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Prospecting Palm Fronds

Zoe Crosher’s Contemporary Explorations Return to Aspen

Last year, Zoe Crosher had an eminent presence in Aspen. She attended the Aspen Art Museum (AAM)’s annual benefit, ArtCrush, with a strong photography piece in the auction. We saw her work shining from private collections in the surrounding hills, and she soon after showed an exhibition on the rood at AAM entitled “Prospecting Palm Fronds.


Zoe Crosher Portrait of Zoe Crosher in Desert Center, CA.
Photo by Chris Adler.
Courtesy of Zoe Crosher.


The exhibition pointed at the dwindling of natural palm trees in Los Angeles and explored the rarity of their lifespans, about 75-100 years. The bronze sculptures—made from a lost-wax casting process of palm fronds that she collected—gained high acclaim for beauty, but their stories, too. Titled for the varying intersections in the city in which they were found, the fronds had a “very haphazard look” on the roof, as Crosher said, and were “uncanny and strewn all over the place.” While exploring the misleading façade of Los Angeles, the pieces highlighted a thread of interest that’s prominent in all of her work—exploring the real and imagined. This year, she’s back at ArtCrush 2018 with a new work for the auction: one of the palm fronds from the exhibition.

Prospecting Palm Fronds “Prospecting Palm Fronds” by Zoe Crosher.
Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum.

For Whitewaller Aspen 2018, we spoke with Crosher about art and lifestyle destinations in Aspen, her upcoming exhibition at Patrick Painter Gallery, and more.

WHITEWALLER: Tell us a bit about the palm frond that you’re including in this year’s ArtCrush auction.

“Prospecting Palm Fronds” by Zoe Crosher.
Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum.

ZOE CROSHER: I’m including one of the bronzed palm fronds from my recent exhibition, “Prospecting Palm Fronds,” at AAM earlier this year, which I am so honored to have been able to realize. The piece that will be auctioned off is one of my favorites. It was pulled haphazardly from the side of the freeway where the 110S and the 101S meet, right by Dodgers Stadium, in Los Angeles. It’s totally wild and gnarled and crazy looking, as its original, raw form probably got run over multiple times at high speeds. It becomes so elegant and sexy in its bronzed strangeness.

 WW: You’ve explored the disappearance of palm trees in Los Angeles for quite some time now. Can you tell us a bit more about this and why it’s important to California?

Aspen Art Museum “Prospecting Palm Fronds” by Zoe Crosher.
Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum.

ZC: Many of the palm trees that iconically dot the Southern California landscape and have come to symbolize its promise are nearing the end of their natural lifespan and are literally dying or disappearing. Planted in the 1930s as part of the boosterism craze, these ornamental, non-native, and disastrously water-demanding trees, which neither provide shade nor fruit, will not be replanted once they finally go. Running at an unaffordable $20,000 a pop to replace, Los Angeles County will be planting the more affordable native oaks instead. It’s an amazing crisis that Los Angeles has on its hands. Imagine the L.A. landscape and imaginary you know not dotted by the ever-present palm tree overhead? The notion of memorializing this ubiquitous and iconic L.A. debris and turning it into bronze (something that evokes a long history of memorializing something we would otherwise overlook) is incredibly sexy to me. And they are incredibly sexy in form, as well.

This work is the next iteration in my conceptually mapping what I call the “imaginary” of Los Angeles—a place that primarily exists in people’s imaginations, inspired from what they see in movies, read in books, hear from other people. It’s the false promise that L.A. is founded on, with the disappearing palm tree front and center of that myth. I’m obsessed with the impossibility of documenting that fantasy, with the impossibility of documentary overall, and am excited to explore creating these unique sculptural fossils in pursuit of my imagiatic vision.

Prospecting Palm Fronds “Prospecting Palm Fronds” by Zoe Crosher.
Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum.

WW: What do you want people to take away from your work?

ZC: What I want people to take away from my work is that moment of unexpected encounter and wonder that ideally creates a new and different way of seeing—through an aesthetic and conceptual experience to gain a moment of pause from one’s ways of engaging with and understanding the world, from presumptions and assumptions, in a subtle way that stays with you long after you’ve experienced the work…with this work, my hope is there will be a moment of literal confusion where people won’t know if these are real, if they are just spray-painted, if they are bronze, what they mean, why they are there. Hopefully they won’t look at a lowly palm frond the same way after. I actually titled the project “Prospecting Palm Fronds” because often after people viewed the sculptures, they would unintentionally begin “prospecting” for me, letting me know every time they saw a wayward palm frond during their movements through Los Angeles. Suddenly this invisible and generally despised object became unavoidably visible.

Prospecting Palm Fronds “Prospecting Palm Fronds” by Zoe Crosher.
Courtesy of the Aspen Art Museum.

WW: Tell us a bit about your fascination with documentation, and reality versus imagination.

 ZC: My projects often mine history both real and manufactured. I’m extremely interested in the schism of documentary—the hiccup between the presumption of truth and what that reality actually is or how it’s recorded, kept, viewed, archived, remembered, etc. My practice is fed by this confusion; something I coined the Imaginary—upending the assumption of truth in documentary, which I believe is impossible to locate, photographically or otherwise. As a result, much of my work overall deals with conceptually mapping the cultural imaginaries and disappearances of my obsession with the fantasy of Los Angeles.

Prospecting Palm Fronds Courtesy of Zoe Crosher.

