Curating Hell

David Pagel chooses eight artists to create an 'Inferno' for today


The point of curating an art show is to help viewers make connections between work that they wouldn’t otherwise see. That’s the opinion of Los Angeles Times art critic, professor and curator David Pagel. “Everything gets put in its little sewing cabinet of categories,” he says, “and I like to scramble those.” His current show, The 10th Circle, at Vast Space Projects is an example of such a scrambling.

It brings together the work of eight West Coast artists in a variety of media, including recycled junk. Inspired by the apocalyptic landscapes of participating artist Nicolas Shake, Pagel expanded the show to include the themes of Dante’s Inferno (approx. 1321) as reimagined through This Is Spinal Tap (1984). The show’s title refers to Dante’s nine circles of hell brought up a notch in the same way that the band members in Spinal Tap turn their amps up to 11.

In Pagel’s 10th Circle, hell is no longer a place that you can visit (and correspondingly escape from), but a constant, all-encompassing state of the modern mind. You can see this morass in Jaime Scholnick’s acrylic and glitter portraits of the Bush-era politicians (a green “Cheney” is particularly menacing) and in Wayne White’s “Rebel Soldier,” a mixed-media sculpture of walking dejection. Kyla Hansen’s found-object geodes, such as “Glitter Gulch,” point to an underworld that can be mined in the simultaneously glittery and domestic depths of femininity.

Pagel has put together a fantastic show, one that is definitely worth the trip to Henderson (near Boulder Highway) before it closes. Here’s what he has to say about the effort.

The characters in both Dante’s Inferno and Spinal Tap go through a hellish journey and then emerge in a better place. Does this show pose a similar journey?

I’m leaving that free to every viewer. I do believe there is a journey, but I don’t presume to know where anyone ends up. I do want some kind of transformative experience—whether it be insight, revelation, seeing things with fresh eyes, whatever.

Is there a specific route you’d like viewers to take through The 10th Circle?

The show is meant to have multiple ways in, out and around. It’s not a linear narrative. … What I love about the static arts, as opposed to say, movies, is that you can engage them at your own pace, in whatever order. You’re really [in] the age of driving the narrative. So, it’s your path and I can come and do the show 10 different times and go 10 different ways and get 10 different things out of it.

You reference Spinal Tap, which was released nearly 30 years ago. Would there be a more contemporary item in pop culture to reference instead?

My show. I don’t want to find contemporary art and then find other contemporary things to explain that contemporary art. I want to use contemporary art as a way in to the past and in a way bring the past here. To me, it’s expanding the parameters of contemporary culture.

What was the advantage doing The 10th Circle in Las Vegas as opposed to where you live in L.A.?

Just that it happened. I take what I can get when I can get it. I don’t plan these “Oh Albuquerque needs this insight from David Pagel or Vegas does.” To me there is really kind of the everywhereness of contemporary culture. We live in a global world and you can have a show here or a show there and it may mean different things, but I don’t think that the region or the place defines the show that much.

What do you hope for The 10th Circle?

I want my viewers to bring something to it, to be engaged and to be curious and open-minded. As a curator, I toss a lot out there and see who picks up on what. I’m not the kind of prescriptive curator, like the message from my show is “recycle more,” and I want you to leave the showing being a better steward of the Earth. For me, the visual arts are still really about pleasure and discovery and mind-expanding possibilities.

What is your favorite moment in the curatorial process?

Pulling in [to the gallery] after driving for four and a half hours and seeing all the stuff here is my favorite thing. As a writer, the most physical thing I ever do is hit send. It’s a really abstract activity, and I just love the physicality of all the stuff, the materiality, the colors and the substance, and getting together and making them talk to each other. … It was totally Christmas morning.

How do you balance teaching, writing and curating?

Teaching pays the most and takes the most time. Writing pays little but is the most satisfying. Curating is the dessert, the real bonus.

The 10th Circle, curated by David Pagel, exhibit runs 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed-Sat, through April 13; 730 W. Sunset Rd.,

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