The Common Methods of Commonwealths: An Exhibition by Alice Könitz
Alice Könitz: Commonwealth at Commonwealth and Council
March 12 to April 16, 2016
3006 W. 7th Street, Suite 220 (at S. Westmoreland Avenue)
Los Angeles, 213 703 9077
A Los Angeles sunset filled the nearly empty main gallery of Commonwealth and Council where Alice Könitz’s tree house-sized structure, supported by PVC pipe legs, stands backlit. Made of stained plywood trapezoids, circles, and rectangles with multiple face-sized openings, Kiosk (2016) feels like a prototype information booth for a Soviet Constructivist theme park that never was. On the wall behind it hang two do-it-yourself souvenirs. Made of bamboo and aluminum tape, these small tinsely sculptures are playfully titled Urform I and Urform II (2010). Perhaps the forms belong to a universal, plural U or maybe a “you,” a stand-in for all public visitors to Kiosk. Their casual construction, in the style of summer camp God’s eyes and dreamcatchers, suggests a preference for the act of making over a finished product: “Keep Ur hands busy and U’ll stay out of trouble.”
Theme parks, playgrounds, summer camps, yoga vacations, eco-toursim, corporate trust retreats, utopian communities, communes — optimism through socially orchestrated space is presented throughout Könitz’s first solo exhibition with the artist-run gallery. Three smaller adjacent galleries contain large but spartan interactive structures, all made with economical quirkiness. Untitled (2016) consists of three colorful hammocks stretched taut through a small room, surrounding a suspended cup-holding table. Pantry (2016) is a Tinkertoy-like food storage structure offering nuts and pickled treats. Periscope (2016) is a black pillar of foam core board wedged between a skylight and a small table; it offers a view of a neighboring building, some palm trees, and the sky. An artifact of childhood role-playing games, the periscope might also be a mark of anxiety: keep watch, look out, protect the compound. With sustenance, a place to rest, and a couple of activities, Commonwealth and Council becomes Könitz’s fantasy domain with ease. In the loneliness of regular gallery hours this pseudo-commune proposed live-work space feels futile when not in use, perhaps even cynical. Does the “Commonwealth” offer enough to sustain its public?
The press release describes Könitz’s works as “social sculptures,” which purportedly exist “in pursuit of our common well-being.” This cheeky text, written in the first person plural voice that matches Commonwealth and Council’s mission statement, states that Könitz has chosen to respond to the gallery’s role as “a communal space, supported by a community of artists.” Primarily run by LA-based artist and organizer Young Chung, who has been known to discuss his space using the pronoun “we,” Commonwealth and Council is concerned with “how generosity and hospitality can sustain our co-existence.” Könitz is the proposed architect of happiness, working to realize this pre-existing community’s goals.
Könitz’s own artist-run space, the Los Angeles Museum of Art (LAMOA) describes itself as a “platform for an organic institution that lives through participation.” After years of making quirky interactive objects using the hopeful visual vernacular of Modernism and corporate sculpture, Könitz built LAMOA in 2012. The original museum, which has moved several times and morphs occasionally, resembles a tool shed or tea ceremony platform with removable walls. LAMOA has a strong visual presence, but the solo projects placed within it respond with a confident simplicity. Each project is usually one big gesture that embraces Könitz’s framework. LAMOA is the idea of a museum as social sculpture: Könitz built a space and socially orchestrates it. While “Commonwealth” is not LAMOA (or vice-versa), both her exhibition and her gallery feature Könitz as artist-director.
The most intriguing part of “Commonwealth” is the co-existence of Könitz and Chung’s methodologies. There are a number of idiosyncratic artist-run spaces in LA operated by one person with a periscope-like vision. These spaces are run by individuals who contemplate emotional labor and the cultivation of community; they want their subjectivities (and their artwork) to merge with others’, and they might be constantly performing. It’s rare for two of these forces to combine and support each other.
“Commonwealth” is elegant and fitting for a space with so much physical character. The gallery looks perpetually under construction with partially stripped walls and floorboards, exposed ceiling beams, and paint chips from site-specific installations. Chung’s “communal space” retains the history of past projects, though in contrast Könitz’s sculptures seem a bit underused. Social media from the opening reception show visitors eating pickles, ducking inside Kiosk, and lounging in hammocks, but more recently these objects have fallen out of use. Without utility, they become imagined propositions for directing movement through space, contextualized by both Könitz’s and Chung’s accumulated art actions. Sleep, eat, observe, craft a small object — the “Commonwealth” suggested daily routine is not dissimilar to that of an artist.
Exhibition-making can be a powerful tool to display the political nature of relationships because they can provide context. Exhibitions, according to artist Céline Conderelli, in her book The Company She Keeps (2014), can act as “temporary utopias in the present” that can function as tools to imagine “the world and the future that you’d like to live in.” Könitz and Chung overlap their visions to create a structure, but leave room for the community to propose their own desires. The importance of human interaction, perhaps discourse, in the Kiosk, while snacking, or in a hammock seems to intentionally outweigh any of the physical (Ur)forms.