Some Notes from the recent talk on the LA artworld

I attended the Art Talk LA at Angles gallery on Wednesday evening, February 10, 2010.

Much truth about Los Angeles’ artworld was laid bare.

There was a great deal of really honest discussion. Marc Richard led the panel, which was composed of LA collector Dean Valentine and Sarah Watson of L&M Arts, Los Angeles, who worked formerly for both Deitch Projects in NYC and Patrick Painter in LA.

There was standing room only for this event. Dozens of LA’s top collectors were present. Several LA artists were in attendance. So were the Rubell’s from Miami.

Some of the points made by the Art Talk Los Angeles moderator/and or/panel:

The artists who are in art history in LA since 1960 can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Those 5 artists are in the major global galleries, auction houses, art history group: Baldessari and Ruscha in the 1960’s, Mike Kelly in the 1980’s, Charlie Ray and Paul McCarthy in the 1990’s.

Like L&M Arts, the NYC galleries coming here would collapse if they depended on Cali for business. Matthew Marks Los Angeles arrives in the fall of 2010.

It was pointed out that the major galleries that are expanding here are positioned differently than those that came in the near and distant past, in the 1980’s.

It would seem that the current crop of galleries is coming to LA because of the major artist presence, not because of the limited collector base in LA.

It was pointed out that Los Angeles artists are plugged into the international artworld, and there may be no need to develop a local art economy – one that is the equal of the great historic art capitals. (Of course this is an easy way for LA to be let off of the hook for not putting up major dollars like San Francisco has done to advance the role of art in one’s city of choice to live in.)

Los Angeles’ millionaire collectors are dwarfed by billionaire artworld players in other cities.

Having one billionaire run decide what happens in LA is what would happen in Columbus, Ohio (Wexner Center).

Los Angeles has tiny galleries, the best art schools in the world – and the second best spaces for contemporary art – only behind Berlin.

It was said and seconded by many in the room that LA has the best contemporary artists.

MoCA can be broke in 2 years, even with what it’s been given. It now has 60 million dollars. It needs much more. By comparison, the new Broad museum will have an endowment of $200 million, which would generate enough revenue from investments perpetuate and even grow the endowment.

Dean Valentine spoke in behalf of the The Hammer. He and the curators who advise him see The Hammer as the most advanced state of LA’s art world, the most important place for artists to show. He was quite bold and expressive in his remarks and he, as part of the Hammer’s inner circle of power, where he is privileged to be part of the absolute taste makers of contemporary culture, sees MoCA as H-I-S-T-O-R-Y. This was a direct frontal assault on MoCA, the hiring of Deitch, and MoCA’s assumed role as the barometer and seat of contemporary art in Los Angeles for the past 30 years. He said that The Hammer has hired an artist to reinvent the viewing and visiting experience of the museum, and the Hammer will be using advanced technologies to experience audiences in new ways.

Deitch is here for one purpose: Get money and collections from the international art collecting billionaires for MoCA.

LA has no auction house – and is therefore not an influence or factor on the art market.

LA has no art magazine of consequence. (This discounts Afterall, which is intellectually rigorous, and which has spawned the East of Borneo publishing project, headed by Thomas Lawson.)

Contrary to the Don Rubell’s contention that the entire UCLA faculty are major artists; contrary to Mera Rubell’s contention that the show they did – Red Eye – of 36 LA artists, that all of them are truly international.

Someone screamed from the audience that in comparison to LA, San Francisco MoMA was able to raise $250 million dollars in a few months. (This was reported in the NYTimes and the art press.)

LA has no philanthropic desire – worst in the country

(This is despite the fact that there are now over 250,000 millionaires in Greater Los Angeles.)

LA is groomed, educated, cultivated about food, fashion, cars, music, but not visual art.

There is no education program to teach those with the means to buy art or how to do it and why.

LA does not have a teaching apparatus to train collectors about the world of contemporary art. Valentine was lucky in that he had Stu Regen educate him over time.

(By comparison, there are degree and certificate programs in post-war and contemporary art taught by the auction houses in New York City)

LA needs an art and business counsel to bring the business world and artworld together.

One LA collector acknowledged having not grown up with any awareness of the world of contemporary art.

Hollywood is immersed 24/7 into film business and filmmaking. Zero time for collecting or for cultivating the mind re the world of contemporary art.

LA is insecure, which is good, get over it.

Valentine said that when he started looking at paintings, he was drawn in by their skin-like quality, and their often highly facile use of paint. However, as time has passed, he sees few paintings that are compelling. He sees a great deal of technical mastery from young artists, and little if no vision of the world in the works. Without saying this aloud, he clearly now has a focus on art other than paintings that exist on the level of virtuosity alone, that are devoid or message or meaning.

Watson spoke about the known personality conflict that Deitch is shy, yet will be required to hustle up big money from deep pocketed collectors. She mentioned something to the effect that Deitch does not suffer fools kindly – or deal well with people who try to game him.

Valentine made a statement to the effect that the New Museum was acting in a highly unethical manner by allowing the Dakis Jannou collection to be shown there. He said that what should happen is the collector should have rented a space in NYC and showed it there. The Rubell’s asked what is the difference between one collector loaning 100 works to a exhibition, and 100 collectors each loaning a single work to an exhibition. Valentine said there is a difference, and stood by his statement that the New Museum in NYC has acted unethically by allowing the collection in its building. The Rubell’s said that they felt the collector was performing a service for the public by making this work, which is one of the world’s most important contemporary collections, available to a New York audience. (The New Museum plans to have future exhibitions that showcase and highlight major private contemporary collections from around the world.)

