Installation view of “Game” (2019) by Karon Davis | Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze

 

OVER THE WEEKEND, the inaugural edition of Frieze Los Angeles was held at Paramount Pictures Studios on the backlot where the streets and structures have the look and feel of New York City. The brick and stone facade of one nondescript building on the set has probably served as a police station, public library, or some other civic institution in countless films and television shows. During Frieze, Karon Davis transformed the building into Martin Luther King Jr. Academy.

With King’s name emblazoned above the entrance to the “school” and American flags waving on either side of the front doors, she placed three plaster-cast sculptures on the front steps. Two figures are students and the other is a principal.

The scene appears to be the moment before the school day begins, with one anomaly. The figures have antlers growing out of their heads. They look like imagined fantastical creatures. But in all seriousness, Davis is not dwelling in fantasy, she is constructing a metaphor about a real national issue: school violence.

Titled “Game,” the installation was part of Frieze Projects, a series of public art works curated by Ali Subotnick. The art fair’s description of the project said Davis “addresses how schools have become a place for the hunted—our children—through dramatically-staged life-size sculptures. The title is inspired by the name given to animals hunted for sport, and the work reflects on how our our current administration’s policies and ideas have left families and teachers in fear for their lives.”

 


Installation view of “Game” (2019) by Karon Davis. | Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze

 

A REPORT FIRST PUBLISHED by The Washington Post in 2018 and updated Feb. 8, shows that more than 221,000 students have experienced or been exposed to gun violence at school since the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999. In terms of those directly harmed, the Post states “at least 143 children, educators and other people have been killed in assaults, and another 290 have been injured.”

Frieze opened the day after the one-year anniversary of shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff. Shootings at Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, Conn.), and Columbine have engendered sustained media coverage and advocacy, warranted attention that has nonetheless overshadowed the experiences of students at majority black schools where gun violence is longstanding.

The Post report determined that while black students represent 16.6 percent of the U.S. school population, they experience school shootings at twice the rate (33 percent).

While black students represent 16.6 percent of the U.S. school population, they experience school shootings at twice the rate (33 percent).
— The Washington Post

 


From left, KARON DAVIS, “Principal Lewis,” 2019 (plaster strips, chicken wire, steel armature, glass eyes, antlers, shoes, bowtie, glasses, 24 x 24 x 87 inches), and “Stairway to Heaven,” 2019 (plaster strips, chicken wire, steel armature, glass eyes, antlers, shoes, cloth backpack, 37 x 24 x 72 inches). | Both photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze

 

DAVIS IS AMONG 15 ARTISTS who participated in Frieze Projects. All the artists were from Los Angeles or had significant ties to the city. In addition to school violence, artists addressed a variety of social and cultural phenomena with works installed around the Paramount Studios backlot.

Catharine Czudej’s work was inspired by her interest in “labor, power dynamics, and moral structures.” Known for her text-based projects, Barbara Kruger produced a series of 20 different bumper sticker-style works featuring questions that encouraged fair goers to “contemplate philosophical and ethical issues.” Kori Newkirk often works with found objects rendered obsolete due to technological advancements. For Frieze Projects, he created “Signal” (2019), which marries a rooftop television antennae with an overturned shopping cart.

“The backlot of Paramount Studio is basically a set for New York and they are very life like until you open a door and then realize there is nothing behind it or look up into the sky and see palm trees and blue sky and realize you are not in New York. You are actually not in New York,” Subotnick said.

“Every artist approached it in a different way but did exactly what I wanted in activating the spaces and making them come to life and creating these really engaging experiences that you don’t get in a normal museum. You don’t get in a gallery and you don’t normally get in art fairs. Here, there’s these extra layers that really turn it into something quite special and magical I think.”

