The online benefit auction for Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND) opened exclusively on Paddle8 on September 5, and will close at 1:oo am EST this Sunday, September 30th. Scroll Contributor Rebecca Roberts had a chance to sit down with this groundbreaking organization’s Co-Founder and Director Shamim Momin to discuss the founding of LAND, recent projects, future projects and more – read below for the complete interview!
Rebecca Roberts: Let’s get started by discussing the genesis of LAND. Why Los Angeles and why 2009?
Shamim Momin: There are so many different reasons but I will try and touch on a few of them. One is that I had been in New York for a long time – twelve years at the Whitney Museum, which is my teacher, my family, my training. Another reason is that through my own research for Biennials and other exhibitions, Los Angeles seemed really interesting in terms of ideas of artistic practice, that is, ways of working that weren’t necessarily conducive to standard museum shows. I was thinking about how I could create a platform for artists working in these various modes of site-specificity and allowing this to become more visible. I was also thinking about the public and the need for innovative work that they could experience in their daily life without having to go to a more traditional space – spaces they may not be comfortable with. I learned a lot during my ten years at the Whitney at Altria, watching the way people interact with art.
I was drawn to Los Angeles because it seemed to lend itself to these alternative ways of working and there seemed to be a gap in the not-for-profit world. There is so much in New York, and Los Angeles had the need. Los Angeles has a context. Los Angeles is fascinating because it’s a city ostensibly, but it is really comprised of all these small towns. There is no center (no matter how hard people try to make one) and it’s very reflective, structurally, as to the way communication works right now. Whether it’s the Internet or the way we experience knowledge, there are specific places you may go first, but there isn’t one exact hub of knowledge. All of these relationships started to make sense, so when I got to Los Angeles, I kind of just did it. Sometimes you just have to jump into things. My colleague, Christine Y. Kim, was already working at LACMA so she had these ideas floating around as well. We officially launched in January 2010 with a very ambitious program, VIA, which was a large scale, multi-artist and multi-site project.
RR: In the beginning did you have a distinct idea as to what artists you wanted to work with?
SM: I had a very clear curatorial path. I knew I wanted to have groupings of longer shows paired with shorter programming. The biggest challenge was translating all of these ideas into an organization that was going to last over time, not just a short series of exhibitions.
RR: Can you explain the structure of LAND?
SM: We call the different divisions LAND 1.0, LAND 2.0 and LAND 3.0. 1.0′s are the big shows, which we try to do once a year. The first one was VIA in Los Angeles; the second was Nothing Beside Remains in Marfa, TX; and the third was Perpetual Conceptual: Echoes of Eugenia Butler as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980. They are essentially, multi-artist, multi-site thematic shows. 2.0′s are typically exhibitions featuring work by a single mid-career or established artist or they can be a single-site group exhibition. For example LAND’s exhibition, the island, during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2010 was a 2.0 exhibition as it existed for only one day and featured the work of 18 artists. Another example of a 2.o group exhibition is The Secret Knows which was part of South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX. 3.0 shows are more responsive and performative. I think it’s typically what most museums would call programming, though I consider it curatorial as putting together well-constructed programming isn’t any different than curating a show. 3.0′s partly came about because I was realizing how lucky I was to spend so much time in studios to see how artists work and experience their process, which most people don’t have access to. They see the end product, but there is so much more that goes into it than that. There are processes, there are ideas, there are ways of working. I like to think of art as a living thing. 3.0 is a way for people to access that. It’s a type of laboratory for the artists where they can do whatever they want as long as it is not their show.
So that is where the Nomadic Nights programming series came in. Nomadic Nights also allows access to Los Angeles’ amazing architecture and historical sites, so it taps into that as well. We do things in places that people want to go to for various reasons and then they also get to experience this other thing – the artist. That’s also one of the great parts of having it in a public venue, whoever hosts us is a collaborator and hopefully we can tap into their audience as well to expand the visibility. LAND’s Frame Rate series was started because it was so hard to show film in the public realm. One of the great things about this type of organization is that we have a very specific strategy and idea of what we want to be doing, but nothing is set in stone so we can see what works and how it fits in and make adjustments along the way.
The art world has changed so much in terms of communication. Communication is so expansive and the numbers of people that care about the art world are astounding, but there is still a disconnect somewhere, which is a larger problem that goes beyond the art world. And that is the real challenge: to figure out how to communicate to this larger audience without compromising the artists’ work or make assumptions of the viewer. One of the things that it does is make the not-for-profit world competitive which is slightly out of order and somewhat unfortunate.
RR: You started in 2009, after the economic crisis already hit. The private sector, as we have seen, especially as of late, is thriving, while funding for the not-for-profit world has been cut. Does this affect the way you run LAND and how you make decisions?
SM: We don’t allow it to change our programming. I am shocked that it has resulted in the private sector thriving so much with the not-for-profit sector suffering immensely. I am deeply worried about the sense of philanthropy in this country. The only way we can do what we do is to convince people that it is worthwhile. And I have a great team who does a great job at it. But unfortunately there is a lot less consciousness of that now.
Creatively, we all had this idea that with the economic crash that the one good thing – the thing that historically happens – is that it gives people some space to collect, think, and choose when they are not pressured and usually something comes out of it. But I think we are still waiting for that. Of course, people are doing that individually but collectively it is still not there.
RR: The art world has always been critiqued from within for being too commercial or being in a period lacking creativity. How does LAND try to circumvent this?
