LA/Berlin’s Peres Projects, whose origins are in San Francisco in 2002, has chosen to do its business in “poor but sexy” Berlin, Germany.
In the September 11, 2002 edition of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the début of Peres Projects was reported. In this same fall arts report two other San Francisco galleries are mentioned.(Liz Olivera and Jack Hanley). Olivera would soon join Peres Projects in LA, while Jack Hanley would expand to LA and NYC. Both have closed their Los Angeles gallery.
“More surprising is the appearance of Peres Projects, a small but ambitious space in a loft building at 17th and Bryant. Run by Javier Peres, a still-young former attorney and current art collector, the space plans on providing a venue for artists who wouldn’t otherwise be seen in S.F. Peres’s splashy, sexy fall offering is a show of often raunchy but always artful photos and films by queer Canadian artist-pornographer Bruce La Bruce, which opens Sept. 27. No one else around here has dared to show these picks of randy boys and pregnant Asia Argento puffing on a cig.”
Shortly after Peres Projects gallery arrived in Los Angeles, I had a meeting with a cultural theorist and musician from London. During that meeting I was told that there was a new “real gallery” in LA, by the name of Peres Projects.
Peres Projects is the only young gallery based in California to have placed its entire artists roster into major European galleries and into one person European museum shows, without loosing its artists to other galleries.
As of the middle of June, 2010, Peres Projects has shut down its commercial gallery operations in the LA artworld. It has decided to expand and make its home in Berlin’s spectacularly rich cultural sphere and in its 24 hour a day sex for everybody nightlife. Peres Projects moved from Chinatown to Culver City in 2008, because they felt that was the number one destination for the international visitor to the LA artworld. This exodus to Culver City was most recently made by what was in the late 1990’s, the first globally visible young gallery in Los Angeles, born of the LA art schools – China Art Objects. CAO was founded by Giovanni Intra, who was my classmate at Art Center College of Design, in the MFA/MA critical theory program in the mid-1990’s.
Peres Projects Chinatown gallery was a high energy crowd gathering scene – and one of the few in LA to serve food at its openings. There was a lively line of artists, myself included, who awaited a meal fresh from their grill. They also had a full liquor bar for free, not just cheap beer and cheaper wine. They were one of the primary anchors of the Chinatown artworld when it was happening and the number one place for a gallery to be in LA, before the Culver City scene shifted LA’s art world stage to that area of Los Angeles.
Peres Projects has reversed the assumed positions between the two art production capitals of Los Angeles and Berlin. LA perceived itself to be a more developed art market than Berlin only a few years ago. This was so despite the fact that a few powerhouse German galleries had begun to combine their gallery operations from multiple cities in Germany to being solely in Berlin for at least a decade.. Peres Projects recognized that Berlin was being reformed into a true global art market, brick by brick. Yet Peres Projects does not seek to be another “German monocle” gallery.
There is a tinge of nationalism in the German gallery consolidation into Berlin. London is clearly the most advanced commercial contemporary art market in all of Europe. But the Germans understand that over time they can develop a true independent global cultural powerhouse in Berlin, one that will be even more potent than was in Cologne, not merely and only for art production, but for it sale, and equally important, for the dissemination of information and philosophical discourse surrounding the field of visual art activity.
By closing down their Culver City gallery space and turning their Chinatown space into a production office, this sends a signal that the most successful young gallery in LA’s brief artworld history has decided that Berlin is the premier stomping ground it wants to partake it, and that it does not want to wait years or possibly decades for Los Angeles to develop an art market, a generations deep collector base and institutional infrastructure equal to that found in London, Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing, Paris and New York. Hundreds of “LA Artists” are already living and working in Berlin today.
There are over 600 galleries in Berlin, about five times as many as in Los Angeles. There are over 100 art museums in Berlin that cover the full scope of art history. It is not possible to learn art history in Los Angeles except through books or the internet. Direct observation and inspection of art objects requires extensive travel to Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., NYC and outside of the country. The state supported funding of the arts in Berlin, for the opera, theater, film, literature, dance, classical music and serious music of every kind, is well over a billion dollars a year. There are 3 opera houses in Berlin. During January of each year, those three opera houses put on almost eighty different operas. Germany itself is responsible for forty percent of the opera in the entire world.Peres Projects realizes that there is a profound historic significance to art making in Germany, and in Berlin. The German government has a federal mandate to not only produce culture, but to protect it. Okui Enwezor said at a presentation in LA several years ago, that Germany has the equivalent of 30 Whitney Biennials every year. There are over 5,000 arts prizes in Europe for visual artists. Separate from this is the fact that Moscow, Vienna, Prague, and Istanbulhave regular world-class cultural events. Even if there were five Los Angeles’ within 300 miles of the real Los Angeles, there is no way these two situations would compare.
