When the Hammer Museum introduced the $100,000 Mohn Award as part of its first Made in L.A. biennial two years ago, it generated quite a bit of controversy. A jury of experts narrowed the field down to five artists, whom the public then voted on to select the winner. Populists were outraged that they were not allowed to choose from among all 60 participating artists, while others viewed it as a vulgar popularity contest, an artsy “American Idol,” where, as we all know, the best singer doesn’t always win.
In response to this criticism, they’ve split the award into three – a $100,000 Mohn Award, now selected solely by a jury, a $25,000 career achievement award, also jury selected, and a $25,000 Public Recognition Award, which the public selects from among all 35 artists in the exhibition. More than 3000 votes have already been cast, surpassing 2012’s total.
With nearly three dozen artists to choose from, how does one stand out from the crowd? LA Weekly recently profiled KChung DJ Johnnie JungleGuts and his campaign to win the award for the radio station. For Made in L.A., KChung has set up a make-shift studio in the museum’s lobby where they are broadcasting an experimental TV program, KChung TV, every weekend during the exhibition. JungleGuts’ lobbying effort includes pleas on his Tumblr, Instagram and Vine, as well as a June 26th Masturbate-a-thon, for which 81 people pledged to pleasure themselves while thinking about KChung.
KChung is one of a handful of collectives participating in this year’s Made in L.A. (alongside artspace/publisher Public Fiction, and James Kidd Studio), creating potential new controversies for the competition. “KChung has far more members than any other single artist or collective in Made in L.A.,” notes Jennifer Swann. “More people could translate to more votes.” To which JungleGuts replied, “If we win, it’s like, ‘Sorry, get better rules.’ ”
It also highlights the challenges inherent in comparing artforms that are always on view like painting, sculpture and video, with KChung’s performative broadcasts, which only take place on weekends. Instead of a live taping, weekday visitors are greeted by an empty, if evocative, studio.
Another wrinkle is that at least ten artists in Made in L.A. (Max Maslansky, Luke Fischbeck, Harsh Patel, Jennifer Moon…) are affiliated with KChung. It is possible that fans of multiple artists could throw their lot in with the collective, thereby spreading the wealth in a sense among a number of Made in L.A. participants, instead of singling one out for recognition. Which would be fine with many artists, who perhaps see it as tacky to promote themselves for a monetary prize. “It’s almost shameful to want it,” says Moon.
The public will see whether JungleGuts’ grassroots campaign is successful at the end of the month when all three award recipients are named. Voting for the Public Recognition Award ends this Sunday, August 17th.
also by Matt Stromberg
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