Johanna Went

Passion Container

January 25 – March 14, 2020

Opening reception: Saturday, January 25, 6 PM - 9 PM


The Box is excited to present Passion Container, the gallery’s first exhibition with Johanna Went. Went is best known as a radical figure of the Los Angeles punk and performance scene of the early 1980s; she orchestrated extravagant, often grotesque and darkly comedic performances. Passion Container presents a selection of the artist’s elaborate archive of performance materials, costumes and props ranging from the late 1970s to 2000s, alongside photographs by Ed Colver, Alan Peak, Ann Summa, Peggy Morrison, and Tom Vinetz, and video footage from performances otherwise not publicly available. Archival materials, original show flyers and performance and music publications such as Slash, No Mag, Search and Destroy, Ben is Dead, High Performance, and more will also be on view. The exhibition will be accompanied by a panel discussion, fashion show, and a limited Box Editions reissue of Johanna Went’s 1982 debut record "Hyena" on translucent, blood-red vinyl.


Growing up in Seattle, Went began performing in 1975 with Tom Murrin in improvisational theater groups Para-Troupe and the World’s Greatest Theater Company, touring North America and Europe in 1976. After settling in L.A. in 1977, Went began performing solo at a variety of venues, eventually meeting sound artist Z’EV and long-time collaborator Mark Wheaton, prompting the introduction of live improvised music played by a band to Went’s wild and chaotic shows. Eventually, the work gained notoriety in the inclusive punk and art communities surrounding downtown Los Angeles. In 1979 Went performed at the historic venue Hong Kong Café, and within the next year performed at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), The Whiskey, Massachusetts Institute of Art, and Al’s Bar, and was on the cover of Slash magazine.


The Box’s initial interest in Went’s oeuvre began when the gallery moved from Chung King Road to its current space on Traction Avenue in 2012; near historical performance venues such as Al’s Bar and the American Hotel. Downtown punk clubs were places for audience members and performers alike to explore content, materials and themes that were otherwise unacceptable in more conservative venues. Experimentation that pushed the boundaries between music, noise and performance was encouraged, as was exploring extreme, exaggerated personas. The punk performance scene that thrived in such places was permeable: and it allowed for people of various interests, classes and communities to join, generating active, engaged audiences. 


Dipping a toe in punk, performance, art, music and theater, but never categorically plunging into any of these classifications, the ambiguity of Went’s avant garde practice became notorious spectacles that brought in curious audiences from the art, Hollywood, and fashion world. Performances were chaotic rituals, composed of indiscernible singing/screaming vocals, improvised music, transformations into and out of whimsical and campy handmade costumes, animals parts, and props constructed out of found materials that were often torn, destroyed, or cut; objects spewed fake blood from amputated limbs constructed with sausage casings and oatmeal, for example. While many performances mined a gruesome aesthetic, Went also integrated humor and play, throwing giant tampons at the audience while dancing and writhing with stuffed dummies, exploring how the absurd, the grotesque and the vile can be humorous, intriguing and even cathartic.


Johanna Went (b. 1949, Buffalo, NY) is a self-taught artist known for performances with exploding transformations of characters, sound, images, improvised music, and ritual. Went has worked closely with long-time collaborator and musical director Mark Wheaton for 40 years. In 1985 she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship Grant. Went has performed at venues including John’s Place, Hong Kong Cafe, Beyond Baroque, The Whiskey, Club Lingerie, the Music Machine, and On Klub, as well as art spaces in the U.S. and Europe, most notably LACE (Los Angeles), COCA (Seattle), The Shaffey Theater (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Alice Tulley Hall, Lincoln Center (New York), Franklin Furnace (New York) and at the Perfo Time Festival (Rotterdam, Holland). Recent exhibitions and performances venues include Ablutions of a Nefarious Nature at Track 16 Gallery (2007); Un-figuring the Body at University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach (2008); Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. at MOCA (2017). Her work has been reviewed in X–TRA, Paper, Slash, Los Angeles Times, and High Performance, among other publications.