Close Encounters

MAS Attack brings diverse artists together for a one-night show

Making art can be an isolating activity. But one Los Angeles group is working to create a sense of community and brought that concept to San Diego in late February. Max Presneill, the director/curator of Torrance Art Museum, is co-founder of Artra Curatorial, a volunteer organization he and two colleagues established in 2009. Under the Artra banner, they coordinate art shows, art fairs and international gallery exchanges.

Perhaps their most intriguing endeavor is MAS Attack (short for Mutual Appreciation Society), which brings artists together for the sole purpose of interacting and talking about art. The public is invited, too.

“It’s just a big art party — very relaxed, no sales or pressure,” Max says. “It’s not for curators, critics or gallerists. It’s just a bunch of artists hanging out.

“When we hang the show, we don’t put up any information except the artist’s name. That encourages people to walk around to find out more about the piece or just to say, ‘I love your work,’” he continues. “We hope that, over time, artists include folks they’ve met at MAS Attacks in new projects or mention each other to curators and galleries.”

Before San Diego, MAS Attacks were staged in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Albuquerque.

“There’s no false hierarchy based on the commercial world,” Max says. “We mix artists at different points in their career. And we don’t try to track results. All we get is anecdotal evidence of collaborations and mutual recommendations. Success for us is if 150 artists came together, met people and had a good time, and a good crowd showed up to see it.”

The curators of Artra don’t earn any-thing for their efforts. “We all have day jobs,” Max says. “This is a labor of love.”

For the MAS Attack at San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park, Artra brought together 75 L.A. and 75 San Diego artists.

“We embraced this new exhibition model,” says SDAI Executive Director Ginger Shulick Porcella. “It’s just the sort of event that supports our mission of showcasing works by contemporary artists from the Southern California/Baja Norte region. It’s a great outreach opportunity for us, because it creates dialogue about contemporary art and networking possibilities for artists, as well as exposing artists from L.A. to the quality of art being made in San Diego and introducing them to local venues like ours.

“The quality of the art I see here is on par with anywhere else. But San Diegans don’t invest in, buy or value local art,” says Ginger, who moved from New York to San Diego a year ago.

For this show, she made “very deliberate choices” in the local artists she invited to participate, aiming for the greatest diver-sity in age, experience and medium. SDAI created a hip party atmosphere with a bar and band for the free, one-night-only art show that brought in a crowd of 650.

“There was really good energy,” says San Diego painter Kathy McChesney, a longtime member of SDAI who chose to display her abstracted portrait of Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei. “It was very exciting to meet a lot of new artists. Everyone was very open and friendly. I’m basically an introvert, and I found it the easiest place to interact. I love that I got a lot of new Facebook friends. I was interested to see what the L.A. art scene looks like; that’s where it’s all happening these days. I think it’s a little more edgy than the work from San Diego, but we’re coming around to that.”

Kathy was happy to meet and chat with one of the highest-profile artists involved, Los Angeles’ Ben Jackel, who is represented by the prestigious L.A. Louver gallery. His sculptural piece, Cannon, 2002 (made of lathe-turned wood and wheel-thrown ceramic) is a “very political work,” he says, created “just as we were about to invade Iraq.” Ben has participated in several MAS Attacks, but this was his favorite.

“It was the best MAS show ever — the most high-class one, for sure,” he says. Others have been in warehouses and hangars. “To be in this magnificent cultural center — Balboa Park — in this wonderful venue, meeting other artists, was terrific.”

Another provocative L.A. work was Steve Wolkoff’s A Pile of Cocaine, which was created by squeezing acrylic paint out of a pastry bag, each squeeze (1,500 in all) spelling out the word ‘cocaine’ in script.  

“This kind of event helps us bond and see what our work looks like in the context of other art,” he says. “I’m now in an artists’ group, and I met some of the members through MAS Attacks.”

Prominent San Diego/Baja artists, brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre were happy to chat about the inspirations for their large, detailed, mixed-media piece.

“This is a great way to meet artists and discuss each other’s work,” Einar says.

Abstract painter Ellen Dieter, another long-time SDAI member, found common-ality with the large-scale, abstract work of the curator, and they’re discussing a barter agreement. “I’m always up for trading,” Max says.

Both Max and Ginger were thrilled with the outcome of San Diego’s MAS Attack. Ginger is exploring a similar cross-border event. And though Artra has never repeated itself, Max thinks “an annual MAS in San Diego would be awesome!”

“The success of an event like this,” Ginger asserts, “is not gallery representation or making money. The art world is about relationships. It’s just as the [MAS] title says: mutually appreciating each other’s work.”

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