Susan Mogul and Ilene Segalove, Pacific Standard Time focus weekend, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, December 3, 2011

Ilene Segalove, right, with her mom Elaine

The Orange County Museum of Art was abuzz with history this past Saturday. After an excellent tour of the State of Mind exhibition, in which curator Karen Moss neatly relayed the story of California conceptualism in just under 45 minutes, two special Pacific Standard Time programs dynamically connected history with the present day.

First, almost all of Ilene Segalove’s The Mom Tapes (1974–78) were screened in the museum’s auditorium; they were introduced by Segalove herself and followed by a Q&A with the artist and her mom, Elaine. The Mom Tapes are on view in the galleries as part of State of Mind, but it was great to be able to sit down and focus my attention on this body of work, created over a period of four years. The episodic tapes, which are really charming and funny, capture aspects of Segalove’s relationship to her mom as well as their upper-middle class family life in a posh Beverly Hills house—it’s a classic instance of the personal playing into a larger political concern of valuing women’s daily contributions.

Here’s a short snippet of Segalove’s introduction to The Mom Tapes:

“I always knew that real life was material for art. I always was kind of a spy in my own life. I would spend hours leaning against the door to my parents’ bedroom, overhearing their loud conversations. And sometimes I would turn them into cartoons and entertain my younger brother with illustrations of what they said, and how they said it. My brother later became a psychiatrist. I don’t know if there’s a connection, it’s possible.”

The opportunity to engage with Segalove and her mom following the screening was priceless. As Segalove pointed out, she is now approximately the same age her mom was when they made the tapes. Among the comments made were the following:

Elaine (asked if she thought the tapes were successful): “I liked them very much. I thought they were well done. It would do a lot of mothers good to listen to something like that. Usually when a child is that grown up, they don’t want to be bothered with mother, they’ve had it. I learned an awful lot when she did that program.”

Ilene: “I was trying to capture the most banal stuff and kind of turn it into the most sublime stuff. Like asking my mom where to buy steak, it seems like so, who cares? But so much of girls’ lives seemed to be, who cares. At school, the stories we read weren’t about girls, they were about boys having adventures. If you watched me in my bedroom, it didn’t look like much was going on, I might have been tracing a ballerina book, but that actually was a significant moment for me. So one of the reasons I made the tapes was to recognize the poignancy of these moments.”

Susan Mogul in performance

Susan Mogul then did a hilarious performance, well it was more of a scripted shtick or mock slide lecture really, addressing the strangeness of her newfound status as a “historic feminist artist from the 70s.” If you read that awesome article that ran in the LA Weekly several weeks ago, you know that Mogul did a guerrilla intervention on the obnoxious sexism of the PST ads featuring Anthony Kiedis celebrating Ed Ruscha, and Jason Schwartzman celebrating John Baldessari. Frustrated by the repeated use of overexposed white male artists, Mogul made her own promotional poster, in which “Mogul Celebrates Mogul.” The poster, full of a self-deprecating humor sorely lacking in the official ads, exhorted viewers to “celebrate the artist who continues to inspire herself.”

The performance was a satirical recounting of the art community’s increasing fetishization of Mogul as a “vintage artist.” She told of how a young art historian spied her at a dance party and squealed, “Oh it’s Susan Mogul from the 70s!” Then a local art dealer called her up and asked to show her old work—but only her old work, nothing new. “The 70s are back!” he declared. “Mogul, I’m going to revive you!” Finally big cheese curators from local museums called her up, eagerly looking to populate their upcoming PST shows with rare work. Zeroing in on these people’s trendy worship of the 70s, Mogul declares that she’s found a “new vintage genre,” which she labeled “feminist shmatik.”

Mogul asks, what does it mean to be celebrated in 2011 for artwork that was made 40 years ago? In another story that may or may not have been real, she told of a museum that asked her to re-perform her video work Dressing Up (1973), but without the nudity, because the donors wouldn’t like that, and after all, it really isn’t the 70s anymore. How to reconcile past with present? The solution of course was the PST ad spoof. After showing images of them in situ, Mogul concluded, “One woman, one artist, before her time, ahead of her time, frozen in time, just in time, isn’t it about time? It’s Susan Mogul time.”

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