“Every artist approached it in a different way but did exactly what I wanted in activating the spaces and making them come to life and creating these really engaging experiences that you don’t get in a normal museum. You don’t get in a gallery and you don’t normally get in art fairs.” — Frieze Project Curator Ali Subotnick


Installation view (detail) of “Game” (2019) by Karon DavisPhoto by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze

 

IN 2012, DAVIS CO-FOUNDED The Underground Museum with artist Noah Davis, her late husband. Located in Arlington Heights, a primarily low- and moderate-income community in Los Angeles, the idea was to present museum-quality art in a welcoming neighborhood space. During Frieze, the museum was hosting “Planes,” a solo exhibition of works by photographer Deana Lawson.

Based in Ojai, Calif., about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Davis has previously made plaster-cast sculptures that explore her own loss and mourning process, “the physical and emotional experience of pain” (channeling moments during her husband’s cancer treatment), and migration and displacement due to fire, flooding, and mudslides, natural disasters she has endured herself, having had to evacuate during the recent Thomas Fire.

Davis has shown her work at Wilding Cran Gallery, where an exhibition release for “Muddy Water” described the construction of her plaster figures: “Intentionally their armatures remain visible, juxtaposing the inner strength of the sculptures against their fragile exteriors; she likens the process to ‘reassembling broken souls.'”

“Intentionally their armatures remain visible, juxtaposing the inner strength of the sculptures against their fragile exteriors; [Karon Davis] likens the process to ‘reassembling broken souls.'” — Wilding Cran Gallery


Installation view of “Game” (2019) by Karon Davis. | Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze

 

FOR FRIEZE she raised the issue of school violence with a seemingly mundane scene outside King Academy. A young student lingers out front. He sits cross legged, lunchbox nearby, with string intertwining his fingers as he plays the game Cat’s Cradle (an interesting choice for his preoccupation day and age). Another student, backpack in tow, ascends the stairs to the school building where she is met by the principal. He’s exasperated. Wearing glasses and a bow tie, his arms are folded across his chest. Perhaps the students are tardy.

The incredibly life-like sculptures at King Academy have textured surfaces that are a little rough around the edges, details that add dimension and character to the figures. Conceived on a movie set, the installation was ultra meta. The figures have stopped in their tracks, as if a director has called cut in the middle of the scene. Frozen in place, the figures are easy targets. They appear to be snuffed out, senseless victims of school violence.

Rendered in stark white using hand-applied plaster strips, Davis developed the characters with distinct, soulful exteriors, stand ins for real victims of gun violence who are sorely missed and mourned by their family, friends, community. At the same time, the works are literally and figuratively empty vessels, surreal with a ghost-like presence.

The three sculptures in Davis’s installation (“Principal Lewis,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Cat’s Cradle”) have been acquired by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The purchase was made possible through funds raised by Frieze and its partners and selected by Hammer officials—the museum’s director Ann Philbin; curators including chief curator Connie Butler, Anne Ellegood, and Erin Christovale; and several board members.

In a statement, Philbin said the museum was “thrilled” about the acquisition. She said: “The Hammer is strongly committed to supporting emerging artists; Karon Davis is a wonderful addition to our collection.” CT

 

FIND MORE about school violence statistics and recent Congressional action on gun control

 

BOOKSHELF
A diverse slate of artists working in a range of mediums was featured in “Made in L.A. 2018.” The catalog for the Hammer Museum’s latest biennial, features the work of each artist and includes a roundtable conversation led by curators Anne Ellegood and Erin Christovale about the evolving landscape of cultural institutions and artistic communities in Los Angeles. Exploring the work of a generation of influential Los Angeles artists, “Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980” was published to coincide with the traveling exhibition presented at the Hammer Museum. The comprehensive exhibition catalog edited by curator Kellie Jones with contributions by Jacqueline Stewart, Naima J. Keith, and Franklin Sirmans, among others, highlights participating artists and their works, and features documentary material from the period.

 


Installation view of “Game” (2019) by Karon Davis. | Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze

 


KARON DAVIS, “Cat’s Cradle,” 2019 (plaster strips, chicken wire, steel armature, glass eyes, antlers, 25 x 57 x 28 inches). | Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze

 

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