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Shamim M. Momin Talks LAND and “Wasteland”

Currently on view in Paris is “Wasteland. New Art from Los Angeles,” an exhibition produced by the Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). It takes place over two locations, the Mona Bismarck American Center and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Pantin, through July 17. Curator and Director of LAND, Shamim M. Momin, brought together work by Edgar Arceneaux, Lisa Anne AuerbachMath Bass, Mark Bradford, Sam FallsDaniel Joseph MartinezJonathan Pylypchuk, Fay RayRy RocklenAmanda Ross-HoAnalia Saban, Shannon Ebner & Erika Vogt, and Brenna Youngblood for the show. We spoke with Momin in Whitewall’s spring 2016 Art Issue—out now—about “Wasteland” and the importance of not comparing L.A. and New York.

WHITEWALL: After working at The Whitney for a long time, in 2009 you founded the Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND), a nonprofit organization that curates public art in L.A. and internationally. You said initially you were drawn to L.A.’s self-fulfilling scene. Why did that appeal to you?

SHAMIM M. MOMIN: New York is so fantastic, and still my hometown in so many ways, but one thing that’s not is easy to do is make spontaneous decisions, and take over spaces and things like that. And as you can imagine, artists who have a lot of ideas want to try things out and explore things creatively—if you can’t ever do that, then obviously that changes their trajectory or how they develop their work. Here in L.A., there’s a lot more space, and everything’s very spread out, which makes it difficult for there to be one core community, but what it does allow for is these different communities to really explore spaces and try out ideas and do things in a way that is, frankly, a little outside of the pressure of a city like New York.

I don’t mean to compare everything between L.A. and New York. I know people are tired of that, but clearly that’s one of my major comparisons. Henriette Huldisch, my co-curator in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and I started using the term “expanded practices” then for this way of working where an artist may be known as a photographer because that’s the work they have in a gallery, but they equally do performance or have a band, or run a school. So these kinds of multigenre, multimedia activity, practices are very prevalent here.

Amanda Ross-Ho, World Map Dropcloth, 2016. Inkjet print on canvas, acrylic paint, mixed media. 393,7 x 259,1 cm (155 x 102 in). Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Praz-Delavallade, Paris/Brussels

Lastly, there was no public art organization, or exclusively public art organization here. And that opportunity speaks to me. I thought it might be a really interesting way to amplify what the artists are doing on an organizational and institutional level, and allow that kind of access on the other side for an audience that might not otherwise know that it’s going on.

WW: Have you seen the public interest in contemporary art grow in the past several years?

Shamim Momin, Director and Curator, Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). Photo Courtesy of Ramona Rosales. 

SMM: Yes, I think the awareness of contemporary art has grown exponentially in that time frame, not just since I’ve been here, but since I’ve been working in the museum world. I think that’s not just specific to L.A., but across the board.

WW: And your mission has expanded as well, moving out from Los Angeles with projects like the Manifest Destiny, an artist billboard project that ran along Interstate 10 from California to Florida.

SMM: Well, the idea for LAND to be truly nomadic—in other words not just nomadic around L.A., but nomadic around the country and internationally—has always been part of the conception and the mission. We’ve always said L.A. was our hub, but we do want to think about ourselves in the future as being entirely decentered—having offices in multiple places, allowing us to have more access. That’s the goal long-term. We started building our identity in Los Angeles to build consciousness of what LAND is. Certainly the Manifest Destiny billboard project has been our most ambitious cross-country scenario. It was a two-year project—and we just won this really exciting award from the Smithsonian Institute, the Ingenuity Award. Looking forward, we’re also planning equally involved projects in different cities, and then internationally. Our first big international show is actually happening in Paris in March.

WW: That’s exciting. Can you tell us more about that?

SMM: Paris, definitely. It’s a unique venue concept—it’s a collaboration between LAND and two different venues in Paris: the Mona Bismarck American Center and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. There are 14 artists in the show, which is entitled “Wasteland, ” a reference primarily to the T. S. Eliot poem The Wasteland, and then also, just other interpretations of that word—this idea of the apocalypse, and a little bit of a joke about L.A. as a cultural wasteland (which it’s not, but it’s been said many times). All of the artists are from L.A., and to some level responded to that . . . But overall, it’s really more about this moment in culture, a moment of a of loss of faith, so to speak. I don’t mean a religious faith, I mean more so in human connection, and the politics of that time frame.

WW: And each artist will show work in each space?

SMM: That’s right. So there’s a kind of conversation across that way. It’s really quite multifaceted in my mind. A lot of the work does touch on some of these semantics of social difficulty, or aspects of loss of humanity, or loss of communication.



A version of this article appears in Whitewall‘s spring 2016 Art Issue, out now.




The Whitney Biennial, the longest-running survey of American art now in its 81st iteration, reckons with an evolving cultural landscape.


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