven Wolf’s Thursday morning session Punk Rock and Contemporary Art on the West Coast took a fresh look at California Punk visuals and performance as art. Historicizing the “the Local” in Contemporary Art likewise presented an old topic in contemporary terms. Everywhere I went the focus seemed to be on the modern and the contemporary, lending in large part to the liveliness pervasive throughout the conference.
The Centennial Reception at LACMA on Wednesday evening was not to be missed, although I could have done without the twenty-minute coach ride listening to the two older female art historians sitting next to me discuss how they pamper their cats with homemade food. This was a fitting prelude to In Wonderland: Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists, LACMA’s current exhibition. This show is the best I’ve seen in years. Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington held their own, without overpowering the lyrically disturbing work of Dorothea Tanning and Remedios Varo. The installation was quietly beautiful, allowing viewers the luxury of winding through a maze of extraordinary work, without forcing a chronological reading. The only flaw was the copious didactic text. The art spoke for itself.
The scheduled trip to Venice Beach and Santa Monica was lackluster in terms of execution and art. At the Santa Monica Museum we were treated to an excellent exhibition of the ceramic sculptures and vessels of Beatrice Wood, but had less than 45 minutes to view the exhibition and make our way around the entirety of Bergamont Station’s numerous other private galleries, most of which were hosting opening receptions that evening.
I am curious to know why the conference convened right after the majority of the “Pacific Standard Time” exhibitions closed. With nine or more sessions devoted to the art, architecture, and material culture of California, several focused specifically on “Pacific Standard Time,” it was disappointing to not be able to see the relevant shows. Such exhibitions (and CAA conferences) are planned years in advance. The “Pacific Standard Time” installations at The Getty Center, the Watts Towers Art Center, Redcat, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, LA MOCA, the Hammer Museum, and the California Museum of Photography, to name a few, were all closed and being de-installed.
That said, this year’s CAA brought new life to the conference. Let’s hope that New York maintains that momentum.