04.20.12

Mike D. Curates ‘Transmission LA’ at MOCA Los Angeles

The Beastie Boy curates a 17-day festival at MOCA Los Angeles that features art, concerts, and more. He talks to Isabel Wilkinson about his favorite artists, breaking the rules—and that Tupac hologram.

You’d think that Mike D., one of the original members of the Beastie Boys, would freak out when Tupac Shakur is resurrected by hologram for a performance with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. After all, when an optical illusion caused by a reflective piece of Mylar causes the Internet to explode, any living artist might feel a chill down his or her spine. 

But Mike D., whose real name is Michael Louis Diamond, thought the Tupac hologram that appeared at Coachella last weekend was a pretty cool stunt. “I unfortunately couldn’t be there to witness it in person,” Diamond told The Daily Beast on Wednesday morning. “We wanted to see if we could bring the Tupac hologram here, but it has to be at Coachella again next weekend.”

“Here,” surprisingly, is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA), where Diamond has curated a new show, Transmission LA: AV Club, which features sound and video installations from 16 artists. The 17-day exhibition, which runs through May 6 at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, includes concerts, food trucks, DJ nights, and performances by musicians such as Santigold and Diplo.  

But the focus of the show is art—in the museum sense of the word. The work is, in some ways, all related to sound and moving image. There are a few pieces from the sculptor and technical master Tom Sachs; Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe (two artists formerly represented by Deitch Projects, who made a name for themselves with their expansive installation of a meth lab in 2009); and a mash-up video of dancing keyboard cats by Cory Arcangel. There are spinning colored pinwheels hung floor to ceiling by artists Jim Drain and Ara Peterson—a kind of neon Calder mobile on acid. Then there’s a large room covered with the cartoon projection of a moving road by Ben Jones, complete with a winking sun and undulating horizon.

“Ben’s work can be silent, in that there can be moving animated images without a soundtrack, but it can be the loudest thing on the planet,” Diamond said. “I can truly say this installation will leave visitors stoked or nauseous or both.” In a video for the exhibition, in fact, Diamond himself admitted that the show is a “grown-up theme park, a Six Flags for adults.” 

Transmission LA represents an interesting moment for the museum, which now enters its third year with Jeffrey Deitch, the former art dealer and owner of Deitch Projects in New York, at its helm. While Deitch’s appointment to the job raised eyebrows for his proximity to commerce, he is responsible for a few extremely successful shows, such as Art in the Streets, which broke attendance records for MOCA last summer. He also spearheaded two shows at MOCA’s satellite space at the Pacific Design Center—one around Rodarte designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy, and the other focusing on the work of photographer (and now Yves Saint Laurent creative director) Hedi Slimane. But the whiff of commerce is easily detected in Transmission: LA as well. Mercedes-Benz sponsored the exhibit and has put a concept car in the middle of the show. A futuristic Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupé (which, I’m reminded repeatedly by a publicist, has an accent over the “e”), will showcase formally at the Beijing Auto show next month and will go on the market next year. For now, it resides in MOCA, where Diamond and his bandmate Adam Horovitz have designed a light and musical show around it, so that it blends in (somewhat) with the art.

“I can truly say this installation will leave visitors stoked or nauseous or both,” says Mike D.

According to Diamond, Deitch called him a year ago to propose that he curate Transmission: LA and has been very hands-on since. Even so, Diamond says, he faced several challenges in transitioning from the musical world to the museum world. But, being a Beastie Boy, his strategy was all about breaking the rules. “In music, I know what the red tape involved is going to be,” he says. “I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in that I’ve had a bigger platform where we could dictate or ignore the rules in a lot of the work that we did. Here, I had to re-learn what it was like to fight for every single thing that you want to do—even if it’s a little bit different than what the rules allow.”