The Los Angeles Art Press and Me!

Why am I writing this? Because everyone keeps asking me what I did to David Pagel to make him hate me so much that he would write such a nasty diatribe about me in the LA Times.

Here is the answer.


David Pagel, Christopher Knight and Dave Hickey were all writing for the LA art magazine Art Issues (1989-2001). Edited and run by Gary Kornblau – this magazine was known for its rabid anti-intellectualism (i.e. they were afraid of anyone they thought might be smarter than they were). The magazine was a vehicle for the writing of these three on subjects they thought that we thought were too “low” for us smart people: Norman Rockwell, Siegfried and Roy, Ice Hockey,  L. Ron Hubbard…and they championed (hilariously enough) artists like Jeffrey Valance, Mike Kelley (of course – he’s not an intellectual – he hates himself!) Ethan Acres, Sister Corita Kent…you get the picture… outsiders!

Anyone cast as an “insider” was an intellectual and a “conceptual” artist. Which was somehow deemed evil. Even though people like Dave Hickey and Mike Kelley were/are professors in MFA programs.

NOTE: “Conceptualism” has never been defined by these people –pretty much anything that isn't painting is “conceptual.”

NOTE: High/Low??? SERIOUSLY? In 1996???? Who even believed in such a division?

So back to 1996 - David Pagel writes a full-page review (with photo) of a very young artist’s first show. The artist was about 26 years old and the show was at Marc Foxx’s gallery. I liked and admired this artist and considered him a friend and a peer. Pagel “review” was the nastiest, meanest piece of writing I had ever read.  I was furious that a writer would be so nonchalantly cruel to a young artist. A bad review is one thing - but there is no excuse for verbal abuse and Pagel relished dishing out that abuse. I wrote a letter to Art Issues telling them exactly what I thought about Pagel, his so-called review, his sadistic behavior and their happily “pathetic” magazine.

NOTE: Really? Did I just actually have to invoke the “pathetic” – it’s so 1989… Ralph Rugoff....ewww

Later the same year: Another full-page review in Art Issues - this one by Doug Harvey - of an artist who was my teacher and, after I graduated, friend and peer. This one (also a full page with photo) was equally vile. Both artists were attacked for their association with so-called “conceptualism”. Again I wrote a letter to Art Issues telling them exactly what I thought of their editorial practices and was even MORE honest about how much I despised their politics. To be truthful, I wrote this letter on the actual magazine with black sharpie - a few words to each page so it took the whole magazine to write the letter. I confess that I also drew swastikas on the foreheads of people whose photos were in the magazine and that I finished my diatribe on the last page of the magazine; under the ad that said “Art Issues – Subscribe Now” I wrote “Go to hell.” Anyway – I was young and they deserved it.

Doug Harvey responded by off-handedly calling me a "crypto-fascist" in the LA weekly. A cryptic insult if ever I've heard one.

Gary Kornblau sent me a letter inviting me in for a "discussion" I politely declined - I'd said what I intended and saw no reason to reiterate it. I went to the Post Office and filed a complaint that Art Issues was sending me obscene and threatening material through the US mail.

So NOW it is 1997 and I am on a panel with Christopher Knight and a few other people to discuss the topic of large art exhibitions (like Documenta, the Venice Biennale and the Munster Sculpture Project – all of which took place that year) at the MAK Center here in LA. The audience was full. Knight spoke first without notes or on any particular topic and finished his witless (he thought it was witty) bit with “I only travel to see these shows for the frequent flyer miles.”

I spoke last and had actually written a text that I presented. Having read Knight’s dismissive petty reviews in the Times for years and having been among the victims of one of them (I was in a show which he called “the worst show ever”). I wrote the text the day before; it was a response to what I imagined he would say. He said every single thing I knew he would, so when it came to me, I had a prepared response. When I was finished mopping the floor with him – the audience stood and applauded and cheered. Artists in the audience came up to the microphone to speak and all took the opportunity to voice their own frustrations with the attitude of the art critics in LA toward the artists. Why was it so mean? So personal? Why was the worst of the curatorial criticism reserved for female curators? Why was any medium other than painting automatically “conceptual”? The evening ended with Knight first speechless and then out-of-control and screaming “Homophobe!!” at me. I’d never met the man before and never have since so what did I know or care about his personal life? He then refused to attend the dinner after the event and everyone in LA talked about it for weeks and weeks and weeks.

On to 1998. Christopher Knight vehemently attacks Ann Goldstein’s Christopher Wool show at MOCA (once again Knight’s meanest comments were always reserved for "conceptualists" and for female curators -particularly Ann) in the Times. A quote: “...unrelieved dullness—perhaps the most forlorn exhibition MOCA has offered to date, surpassing even the 'Pure Beauty' fiasco of 1994.” Kelly Mason and I were in "Pure Beauty". So we wrote a letter to the editor decrying the unprofessionalism of Knight and used his own criticisms of MOCA as an institution against him (as a worker for the Times – an institution). The letter was not published but was widely distributed by email and eventually published in xTra magazine and on-line at Matrix-L.

And then 1999… Larry Rickels, UCSB Chair of the German Department, practicing psychoanalyst and art collector curated a show for Rosamund Felsen Gallery. Larry was particularly intrigued by the extreme animosity displayed daily by the LA art press against a certain group of artists. He wanted to stimulate useful discussion between the two groups. He put (I think) 6 or 7 artists in the show – those upon whom Knight and Pagel had poured the most abuse (I was one of the artists of course). During the opening, two huge funeral wreaths were delivered to the gallery The wreaths were on stands and had wide ribbons draped across them. The messages were; “My Deepest Sympathy” and "With Sincerest Regrets" and the cards were signed by David Pagel and Dave Hickey.

The message? These two art critics didn’t just hate us and our work – they wished we were DEAD. We were all shocked. Once again witless cruelty that they thought was witty. Their delusions of Oscar Wilde-ness had run away with them.

And now… the present. Ten years later. David Pagel is still afraid of me and my intellectual (what does that mean???!!!!) friends. And he still can’t get over a letter I wrote in 1996 and is still trying to make me suffer because he’s afraid that I am better/smarter/taller/faster and can jump higher than he can. Witness the struggle of the eunich who has emasculated himself and credits me with the deed.

Here’s the point: Christopher Knight sent David Pagel to write a review of my first museum show in Los Angeles. Both knew the reason, the aim and the result. It was a set-up. No matter what I made I would be viciously attacked and so I was.

Here’s another point: There is an art critic at the Los Angeles Times who sent a funeral wreath to an opening for a group of artists. Is that critic fit for the job he holds? Is he to be trusted making pronouncements about art? Should such a person be using a major newspaper as a platform to spew his particular brand of poorly written and never-clever vitriol? NO. HE SHOULD BE FIRED.

When I was a young artist I thought we should all speak up for what we believed in and call idiots out and make them defend their bad ideas. I don’t regret standing up for myself and my fellow artists. I’d do it again.

So I guess, by daring to show in LA, I got what I deserved for ever crossing them. But should it be dished out in a major newspaper and cloaked as an “art review”? Shouldn’t they have just have had the balls to beat me up in an alleyway?

Shouldn’t everyone know the whole story so they understand Pagel and Knight’s motivation?

I think so.

Link to review of Art and Journalism show:

Link to LAT letter written by Diana Thater and T. Kelly Mason on response to C. Knight viscious review of Ann Goldstein's Christopher Wool exhibition:

Link to main page of Matrix-L:

Posted by diana on 1/30/10 in | Permalink