WW: Is there a show on view in Aspen that you’re excited about seeing, open during the time of ArtCrush (at AAM or a gallery)?

ZC: Definitely. I am a MASSIVE Yto Barrada fan, so can’t wait to see her exhibition at AAM. I’ve been in love with her work for years. The Cheryl Donegan show also looks pretty bad-ass, and I’m curious about the “Ritual” show. I didn’t get a chance to see the Sarah Cain install last time I was in town, and I’m a big fan of her work, as well, so will definitely check out that. I have to say, the exhibition list is stellar at AAM, and Heidi [Zuckerman] and Courtenay Finn are so incredibly talented and visionary. I am so thankful to be a part of it. I’m also looking forward to seeing what works are at the auction, it’s always such a stellar line-up!

Patrick Painter Gallery Courtesy of Patrick Painter Gallery.

WW: Where do you like to have fun and relax in Aspen? 

ZC: Apres-Ski. No matter where you decide to go, I love the overall notion of drinks and goodies after skiing, when the slopes close at 4. Even for those of us that don’t ski, it makes us feel like we sort of do. I especially loved fondueing at French Alpine Bistro—Crêperie du Village.

Thrifting. Lord knows people throw away fabulous designer things in Aspen. Everything I saw was good quality and almost new, and the stories I heard of incredible finds is epic. Hit up The Thrift Shop of Aspen, Susie’s Limited and Amber’s Uptown Consignment.

The best drug store I’ve ever been to is Carl’s Pharmacy. I heard about this place from Courtenay Finn, the curator at the Aspen Art Museum, when she first moved to town, and boy, was she on the money. This place has every single thing you need—special throat drops from Switzerland, salty licorice from Holland, particular toothpastes found at Barney’s, the fanciest wine store attached to it, in the relaxed and casual atmosphere of a local, small-town drugstore (along with the very necessary oxygen huffing things and aspirin, both critical to surviving the high altitude. Right on the main drag.

The Jerome, of course, is perfect for a ladies’ champagne lunch. It reminds you of the prospecting history of the area and is one of the few outfits that physically looks like what I thought Aspen would be—complete without cowboys opening and closing the front door for you.

Other fabulous places I like to eat at are The Wild Fig, The Monarch, Grey Lady, and most especially the rooftop restaurant at the AAM, SO, that seasonally changes its menu.

WW: You recently moved to New York. Are you unexpectedly inspired by anything here that L.A. lacked?

 ZC: It’s ironic how NYC is becoming the place for me to catch my breath! I’ve found myself so overwhelmed by my Los Angeles obsession that it was hard to see anything else for a while. Coming here gives some distance and perspective to the criticality I bring to my practice and is allowing me to see it from the outside a little bit more. One thing is for sure—Los Angeles seems very, very, very far away from here, and of very little important to those around me. I understand now why L.A. has born this slight grudge against NYC, because NYC really doesn’t seem to care about much more than NYC! But that translates into an incredibly inspiring quality of my personal life, and a sense of community I never experienced in the slightest in L.A. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to walk my son to kindergarten, and to have a sense of civic engagement on the street, in the world, among people, in an incredibly diverse community who generally doesn’t really care if you are wearing the latest styles or if your hair is perfect.

Life isn’t mediated by a screen or a windshield or through a car window (I literally don’t have to drive anymore), and I find myself much less lonely in an overall human sense. Los Angeles can be so isolating and so numbing in its vastness and lack of interest beyond the superficial. I found that liberation from history was amazing in my 20s and 30s, but now with a child and a family, it’s a whole other ball game. I want very different things settling into my early 40s. I want history, grand buildings, museums, and libraries, and to feel rooted to something larger than myself—to civic-ness and neighborhoods, not to lost deserts and dreams.

And seasons! Having weather again is the most inspiring thing there is. Bring it on, cyclone! So long, Boringly Beautiful…

WW: What are you working on now?

 ZC: I’m working on an expanded version of the “Prospecting Palm Fronds” show for an exhibition called “LA-LIKE: Day for Night or Sunlight as Spotlight” at Patrick Painter Gallery, slated for late October of this year. Along with the bronzed fronds, which will be lit in spotlight in a dark room (inspired by seeing the palm fronds at night on the museum deck). I’ll also have a number of other pieces inspired by this sort of spotlight. I’m working on photographs based on Day For Night technology that was historically used by Hollywood during the film noir days to photograph in the daytime but have it look like it’s nighttime. I’m photographing the disappearance of the Los Angeles River using this technology, and the sunlight actually becomes spotlight. The images are big and incredible, and there will be two images that are almost identical, playing with my approach of having almost-the-same images next to each other.

Another element of the show that will be about spotlight are a series of paintings entitled “Fools Gold Dust (Mimic) Paintings,” made from pulverized Fools Gold Dust. They are quite dark when not directly in the light. The surface sparkles and comes alive, and is activated only when looked at under spotlight or directly in the sun. (So very L.A.) The scale is determined by what the painting is next to or in proximity with. There will be a large one in the show to match the scale of the Blackened photograph. I’ve been thinking a lot about viewing art through art…

There will also be these smaller bronzed blossoms from a series called “LA-LIKE: Escaped Exotics,” which are related to the palm fronds. These are super sexy, as well, documenting the disappearing blossoms from this disappearing garden in Montecito, and will be the centerpiece for an upcoming publication I’ll be doing with X Artists Book in Spring 2019 about the work. Finally, there will be some new surprise elements that you’ll just have to come and see! I’m very excited about this.




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