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  • Source: CARLA
  • Author: Natasha Boyd
  • Date: FEBRUARY 2024
  • Format: PRINT

A Project Curated by Artists: 15 Years of ACP at Morán Morán

November 11, 2023– January 27, 2024

To artists Eve Fowler and Lucas Michael, the 2008 recession seemed as good a time as any to open a DIY space in Los Angeles. Fowler and Michael wanted to give a leg up to the artists they admired who were relegated to the margins of the art world. Thus Artist Curated Projects (ACP) was born. Exhibitions were staged in garages, Fowler’s living room, or galleries that had closed for the holidays. As Michael once explained: “we’re a no budget operation… And our projects tend to have a queer bend.” Their sole curatorial criteria was to prioritize artists who lacked gallery support. The programming was both casual and conspiratorial; when asked in 2012 whether ACP accepted proposals, Fowler replied dryly, “If we know who it’s coming from.”

By primarily creating a space for queer and non-cis male artists, Fowler helped bring artists often overlooked by the art world to the forefront (Michael left the project
two years after its founding) Since its early days, many ACP artists have gone on to secure the representation they initially lacked, such as Math Bass and Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, whose works were included in A Project Curated by Artists: 15 Years of ACP at Morán Morán alongside more than 50 other ACP alumni.

15 Years of ACP attempted a retrospective of ACP’s efforts as the project turned a decade and a half old. I was dubious about how the work of so many artists, connected essentially by a shared CV line, would gel. Yet despite the pronounced eclecticism of forms and materials, the exhibition was unified by a shared embrace of the playful, absurd, and fantastical. The half-magic arena of childhood, which theorist Jack Halberstam has described as inherently queer and prone to rebellion, was revisited time and again by different artists. Clowns, toys, caricatures, and visual gags all made an appearance, as in Matthew Clifford Green’s vibrantly checkerboarded painting, Today is feeling OK (2023), which depicts a figure staring apprehensively at its harlequin reflection, or in Roni Shneior’s Tel (2023), in which a bulbous epoxy nose sticks out ponderously from a painting of a grassy knoll. These playful inclusions seemed to call back to ACP’s rebellious history, pointing to a corner of the art world that makes its own rules, as well as prompting audiences to examine the logic we impose both on others and ourselves.

This spirit of rebellion continues throughout 15 Years of ACP; the show is dominated by surprising reversals, incongruous unions, thwarted expectations, and incomplete metamorphoses. Behemoth machines are turned weightless and gummy soft, like the tractor-trailer rendered in gentle, twinkling purples in Acacia Marable’s painting Quilted Chrome (in violet) (2023) or the luminous spiral helm that crests dreamily across Chase Wilson’s oil on canvas Viking ship museum paper/ green (2023). The domestic world is likewise upended by Adrian Culverson’s sculpture Fresh (2022), which looks like a patterned sofa cushion that grew tumorous bowels, or Calvin Marcus’ skewering of three glossy, gaping ceramic trout to create the base of his Fish Lamp (2023) sculpture. In both cases, mundane household ephemera are returned to the wild, embodying a grotesquerie usually reserved for living creatures. These playful disturbances of domiciliary peace are twinned by a latent sexual frisson that hums through the show; there’s a coy edge gleaming through all the visual joking. ACP’s “queer bend” is manifest not just in the unruly character of the selected work, but also in how many
of the pieces seem to embrace a mischievous, amative aesthetic. I spent a while before a large, beautiful Paul Mpagi Sepuya photograph of a young person striking a classical pose in front of a black curtain, nude but for an open-back jacket and some tube socks: half erotic, half-ironic. Whimsy reigns.

Though 15 Years of ACP tapped the work of ACP artists since the project’s founding, the exhibition felt thoroughly timely, in part because much of the work included was made in the last couple of years. Still, the freshness of the exhibition is a testament to Fowler’s vision. The aim of ACP was always to show work that felt urgent and that otherwise wasn’t getting circulated, and Fowler has been adept at getting certain names on the map. Today she seems as dedicated to ACP’s ethos as ever. As the blue-chip industrial complex gobbles up counter-cultural spaces, there’s never been a better time to embrace the popular LGBTQIA+ slogan “not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.” Over the years, ACP has done just that, maintaining an essential space for artists who make work that embraces play, subversion, and rebellion. If we’re lucky, we’ll get 15 more.

Adrian Culverson, Fresh (2022). Paint, fabric, and wood, 17 × 17 × 4 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Morán Morán

A Project Curated by Artists: 15 Years of ACP (installation view) (2023). Morán Morán, Los Angeles, 2023. Image courtesy of the artists and Morán Morán.