This month, Los Angeles added a new exhibit to its growing list of art and design fairs. The week-long event, titled “SIZED: An Exhibition of Works for The Home and Life”, showcased the work of over 40 artists and designers, including Sterling Ruby, Jordan Wolfson and Michèle Lamy, staged in a Hollywood’s ventilated warehouse (formerly an accessory storage site for Paramount Studios). The exhibition, led by New York curator and artist Alexander May, was born out of a pandemic-induced meditation on necessity, excess, and how we engage with our spaces. The resulting presentation is an amalgamation of objects, including a trio of asymmetrical No Sesso overcoats suspended from the ceiling, a stack of gargantuan sheepskin poufs, a collection of hand-crafted ceramics by Tiwa Select (a local collective of self-taught folk artists) – rooted in the simple principle of human use. “The guideline for the exhibit is really the potential of human touch to activate the exhibits on display,” May said via Zoom from the 15,000 square foot exhibit space. SIZED’s crown jewel is a towering female nude sculpture by Italian-born artist Vanessa Beecroft, endorsed by Kanye West, whose pieces are placed throughout Hollywood space like ancient ruins, endowing the exhibiting a classic weight and articulating the centrality of the human form to the surrounding works.
SIZED is closing this week and many exhibits remain available to view or purchase online. To celebrate the show’s success, May and Beecroft spoke by phone about the joys of putting sculptures on skis and the power of site-specific design.
INTERVIEW: Alex, why did you approach Vanessa? How long have you admired his work?
ALEXANDER MAY: I’ve known Vanessa’s work for at least 10 years. I had the pleasure of seeing Vanessa’s pieces all over Europe. As the common thread of the show fell into place, it became very important to involve figurative work and I immediately thought of Vanessa. Working with her was incredibly organic, which doesn’t always happen between curator and artist. Vanessa surprised me at the last second with an additional incredible sculpture that became the highlight of the whole exhibition.
INTERVIEW: Vanessa, how does the body fit into your practice?
VANESSA BEECROFT: Well, ever since I was a student in Italy, or maybe since I was born, I was always meditating on the discomfort and surprise of being in a body. When I moved to Los Angeles, I continued this speech in my performances, and it took my whole life. The sculptures you see in SIZED are feminine and they are slightly self-referential. In a way, I was recreating what I was missing in Italy here in Los Angeles: the cultural symbols in churches, museums and plazas that you find all over Europe. As I couldn’t get to know these cultures, I created them myself.
INTERVIEW: Can you explain how the additional sculpture ended up in the exhibition?
MAY: On our first studio visit with Vanessa, we were focusing on these amazing busts and plinths she was working on. Later, Vanessa sent me a photo of the huge off-white room. She said to me: “Do you want this?” I thought, “Oh my god, how tall is he?” This show is called SIZED, so that’s exactly what we need.
BEECROFT: I’m flattered. This piece was purchased by Kanye West at Pico, a gallery in Boyle Heights owned by my husband [the artist Federico Spadoni]. Kanye came to an exhibition there and bought two of my sculptures. This one is in plaster, that is to say that it is about a prototype. This is something the artist usually keeps to himself because it is the positive used to create the mold. It’s a benchmark, but I’m very proud of it. It’s covered in natural beeswax and I used my desk – I cut it out – as a base. I had just returned from a ski trip at the time, so I thought about putting the prototype on skis which was fun. At this point, the prototype has become a work in its own right. Kanye is very generous and not materialistic. I asked him if I could borrow the room for this show and he said, “Of course.”
MAY: There’s a glossary of words in my head that sum up SIZED, and Vanessa’s work answers each one. The fact that this sculpture is a prototype of the human form, and that 15 feet further into space is a prototype chair that is also an incredible sculptural piece, and that these ski feet are made from Vanessa’s desk … All these quirks come together to tell a story about our way of living and doing.
INTERVIEW: What is the defining characteristic of SIZED in each of your minds?
MAY: Over the past year and a half, we’ve been forced to consider what in our life is absolutely necessary, what we really care about, and how we use our space. I’ve been in the art world for a long time – as an artist, curator and head of a non-profit organization – and I think SIZED is really a new model. It is designed to develop new conversations about how we collect and how we live. It would never be about focusing on strictly contemporary design, or just top notch artists; it’s much more open than that. SIZED is intended to serve as a point of reference that responds to the city and the site in which it is located.
BEECROFT: What I like about this exhibition is that there is an enthusiasm and openness that is often absent from the art world. I’ve been working on these bodies for a while, and the process is slow because I mold a lot of them and they are gigantic. The art world has always been a little suspicious of me, but Alex embarked on this project with an open mind and a commitment to bringing everyone together – ups and downs, great artists and young people. artists – in the same place. It is a very refreshing experience.
MAI: Thanks for saying that.
BEECROFT: Next time you do the show I’ll give you some of my new terracotta sculptures.
May yes ! I’m still waiting to see these huge terracotta figurines. I am very excited about them.
BEECROFT: Do you know that the problem with these works is that they take forever. Terracotta is such a delicate process. You have to dissect the bodies and put them in an oven. There aren’t any big enough ovens in LA, I had to go to Long Beach University to make the last one. It’s complicated and it forces me to be methodical, which is the opposite of my nature. But it is important for me to work with ceramics because it is part of the tradition in Los Angeles. When I lived in Italy, I worked with marble because it is part of the history there, and because people know how to work with it and react to it. Like you, I like my work to be site specific wherever I am. It’s a good time right now to combine the worlds in an active way, and not just by sharing the physical space, but by deepening the concept that connects the worlds of design, art and craft. I like what you do, Alex.
MAY: The site is the start of any project. We can think of the body as a potential site just as easily as it is as an empty storage facility. It is about creating a partitioned observation space. It’s the momentum, isn’t it, for everything in it.