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, 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. There was art on view by a painter who depicts biblical stories for what he believes they truly are—a series of alien abductions—as well as work by creatives based at the Unarius Academy of Science, a Southern California institution devoted to channeling past lives. But what really caused a stir was Perseverance, the 2000 Thomas Kinkade painting 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 the art space Venus Over Los Angeles, Nicodim’s neighbor just across the street, where he’s been creative director since January. “It’s neutering risk and really going toward satisfying everyone—like warm porridge.”
At Venus, porridge is not on the menu. His curatorial practice has long involved occult references and outer-art-world phenomena, from his time as overseer at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art to his three years as exhibition programmer at Gagosian Beverly Hills. The latter was a position that brought his career full circle. He started out as a receptionist at Gagosian’s Chelsea location in New York.
“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,” Moulton 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 a 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.
His 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.” This summer, from July 15 to September 2, the space is presenting a group 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 though as its profile becomes more mainstream. Nevertheless, mysticism is already on the horizon for 2018. He’s currently planning a show featuring work by 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 an “artist and a curator wrapped in one,” a sentiment echoed by Nicodim. “He had these great ideas, and just like with my artists I felt compelled to offer him the gallery as a blank canvas,” the gallerist 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.”