Valentine pointed out that he did experience a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction from having purchased a work of art for say, $10,000 a few years ago that is now worth $2 million dollars.

The Rubell’s said that LA has the best showcases for art in the world, except maybe Berlin. What they did not address is that Berlin is part of a much more gigantic art machine, that has hundreds upon hundreds of serious venues in smaller German cities. He did not address simple things like support for exhibition catalogs. The Germans art publishing machine is huge. Here is an example:

“A full-color, 500-page complete index/archive/compendium of the “close ups” in Katharina Sieverding’s work will accompany this exhibition.”

How many artists do you know have had a 500 page catalog on their work at P.S.1? And what about the MoMA in Berlin show, which sold 182,000 catalogs in 7 months? There is no show in the US that is going to do that – period. And what about the LA collector who said that she had not grown up with contemporary art, was not familiar with the world of contemporary art, and basically said she was ignorant of contemporary art until of late? And she is now supposed to jump on the new painting bandwagon, when she doesn’t even have knowledge of art history and the artworld like her counterparts in NYC and Europe?

The gallery situation here was not addressed by the panel. I’ll offer a bit of information on what happened to two of the top young galleries in LA recently.

A few years ago, Daniel Hug gallery, one of LA’s top conceptually oriented spaces, decided to work with Joel Mesler, who is based in NYC, and whom himself had started a gallery here in Chinatown called Rental Gallery. Rental literally was a place where similarly situated galleries from around the world, could use Rental’s Chinatown space to showcase their artists in Los Angeles. Daniel Hug, whose gallery moved here from Chicago, and who is the grandson of Lazlo Moholy Nagy, became the director of Art Cologne, and ended his relationship with what had been a new gallery called Mesler&Hug, that was in Chinatown. A year ago or more, Rental gallery itself in LA gave up the ghost, and the Mesler&Hug gallery closed as well. Mesler also had been operating a Rental gallery in NYC. After he closed in LA, he took the six market performing artists from the Mesler&Hug gallery and represented them in NYC. The Los Angeles gallery situation was revealed to be basically a commericial gallery operating as if it were an alternative space, since there was little or no local market for the work.

There was no mention of LACMA’s role in the current LA scene other than it is has government support to stay afloat. There was no mention of LACMA in the landscape of the LA artworld, despite it being run by Michael Govan, who in a matter of a few short years has brought two major new exhibition spaces to LACMA. There was also no mention of the fact that LACMA has amassed a team of powerful international curators, and its board is now considered the third most powerful in the country, according to a recent article in Forbes magazine.

While Valentine’s enthusiasm was real, and his bark was loud, I do clearly also remember reading in the LATimes, just after the Deitch hire, that J. Deitch plans on bringing his private art collection to Los Angeles. This would be a major draw to the city and create a great deal of excitement for Los Angeles. He intends to build a place like no other, his exact words, that will be the site for the international art world which he will be able to bring to Los Angeles.

One of my artist friends has wondered whether this will entail Deitch having a private art salon in his new home like no other, or will this salon extend to MoCA itself, and therefore to the art viewing and art interested public, where it really belongs, or will it remain a private affair for the select and the few.

There was also no mention of the cultural authority the new Broad museum will wield in Los Angeles. Currently there is a push for the building to be built opposite the current MoCA Grand building. If nothing else it would be remarkable in that LA would have 4 contemporary museum buildings in direct competition for artists, audiences, and cultural definition.

Re the Rubell’s as collectors. They have been in the business of collecting contemporary art for over 30 years. They are from NYC, unlike the LA collectors who have almost no working knowledge of art history before the 20th century, and therefore have the museum education that spans far beyond that of contemporary art. They have been attending the major art fairs, including Art Basel, for just as long. By comparison those collectors in LA (who were not born and educated in NYC, and who made their careers in NYC well before coming to LA) do not have this level of exposure to the comtemporary artworld. Think about the LA artworld 30 years ago. MoCA didn’t exist. The Hammer museum didn’t exist. LACMA’s BCAM didn’t exist, and LACMA itself was only 15 years old. So an art education in contemporary art would have been impossible in Los Angeles. When Cal Arts opened in Valencia in 1968, it was said that 90 percent of the cars had NY license plates. So it was the NY artworld who got finishing degrees in Los Angeles, and even 30 years later, in 2010, there is a huge contingent of New Yorker’s getting MFA’s in LA from the now several major graduate schools that have became the first backbones of the current Los Angeles contemporary artworld.

One of the LA collectors made the point that she was in NYC and saw an LA collector buying LA artists works in a NYC gallery. The collector she was speaking of was engaged in pushing other LA collectors to buy LA artists at this same gallery, but would not make the identical purchase in Los Angeles. I noted that many of the collectors see themselves as being international because of their being able to buy in Berlin, London, Paris.

Yet they know the situation here — that the galleries are not as developed – or even as remotely historic, as those in Europe. They do not descend from 5 generations of art dealers. They do not have magnificent spaces in majestic buildings in historic corridors. Los Angeles is extremely dependent upon the outside world for the maintenance of its own art world. It is not a self-sustaining entity like the German or NYC artworlds. I wonder even now does a New York artist have to travel as much as the LA artist to have an art career.

Lastly, what does it say about LA that the Rubell Collection has as many works as MoCA, and is run by a single family, and is not struggling financially, and MoCA is an expression of the civic pride of LA, and is almost died? (Only a couple of weeks after the Rubell’s were here in LA, the art press has announced the opening of a 20,000 sq. foot Rubell Collection gallery space in Washington, D.C.)

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles

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