Durden and Ray is a Los Angeles based curatorial collective and artist-run gallery, that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The collective has a broad international network, and just started a co-operation with Budapest’s MŰTŐ group. Steven Wolkoff spent two weeks in the city for Dreams Upon Waking, the first exchange-exhibition of the two artist-run spaces. Ráhel Anna Molnár asked the exhibition’s curator about Durden and Ray and the artist-run scene in Los Angeles.
Ráhel Anna Molnár (RAM): You’ve been taking part in Durden and Ray as an artist and curator for five years now. How the artistic and curatorial practice works together within your group and how it has started for you?
Steven Wolkoff (SW): I already knew several members of the group separately, and when they were looking for new members I thought it might be interesting. Durden and Ray is a curatorial collective. It’s the 25 of us right now, so it’s big compared to most of the similar groups. Everybody in it currently is an artist but the focus is curation. In L.A. it seems that most of the curators now are also artists, whereas a generation or two ago you had to do these things separately. You weren’t really allowed to do both. By now, a lot of those lines have been blurred. There are even examples of museum curators having art practices, like David Rubin. Members of Durden and Ray have different curatorial backgrounds, one of the founders of the group, Max Presneill works also as the director of Torrance Art Museum. I used to help to run a different gallery, called Hudson|Linc and so I have a decent background in curation too. There are always group shows, we don’t do solo shows at all. We focus on both members of the group and also outside artists, who we find interesting and compelling. Members propose show ideas, with a curatorial committee that signs off on the ideas or helps with shaping them.
RAM: Parallel to being a collective, you have a gallery space where you create your shows. Tell me about the space, has it always been the same?
SW: Since I’ve been in the group we had three galleries and when I joined we actually didn’t have a space at all. Now Durden and Ray works in the Bendix building. It’s in the fashion district, the downtown area. There’s a lot of energy going on, eight-nine galleries are working there together with artist studios. The building still has some fashion businesses and some manufacturing in it, but a lot of its spaces are turned over to art galleries.
RAM: You have a lot of international exhibitions going on and you also participate in art-fairs quite often. Was international network building a conscious decision from the beginning?
SW: It was a conscious decision, I think Max led the way on it, his museum has recently been doing more and more international programming and so he’s familiar with these galleries. They have a series at the Torrance Art Museum called CO/LAB which invites artist-run spaces from around the world to team up with artist-run spaces from Los Angeles and put on a show. Last year it was a collaboration with Berlin based initiatives and this year it’s going to be Los Angeles & Rotterdam. He first brought that concept to the museum and later to Durden and Ray. He had a similar interest in linking artist-run spaces in Los-Angeles. Every month we have a show – both local and international ones. In Durden and Ray, every show has a team that is responsible for it, and every member is responsible for curating or co-curating at least one show per year.
RAM: How do you see the artist-run scene of Los Angeles? How could you describe its specific character?
SW: In the last couple of years there were many artists who moved to Los Angeles especially from San Francisco and New York. There is a lot of energy right now, a lot of excitement, and a lot of people who want to create opportunities for themselves and for others. There are obviously a lot more artist-run spaces in L.A. and a good number of them have relationships and go to each other’s shows. Also in the Bendix building, there are at least four other artist-run galleries, so we naturally have some relations with them. Some of our original members created a separate group, ARTRA and did a series called MAS Attack. It was one-night only, non-commercial event, solely for artists to meet other artists. To have everybody to see each other’s works and get in contact. And from that they really started to build a community. There’s also a lot of art schools and a lot of the graduates stay in LA. There are several different tracks in the artist-run scene as well, that have different communities.
RAM: Do you think the big number of artist-run spaces may be also connected with what you said about the blurring curatorial and artistic practices? Is the need for curation an indicator behind them?
SW: One of the oldest artist-run spaces that I can think of in L.A. is called PØST, which is working for 20 years now. HK Zamani didn’t open it to show his works, he just wanted to curate shows. He had separate shows of his own works in other galleries. Sometimes it’s an artist who wants to curate things for his own exposure and sometimes it’s just that they find curating interesting and they want to do it. I personally find curating interesting and enjoy doing it.
RAM: State funding in the cultural field has a very long tradition here in Hungary, though in the current cultural-political situation, for NGO’s and progressive cultural productions state funding became very difficult – almost impossible to get. The ‘independent scene’ has been seeking new ways of financing. In the United States, though, the system of cultural financing is completely different. Could you tell about that, and how do you manage to run Durden and Ray financially?
SW: L.A. county offers grants for individual artists and also sometimes for institutions. There was a time in the 70’s when there was more public money for the arts in the USA, and than there came the cultural wars with Serrano’s Piss Christ. I think that’s around the end of when NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) gave money to individual artists to do things. We don’t make a profit, it’s a non-commercial gallery. There’s a monthly due every other month based on our expenses including our rent, exhibition costs and participations in art-fairs. In the States, there’s a non-profit official designation that we are not. It would probably be a smart thing to do, as if you are a legal non-profit, people can give your organization money and write it off their taxes. But to register as a non-profit, you need to file a bunch of forms and paperwork, pay a certain amount of money, and you probably need an accountant to help you with all this. So far, we haven’t been interested doing that. Our group’s identity at this point is really have been more of a DIY aesthetic. We like the freedom that comes from just doing it ourselves.
Cover image: Steven Wolkoff’s work. Courtesy of Durden and Ray