Morán Morán is thrilled to present A Project Curated by Artists: 15 Years of ACP, featuring works by Kathryn Andrews, Math Bass, Strauss Bourque-LaFrance, Alex Chaves, Young Chung, Matt Connors, Adrian Culverson, Florence Derive, Cirilo Domine, Hayden Dunham, Nicole Eisenman, Catherine Fairbanks, Keltie Ferris, DW Fitzpatrick, Mariah Garnett, Sam Gordon, Matthew Clifford Green, Kate Mosher Hall, Harmony Hammond, Hea-Mi Kim, Clifford Prince King, Jennie Jieun Lee, Siobhan Liddell, Matt Lipps, Dashiell Manley, Acacia Marable, Calvin Marcus, Annabeth Marks, RJ Messineo, Lucas Michael, Yunhee Min, Na Mira, Jackie Rines, Adee Roberson, Jacob Robichaux, Guadalupe Rosales, Amanda Ross-Ho, Rachelle Sawatsky, Alexandro Segade, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Anna Sew Hoy, Lenard Smith, Roni Shneior, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, A.L. Steiner, Tabboo!, Caroline Thomas, Shoshi Watanabe, Daniel Wenger, Chase Wilson, Mark Verabioff, Mary Weatherford, and Amy Yao. The exhibition celebrates the rich history of the acclaimed artist-run gallery Artist Curated Projects (ACP).
A Project Curated by Artists: 15 Years of ACP
By Lauren Mackler
It was 2008, recession weather, and they were walking her dog in the parched Hollywood Hills. Quiet canyons, blaring sun, two old friends. Eve Fowler and Lucas Michael had known each other since the ’90s in New York City, where they had matured as artists; they both now lived in LA. Many of their peers, they mused while walking, were exceptional artists—and yet so many didn’t have galleries, rarely showed their work, and somehow didn’t have access to what looked like a closed circuit of biennials and exhibitions that were the ladder up in their world. The critical decision of who would be shown and sold lay solely in the hands of a seemingly elite oligarchy of curators, dealers, and collectors whose scope—in Los Angeles in particular—seemed narrow, exclusive, and impenetrable. As an antidote, Fowler and Michael decided they would open a space where artists could curate shows and harness that decision-making power for themselves, showcasing peers whom they admired and supported. They searched for a cheap garage they could paint white. When that proved harder than expected, Fowler sold her living room furniture and they began there, in her airy bungalow, bed stashed behind frosted French doors. They straightforwardly dubbed it Artist Curated Projects, the economy of its words reflecting their economical approach to exhibition making.
1. for, by, and to:
Artists began curating for an audience of artists; they were vouching for others, experimenting with making shows. And magically, the artists involved on either end would get new galleries, visibility, context. “Everyone involved seemed to get a boost from it,” said Fowler. “It was like an energetic thing.” Though many of the exhibitions were in Fowler’s home, some were in other studios or houses, and soon opportunities arose to organize projects in a college, a library, a one-night festival, or even in a commercial gallery temporarily shuttered for its holiday break. For many artists over the years, it was their first LA show (solo or otherwise), and the exhibitions often showcased the emerging alongside the emergingly legendary. There was a social component to it too: it became a scene. A queer scene, a Steinian salon, where both installs and openings lingered long into the night. (It turns out you can invent a space, and then it’s no longer invented; it’s real.) People met, ideas percolated, and a number of new art venues materialized from these encounters: experimental, commercial, and otherwise. It built community out of affinity—the best kind. In addition to its regular programming of shows, ACP became known for its biannual flat file and ceramics sales, medium-specific opportunities to buy art affordably. Disproportionally to its impact, there has been very little writing about the project, though two years after ACP’s founding, Interview magazine ran a feature on it. As an illustration, the editors staged a photograph of Fowler and Michael amid the artists they considered the ACP cohort. The picture centers Fowler and Michael even as they actively tried to decenter themselves; the editors had to make a note of the decentering. Most reviews of ACP focus on the virtuous artist-for-artist ethos of the project, its inclusivity and play no matter the platform. For example, when reviewing a rapid-fire series by ACP—five shows in four weeks, four days each—staged at Parker Jones gallery in Culver City (when it was momentarily the nucleus of the LA commercial art world—and therefore the antithesis of the loose, casual apartment and studio shows ACP had been known for), critic Michael Ned Holte noted, “That sense of inclusiveness seems to be the point of this experimental exhibition, or at least one of them: ACP’s soft infiltration of the commercial gallery diagrams an art world comprised not of an inside and outside, or margin and center, but rather a loose weave of overlapping circles.”
2. a heist
Another point was to sell art. As artists watched their peers browse and purchase their works at the flat file and ceramics sales, they knew their pieces were going to good homes where they would be cared for, considered, and reconsidered over time. The boost Fowler referred to was also of the confidence kind. That part—the value instilled through being respected by other artists—was inherent and righteous at ACP. The other part—usually a taboo subject in the context of artist gatherings—was that people’s work was being sold to new collectors—by Fowler—the works were bought and trafficked in the larger concentric highways of the art world. Through these shows, artists were supporting artists and introducing them to collectors, in turn building a market. It was like a heist, an inside job. And it worked. Careers launched, prices rose, fortunes changed, and changed again (as they do). Two years after ACP’s founding, Michael moved back to New York and Fowler—with her effortless and cool business acumen—has been running it solo ever since: juggling her studio and exhibitions, bookmaking practice, and more. Fowler can often be heard saying, “They are a great artist” about one or another, alongside a seasoned realist’s acknowledgement that success isn’t just about great art but about external forces as well: scalability, salability, and perhaps even sociability—the latter of which she often compensates for with her unflappable style.
3. rule-less-ness, ongoing-ness.
This is not an obituary. This exhibition celebrates the 15 years of Artist Curated Projects as it continues to encompass a growing cohort of artists. Looking over the catalogue of exhibitions to date, it’s hard to pin down an aesthetic for ACP, its many curators and participants a corrective to a stilted or authoritative voice. But if I were to attempt it, overall the shows tend to lean toward the experimental, the self-fabricated, the handmade; paint tends to be visible, plywood exposed, rough edges betraying the brush, the gesture, the body, and the act of making too. With exceptions, of course—language plays an important role as well; the press releases, like poems, reflect the intention of the artists and often quote fragments of literature and refer to context (Eve’s home, “the creaky walls of a 1927 house,” “the backdrop of a 1950’s ranch”). The titles of the shows themselves are plays on the architecture of making a show, the conventions of announcing it, the expectations it holds: “Over-Under Worked,” the potent title of an early Anne McCaddon show curated by Xandro Segade; “By Appointment,” a group show whose profit partially went to the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition; “Scorpius,” a show of artists whose kindship centered around their astrological sun sign; “As Above So Below Zero Zero Zero,” an early, alchemical show by artist Na Mira featuring, among other loaded objects, a butter bust of the artist available for consumption. The exhibitions and their contained titles, works, concepts, and moments of ingenuity are too great to count; the participants too numerous to list. The shows sometimes generated collectives; they crested collaborations between artists, and their mothers, or perhaps their lovers, and emblazoned kinships both fleeting and enduring.