Ed Smith, Venice, California, 1980. Photo by Skip Arnold.

Ed Smith, Venice, California, 1980. Photo by Skip Arnold.

VENICE- The “Poet Gang” who flourished at Venice’s Beyond Baroque literary center from the mid-70s to mid-80s is being celebrated in a pair of art exhibits.

Writer and critic Sabrina Tarasoff’s “Beyond Baroque” is presented as part of “Made in L.A. 2020: a version,” in which 30 L.A. artists present work at both The Huntington in San Marino and Hammer Museum at UCLA.

Poets Dennis Cooper, Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose, Amy Gerstler, Jack Skelley, Ed Smith, and David Trinidad formed the so-called gang that formed around poetry workshops at Beyond Baroque.

“Beyond Baroque” hasn’t been available for public viewing yet at The Huntington, although museums have been allowed to operate at 25 percent since Monday, March 15. Tarasoff said she’ll also have interviews with some of the featured poets, which will be shown on Hammer’s website in May or June.

Tarasoff worked with Twisted, an immersive content studio led by artist Zion Fenwick, to build a haunted house within The Huntington. Each room guides the viewer through fictionalized portrayals based on the poetry.

“The rooms capture the ethos of Beyond Baroque, and in so doing, restage the idea of an archive in a brilliantly unacademic, unconventional, and experiential form,” according to The Huntington’s website.  

Tarasoff said she began researching the Beyond Baroque scene while finishing her degree at CalArts.

“My survey of the work has been occupied with defining the unique qualities that formed these important literary and personal bonds,” the Finnish native said, “as well as evoking both a time and a place—1980’s Los Angeles—that defined a new literary voice with a lasting influence. Coming out of an ironic punk sensibility, it also reflected the post-60s malaise of Los Angeles and its marginal role in American poetry.”

With the installation, Tarasoff said she wanted “to weave a grounded and compelling analysis of the both the work and the strangely homosocial bonds among its poets.” She said their written work, spanning from 1976 to 1986, “changed the face of American poetry.”

Living in Paris now, Tarasoff came to L.A. in 2015 and she opened the Bel Ami gallery the following year with Naoki Sutter-Shudo.

“I highly admire how she plays with the format of a curated exhibition,” Sutter-Shudo said of Tarasoff, “one that is historical in scope at that, inventing a new way to showcase a specific scene and, adding her own twist, presenting it as an actual physical site that surpasses the visual and the textual, with an assault on senses that the format of a haunted house allows.

“Her commitment to both historical/literary research,” Sutter-Shudo continued, “and to her singular vision of what an exhibition can be, are rigorous yet playful qualities I have always loved in all of Sabrina’s work.”

Tarasoff said her exhibits aren’t exactly a “secret history” but one that she feels is under examined and influential.

“The Haunted House installation for Made in LA was a way to toy even further with the literary structures underwriting the poetic works and their literary influences,” Tarasoff said, “but also a way of experimenting with the idea of an archive, of unearthing oral histories, and granting them ongoing life.”

 

Born in Kentucky, Doug Rapp now calls 90291 home. Before joining the Venice Current, his writing appeared in outlets throughout the Midwest. He is also a script analyst for writing competitions in L.A. and New York City.