January 21, 2015 - Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego - Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance
January 21, 2015

Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance

Stanya Kahn, Lookin Good, Feelin Good, 2012. HD color video with sound. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. © Stanya Kahn.

Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance
January 23–April 19, 2015

MCASD La Jolla
700 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037-4291


The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is pleased to present Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance, which explores the recent turn toward comedic performance in contemporary art. The exhibition features the work of 20 artists who make use of the strategies of stand-up comedy as a means to reframe questions surrounding artistic performativity, audience participation, and public speech.

If stand-up evokes the image of an isolated figure, spot-lit on a stage, this form of comedy resonates with contemporary artists precisely for its direct if uncertain relation to an audience or public. Artists today look to stand-up comedy as well for its emphatic embodiment and its ability to upend hierarchies and power relations. Indeed, stand-up offers a forum in which comics and artists alike may examine stereotypes and taboos, testing what can be said and what can be heard. The exhibition suggests that this format makes particular sense at a moment when artists—like citizens everywhere—are seeking new modes of public address (think of the widespread use of social media, for example, or the emergence of the human microphone within the context of the Occupy movement). 

The title Laugh-in conjures the cultural moment of the late 1960s and ’70s and, as in its original iteration as the title of a comedy television program, resonates with the “sit-ins” and “be-ins” of that time—and with political currents in the present. Figures such as Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Richard Pryor, and a generation of breakthrough female comedians, including Phyllis Diller, Gilda Radner, and Lily Tomlin, among others, are touchstones for the artists in Laugh-in. The exhibition considers such comics within the context of a larger interest on the part of contemporary artists in the decades of the 1960s and ’70s. That period not only saw the rise of stand-up comedy to mainstream prominence, but also crises of political legitimation that find echoes in our own time. The works in Laugh-in, then, engage comedic performance as both an analogy and a lens onto the increasingly complex role artists occupy with respect to their audiences and within the broader public sphere today.

Artists include Cory Arcangel, Edgar Arceneaux, Jibz Cameron (Dynasty Handbag) and Hedia Maron, Tammy Rae Carland, Mathew Cerletty, Chan & 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.

Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance is organized by Jill Dawsey, Associate Curator at MCASD. The exhibition is made possible by generous lead underwriting support from Laurie Mitchell and Brent Woods, and additional funding provided by the 2014 Art Auction. Institutional support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund. 


Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego presents Laugh-in: Art, Comedy, Performance
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
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