SM: Honestly, we can’t avoid this entirely. But what we are trying to do is cultivate audiences that thought they couldn’t be part of the art world for one reason or another. The art world can be a very elite group. I didn’t come from the art world so I understand both sides. In the same vein, I also understand why it is necessary to speak to the art world directly at times. We submit so many proposals in ratio to that one that actually comes to fruition. It’s about an understanding between what we want to do and what we think people can get excited about. But when that one does come through, it is so exciting and we go full force ahead to make it happen.
RR: What’s the time frame you have once you know a show is going to happen to the time it is realized?
SM: It varies. It can be 9 months, 2 months, or even 2 weeks. Everything is a conversation until its not anymore and it has happened – but on the creative end that is the exciting part. Ultimately we are really interested in the audience who is experiencing something new. Even one person saying they saw this and loved it and didn’t know they could experience art in that way is what it is all about.
RR: It seems from your programming thus far that there are similarities among your artists or programs that deal with the landscape, the passing through different terrains, but also ideas of ruins and renewals. Is this something that is indicative to the art world right now or the platform of LAND, or perhaps somewhere in between?
SM: There is no platform in terms of its ideology but it certainly relates to my interests and my history. If you look at the shows I have done in the past, they are definitely interested in ideas of poetry and decay, and beauty and death, and I think that is a very clear strand in my curatorial work. Things also evolve and there are other ideas of process and expansive practice that have become of interest. It is less of a theme than a way of working and being. Of course, Marfa is all about ruin and renewal. That is one of the reasons I have always wanted to do a show there. In my head Judd was the first LAND project. I can’t have the idea without pulling it from the artist. As long as my artists continue to respond to me and feel like they get what I am trying to do, and I continue respond to them and feel like I am really hearing them, I think certain ideas will to continue to surface. I think in some ways artists are ahead of the game in understanding this world. Things are falling apart left and right and we need to pay attention. Not enough people pay attention and so often these issues are just surfacely assumed as an interest in the Gothic. If you understand Gothic history, it is just repeating itself. We do the same things over and over again. We are doing it faster and in different ways but it is the same basic thing. The way humanity works continues in the same way. I think these issues are humanist and that is the most important thing that I want people to understand.
RR: You are one of the only organizations of your kind in Los Angeles and there is obviously the strong legacy of Los Angeles artists, or California artists, and recently, in the last five years or so, there seems to be a resurgence in talking about that part of art history. Do you feel a need to pay tribute to that legacy or at least keep it in the discussion of what you are doing?
SM: One of the things that interested me about Los Angeles is that it has always been a cultivated artist community where the schools are really important. Major artists were, and still are, teachers that actively help their students and cultivate the next generation of artists. They participate and are present. The integration of the school in Los Angeles in my mind is the greatest contribution in that respect that the art world has. You don’t go to a show in New York and expect to see an artist from four generations ago because in New York it is structured by the galleries, while in Los Angeles it is structured by the schools. If you were a student of an artist or worked for them, they show up; I am not talking about your big gallery show, I mean the weird walkup in the random apartment where there is a show. It’s great and really unique to Los Angeles. That support from teachers and older generation artists is really important as it is so distinctly different from anyone else in the art world who, for better or worse, is always judging in some capacity ¬– curatorially, monetarily or otherwise. This system had an appeal to me for Los Angeles from the beginning. It is part of reclaiming Los Angeles’ history in that respect. We did a show on Eugenia Butler who in many ways had been forgotten from the art historical trajectory but was so influential and all of the artists showed up and reminded us of that. Los Angeles is definitely in a state of transition – I am not totally sure what that is yet and maybe it’s because I am new to Los Angeles or of a different generation than most of the people that have been there for a while, but I think there is great potential to show itself as an important location.
RR: Can you tell us a little about what you have planned for the rest of 2012 and 2013?
SM: We have a great Nomadic Night with Cole Sternberg on a mountain in Malibu that deals with this incredible text/signage which will be viewable from all different perspectives. Our next monographic exhibition is with Katie Grinnan as part of her Astrology Orchestra. In January through March 2013, we will be presenting an exhibition of all the elements of it. Then our big upcoming show, well, I am still hesitant to put it out there. But it is going to be a big idea. Of course we have Nomadic Nights and Frame Rate programs that are happening throughout.
RR: Has there been any big shift or evolution in LAND over the past three years?
SM: Of course there are always learning curves in running an organization, and it doesn’t sound as sexy but it is exciting to find out. Curatorially there is always an evolution. As long as the artists we work with continue to be excited by what we do and feel respected by what we do, then the rest can be figured out.
Be sure to get your bids in now on the 10 curated works available in the LAND Benefit Auction - featuring Amanda Ross-Ho, Hernan Bas, Dan Colen and Terence Koh, among others!
Rebecca Roberts is the founder of November Projects, an arts production and consultancy firm based in New York focusing on creative partnerships, special projects and events. Prior to starting November Projects, Roberts was a photographic agent at Management & Production Inc., working with some of the most sought out talent in fashion and fine art photography. Clients, past and present, include, The Public Art Fund, Planned Parenthood, The Noguchi Museum, No.10 Gallery, Calvin Klein, Barney’s, Elle Magazine and W. Rebecca is also a freelance writer contributing to several publications on art and photography including the blog ‘On Pictures’ on Artinfo, Acne Paper and vmagazine.com. Roberts also teaches at the School of Visual Arts.