If you watched the 90’s prime-time soap opera Melrose Place, and you occasionally got the feeling that the show was actually the medium for a cutting-edge, conceptual art project, well … guess what? You weren’t crazy.
Yes, the large, red ‘A’ in the otherwise black and white ‘For Lease’ sign at the Hawthorne Court apartments – home of the show’s resident prostitute, Kelly Rutherford’s ‘Megan’ – really was an allusion to The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel about adultery and guilt.
The fact that the clerk at the seedy, hourly rate motel (where Megan turned her tricks) is reading The Libidinal Economy, a treatise by the late French philosopher and social critic Francois Lyotard that explains global economies in terms of the pimp-prostitute relationship? Completely intentional.
And those were just two of hundreds of artworks that were inserted into the show’s sets and props from 1995-1997 as part of In the Name of the Place: GALA Committee, a collaboration of more than a hundred artists under the leadership of world-renowned conceptual artist Mel Chin.
“I was going back and forth from the University of Georgia and Cal Arts,” said Chin, explaining the origins of In the Name of the Place to the first gathering of the Young Fellows, the New Orleans Museum of Art’s newest affiliate group, on Tuesday. “I was a scholar and professor at both places, and they wanted us to do a project in the Museum of Contemporary Arts about Los Angeles.
“And flying out of Los Angeles after a year of being there, I said, ‘L.A. is in the air. It’s in microwave transmissions in every home in America. This is where it is.’ So the site for a project would have to be a primetime television show.”
Clips of Melrose Place with the GALA Committee’s insertions (GALA being a combination of Georgia and L.A.) were running on a television as part of a larger retrospective of Chin’s work currently showing at NOMA.
‘Mel Chin: Rematch’ is the most expansive presentation of the artist’s work to-date, the outgrowth of extensive research and archiving of Chin’s past work and artistic practice, uncovering rarely seen materials from over the past four decades.
The exhibition includes approximately 70 works, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, major installations, video, and documentation of collective interventions and public works.
Although Chin has had solo exhibitions at museums including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (1989), the Walker Art Center (1990), The Menil Collection (1991) and the Station Museum, Houston (2006), this is the first exhibition to incorporate and contextualize the major projects and installations from all decades of his career.
And for the Young Fellows, having Chin himself walk them through the show was quite an auspicious way to begin.
“For more than a century, NOMA has thrived with the support of very generous patrons,” said Brooke Minto, deputy director for development and external affairs for NOMA. “In planning for the museum’s bright future, we hope to attract younger audiences for all of the museum’s dynamic programs, and our Young Fellows are essential to that process.”
Dedicated to members between the ages of 21 and 45, Minto said the hope is that Young Fellows programming “will engage and educate our community’s youngest philanthropists, who will, over time, become the museum’s leadership.”