Art & Dialogue: Los Angeles Public Program by Charlotte Cotton

Charlotte Cotton, independent curator and writer, presented a free public program at the the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles on October 29, 2019: Public, Private, Secret: On Photography and the Configuration of the Self. From October 28-31, Charlotte met with a selection of Los Angeles-based Artadia Awardees. Read the summary of her experience below!

“When I am asked about my choice to live in Los Angeles, my response is always that my curatorial brain works better here than anywhere else that I have lived.  I put this down to the almost-tangible feeling, as I plan where my practice will be directed each day that there are thousands of other people here in the Los Angeles region who are doing the same. I suspect (and hope) that however Los Angeles shifts, grows and perhaps erases the chapters of its stories of art, it will remain a place that is essentially artist-led, with its art schools as the foundations of its critical mass and dialogical slant.  But Los Angeles is also what I describe as a “secret city”, one that uniquely holds all manner of creative endeavors out of site. In a sprawling place that is far from known for a civic center or the joys of being a pedestrian passerby, our opportunities to share and converse more often need a framework and active intent: we rely on being invited in. Thanks to the Artadia Art and Dialogue program, I had an incredibly art- and life-affirming week in the company of eight Los Angeles based artists and Artadia Awardees: Clarissa Tossin, Ken Fandell, Stanya Kahn, Leslie Shows, Mariah Garnett, Kerry Tribe, Vishal Jugdeo, and Melanie Schiff. My encounters with all of these exceptional artists were profoundly inspiring and not simply because of the tangibility of recognizing the self-directed, rigorous and individual creative paths that they are each continuing to carve out within the context of Los Angeles.  It was also the sheer caliber of their practices and the modelling of creative lives that nourish the lives of many other artists in this city.  

The condensation of my Artadia Art and Dialogue studio visits into one week inevitably meant that I was meeting artists at different points in their creative arcs.  I had the privilege to experience really impressive work-in-progress at the point of close to completion, the rendering of a new iteration, and at substantial conceptual turning points.  There were also visits with artists who were recently through that journey and in the process of reflecting on what had come to pass and how that would inform their sense of what is next.  I’m astounded at how open and generous they each were in giving me insight into the aims and inevitable querying that is at play within ongoing and actual practice, which, in turn, rippled out to conversations about wider contexts and the militating factors that influence their processes and decisions.  

The Artadia Art and Dialogue program was also a chance for me to articulate my own practice in a public lecture at the Hammer Museum, which is an institution that I love not primarily due to its robust status as an esteemed art institution but principally because it is a place inside of which its team of exceptional humans actions a true understanding of artists’ motivations, practices, and needs, and is committed to public access to artists’ profound truths.  Although I had anticipated that my talk would have been from a safe, reflective vantage point, it centered my ongoing work-in-progress and my still-messy start to articulating what underpins two projects that will see public light in 2020 and 2021. It felt important to me to speak about the creative journey in Los Angeles – the imaginative work and the labor of rewriting a book after fifteen years since its first edition, and re-framing a large thematic exhibition – where I actively choose to live because of the intellectual space that it gives me to relearn and rethink.  When I am “in process”, I gather many spirits and shadows in to my intellectual space, ranging from historical figures who I call forth to give me a compass bearing; a part-real, part-fictionalized ideal viewer or reader for whom I labor; and the connections and entry points that living artists have generously given me. I warmly thank Artadia and the Hammer Museum for creating the framework for me to better understand my own context and for populating my work-in-progress with such a nourishing and extraordinary constellation of artists. I am forever grateful to Clarissa Tossin, Ken Fandell, Stanya Kahn, Leslie Shows, Mariah Garnett, Kerry Tribe, Vishal Jugdeo, and Melanie Schiff for inviting me in.”

Charlotte Cotton is an independent writer and curator. She has held positions as curator of photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum; curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and head of programming at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. She has been curator-in-residence at the Katonah Museum of Art, New York; International Center of Photography, New York; Metabolic Studio, Los Angeles, and the California Museum of Photography, Riverside. Cotton has written and edited numerous influential books, including Imperfect Beauty: The Making of Contemporary Fashion Photographs (2000), Guy Bourdin (2003), The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2004), Photography is Magic (2015), Public, Private, Secret: On Photography and the Configuration of Self (2018) and Fashion Image Revolution (2018). She is currently working on the first survey exhibition of the Los Angeles artist Brandon Lattu and the second version of Cotton’s exhibition Public, Private, Secret with the California Museum of Photography, Riverside for winter 2020-21.