Something to Laugh About: La Jolla exhibit to explore stand-up comedy in contemporary art

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) will present “Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance,” Jan. 23-April 19, 2015 in La Jolla, featuring works by 19 artists exploring the recent turn toward comedic performance in (and as) contemporary art.

MCASD associate curator Jill Dawsey organized the exhibition, including work by Cory Arcangel, Edgar Arceneaux, Jibz Cameron and Hedia Maron, Tammy Rae Carland, Audrey Chan and Elana Mann, Kasia Fudakowski, Eric Garduño and Matthew Rana, Jonn Herschend, Stanya Kahn, Tim Lee, Glenn Ligon, Carter Mull, Jayson Musson, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Scott Reeder and Michael Smith.

In describing the concept, MCASD writes, “Stand-up offers a forum in which comics and artists alike may examine stereotypes and taboos, testing what can and can’t be said. The exhibition suggests that this format makes particular sense to artists at a moment when they — like citizens everywhere — are seeking new modes of public address (think of the widespread use of social media or the recent emergence of the human microphone within the context of the Occupy movement).”

The exhibition features about 50 works in a range of media — video, photography, drawing, painting, sculpture and a PowerPoint presentation. An illustrated brochure accompanies the exhibition, and includes an essay by curator Dawsey.

The title “Laugh-in” (shared with the 1968-1973 comedy program “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”) conjures the cultural moment of the late 1960s and resonates with the “sit-ins” and “be-ins” of that time. The period not only saw the rise of stand-up comedy to mainstream prominence, but also its ties to political issues that echo in modern times.

Highlights include Eric Garduño and Matthew Rana’s installation, “The People v. Bruce (Parrhesia)” (2011), which simulates a courtroom setting reminiscent of the 1964 trial of Lenny Bruce for obscenity charges, drawing parallels between instances of censorship in the past and the present.

Other highlights include Edgar Arceneaux’s nine-channel video installation “The Alchemy of Comedy ... Stupid” (2006), featuring a performance by comedian David Alan Grier; Tammy Rae Carland’s “I’m Dying Up Here” (2011), a series of large-scale color photographs of female stand-up comedians captured mid-act, emphasizing the vulnerability of performance; Stanya Kahn’s absurdist, pathos-filled video “Lookin Good, Feelin’ Good” (2012), shown alongside a selection of her humorous line drawings; and an installation of Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s visceral photographic works, for which she manipulates images from the history of late 20th century comedy.


What: “Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance” exhibition

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, Jan. 23-April 19, 2015. Closed Wednesdays.

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 700 Prospect St., La Jolla

Admission: $5-$10. Free 5-7 p.m. third Thursdays

Phone: (858) 454-3541


Curator Talk: 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 26 with Jill Dawsey