I was kind of blown away by Aaron Moulton's audacious and esoteric style of curating. I wrote it for Cultured's summer issue, and you can read it below.
DEK Venus LA creative director Aaron Moulton casts art in a more cosmic light.
Recently, a few angry art enthusiasts have been sending Los Angeles gallerist Mihai Nicodim hate mail.
“People want to be removed from my mailing list for our audacity to show a Thomas Kinkade painting on a Mungo Thomson mural,” says the owner of Nicodim Gallery, describing a stroke of subversive genius by curator Aaron Moulton. In May, given Nicodim’s full, albeit blind, support, Moulton presented “The Basilisk,” a group show focused on the aesthetics of spiritual enlightenment. There were works by Lita Albuquerque and Diana Thater, both of whom regularly depict celestial bodies, plus pieces by a few generally less celebrated artists: one painter who depicts biblical stories for what they truly are—a series of alien abductions—or Unarium, a Southern California institution devoted to channeling past lives. “Perseverance,” the 2000 Thomas Kinkade painting in question, was mounted on a galactic Mungo Thomson mural as if it were wallpaper.
Moulton remains unfazed by the backlash.
“I think in our art world culture, there’s a mediocrity contest happening,” he says one afternoon at VENUS Los Angeles, Nicodim’s neighbor across the street, where he’s been creative director since January. “It’s neutering risk and really going towards satisfying everyone. Like warm porridge.”
At VENUS, Porridge is certainly not what Moulton plans to serve. His curatorial practice has long involved occult references and outer-art-world phenomena, from his time as curator in the Mormon capital of Salt Lake City to his three years at Gagosian Beverly Hills (which brought the start of his career as a Gagosian Chelsea receptionist full circle).
“I do a lot of shows that are about psychological or psychiatric pursuits of energy, and I work in a cult, essentially: the art world,” he says. He describes his first L.A. show, 2014’s “Clear,” as “an effort to secretly do a show about Scientology.” The artists ranged from James Turrell and De Wain Valentine to the late self-proclaimed psychic Ingo Swann, who was also level OT 7 Scientologist. Moulton effectively recast the Light and Space movement as a form of science fiction, emphasizing Turrell’s aesthetic links to astral projection.
Moulton’s goals for VENUS are decidedly more grounded; he’s going to continue the gallery’s current program of playing “lost and found with art history,” which this summer includes a show of six late-career female artists who depict the vagina in their studio practice. Appropriately—or rather, inappropriately—it’s going to be called “Cunt.” Moulton claims that his interest in esoterica has started to wane as its profile becomes more mainstream. “Once Frieze and Artforum start showing what’s happening on the esoteric calendar, the game is up,” he says. But mysticism is already on the horizon for 2018; he’s currently planning a show of pascALEjandro Jodorowsky, the collaborative art practice between acclaimed director and iconic mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky and his wife, the visual artist and designer Pascale Montandon Jodorowsky.
VENUS owner Adam Lindemann describes Moulton as “artist and a curator wrapped in one,” a sentiment echoed by Nicodim.
“He had these great ideas looking for a stage, and just like with my artists I felt compelled to offer him the gallery as a blank canvas,” he says. “What’s surprising about Aaron’s shows is the intensity at which they’re experienced. There are those coming back again and again, leaving with the feeling that there’s so much more they ‘didn’t get.’”