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August 2011, Chain Letter at Shoshana Wayne Gallery


Chain Letter, Installation View at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2011

 

Chain Letter
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
Bergamot Station, Santa Monica
July 23 through August 25, 2011

Truly great art is the harmonious marriage of brilliant concept and exquisite execution. As in all relationships, there are times when one partner dominates. Such was the case with Chain Letter, the concept of this group exhibition so timely and resonant, it took off this summer in New York City, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Boston, Philadelphia, Seoul and here in Los Angeles.

Conceived and curated by Los Angeles artists Christian Cummings and Doug Harvey, Chain Letter sprang from the notion of peer admiration. Inclusion in the show was based on an invitation from another artist -- the intention being, that each artist would invite ten other artists they admired, and so on, as in a Chain Letter, ensuring the show would expand exponentially. Invitations circulated by email and on Facebook for 30 days, and then, the artists met to install their own work the day before the opening. In the end, almost 1,600 pieces were displayed. To accommodate the throngs, the exhibit spilled over into two other galleries at Bergamot Station.

More than simply an art exhibition, Chain Letter evolved into a social phenomenon. Opening night attracted an enormous turnout, with the interlinked chains of invited artists, their friends and families in tow. Foot traffic had to be staggered in the galleries. As the sun set over Santa Monica Beach a few blocks west, art lovers along with artists and their entourages, lined up to wait for as long as an hour outside each of the galleries where the show was on view.

Chain Letter, Installation View at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2011

The artists had installed Shoshana Wayne Gallery first. Entering the gallery, the assembled melee navigated down a little pathway carved through the overflowing exhibit. Many of the pieces were found art, or art using found objects as a jumping off point – a mannequin-like sculpture with twig-like protrusions for hair, a chair with breasts organically emerging from a cushion, and a construction sign near the back of the gallery proclaiming, “End Road Work.” Some pieces stood out in the clutter for their cleverness – notably, a dress sculpted of paper clippings, and a pyramid of assembled picture frames.

A playful tone prevailed, as in a small glass bottle with metallic fragments labeled, Other People’s Bad Luck and a display of what looked like pieces of bone, with a sign, The California Chain Show Massacre.

There were many other spin-offs on the Chain Letter theme -- the most literal, a stack of actual Chain Letters, with an invitation to take one. Another exhibit was an old-fashioned mailbox, the little door propped open, inviting the viewer to look at a collection of colorful letters neatly displayed inside.

In the spillover galleries, one of the artists had looped a long paper chain around some of the exhibits. On the same theme, individual links of paper chains were scattered here and there, with fragments of poetry printed on them. One sculpture was fashioned from a column of envelopes.

It was apparent that some of the artists had made a piece specifically for the show, while others had shown something made or collected previously, whether relevant or not. The point was to be a part of the event. In the back of one of the galleries, a nude painted girl sang arias and snippets of songs as the crowd wandered through. Chain Letter was about participating. Part spectacle, the show was not so much about the caliber of the art. The essence of Chain Letter was joining in the chain.



Chain Letter, Installation View at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2011


Chain Letter, Installation View at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2011


Chain Letter, Installation View at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2011

Megan Abrahams

Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings. 

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