There is a collector base in the Cologne-Dusseldorf region of Germany of over 100,000 art collectors. Art collecting in Germany can be traced back to the 13th century, at least. There are over 30 contemporary art museums in the Cologne-Dusseldorf region of Germany. This comprises the largest collection of contemporary art museums in the world. Next door in the Netherlands is the second largest collection of contemporary art museums in the world.
Another interesting parallel with the rise of the LA artworld itself, is that by deciding to work from Germany, Peres Projects is doing precisely what LA artists themselves did to break into the uppermost tiers of experience of the artworld. Several top LA artists were living and working in Cologne and LA during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, including Mike Kelly. They found huge successes through accessing the Cologne scene, which New York wasn’t paying attention to so much because of its own myopic way of seeing during that time, and because of it had its own fully realized artworld. A 1992 New York Times article about the power, intensity and intellectual ferocity of the Cologne scene made many Americans aware that Cologne was a real and quite serious artworld power, from art bars with all night arguments, to wild parties, to the fully engaged intellectual life, as articulated in journals such as Texte Zur Kunst. Cologne was a self-contained reality that required no outside forces for its sustenance, maintenance or quality. One of my artists friends from Canada, whom we all think is a well dressed man, said that he was at a Cologne art opening, where the German crowd was so well dressed that he felt like a hobo.
I have been to Germany and shown at two venues there. The degree of seriousness about culture is something that Americans can only dream about. Even if there were no art market at all in Europe, the intellectual life about all the arts remains as rigorous as ever. The arts are on television. They are covered in the business journals daily and in multiple newspapers. They are a part of everyday life, not exempt from it, however rarefied the air.
Peres Projects is expanding their program from one to two gallery spaces in Berlin. The larger space is in Kreuzberg, the two-floor smaller gallery space is in the Mitte. From there former LA gallery and now production office in Chinatown, Los Angeles, they will program temporary site specific projects in different areas of Los Angeles. This could be perceived as adding to the current game of using LA as a site for public art projects. What is great overall for Los Angeles is that Peres Projects will continue to have a presence in Los Angeles.
The extraordinarily savvy Javier Peres is much as a upper-crust socialite as he is world-class professional artist’s representative. There is some irony in the fact that he and his crew of artists are from the floating cloud that is Terence Koh to Agathe Snow regulars for dinner at Soho House in Berlin. Earlier this year the Soho Houses did a worldwide cleansing of its members, pruning from the list the well-to-do but uncool, such as lawyers. Peres himself practiced immigration law for several years before surrendering to his true aspirations in the creative world. In this his personal transformation is not so different from the several 19th century French painters in Paris who trained in the field of law and abandoned it to become free-spirited and even radical artists.
Though Peres moved his gallery from San Francisco to Los Angeles after he first entered the field as a contemporary art dealer, his gallery largely represents artists who live in the East Village in New York City. The balance of his roster are Europeans and one artist based in Portland, and one in Houston.American artists have for generations now considered New York to be the gateway to the European culture sphere. By going directly to Berlin and connecting its artists to the main engines of the European art economy, he not only bypassed the Los Angeles to New York step of the process, he also cut the cord with Los Angeles on an institutional level, in favor of the far more well off and intensely committed scenes from Zurich to Basel to Berlin and to London.
There are people – from independent and museum curators to dealers here who have been able to place several artists in New York City galleries, where there is an actual deep pocketed and deeply interested art market. But none have had the global impact of Peres Projects, who represents only one artist (Dean Sameshima, MFA Art Center) from the Los Angeles art schools. Sameshima lives and works in Berlin and LA.
There are prominent LA galleries that have loaded up on New York-based artists who had already found major critical and market success in New York. This is a relatively new feature to the LA art scene, as a few decades ago it would have not been likely to see any major upcoming New York-based artist showing in a Los Angeles gallery. So the question then becomes what is Los Angeles’ greatest role today, other than as an open field for project spaces to launch artists onto the world stage. LA in 2010 still does not have major art market for contemporary art, or a major art fair or art magazine, or local major media coverage beyond the 4 per week art reviews in the Los Angeles Times. Television coverage of the LA artworld in Los Angeles is non-existent.
As of today in 2010, the desired destination of a Los Angeles based artist is not Los Angeles, but the art history writing international Western European artworld that New York itself gained on and finally conquered in the 1950’s. Now that the Tate Modern and the Saatchi Collections have been open and barking at the artworld for a decade, while they act in concert as fearless presenters of the avant-garde, there is a new level of conquest and a balancing and repositioning of the artworld’s power players. London, which has both a true global art market, has a full array of tremendous on-the ground world-class artworld showcases, media feeds and even a true national debate about the value and meaning of art. New York has genuine competition from London’s Frieze, its auction houses, and is media manipulation.
There are relatively successful galleries in LA who will only represent recent art school graduates, as that is the only market these galleries either have or are interested in being a part of. In the instance of Peres Projects, which is clearly perceived as being a young gallery, they also now represent a 76 year old woman painter who was born in Boston, worked in the New York art world in the 1970’s and who has been in Berlin for several years. Under what circumstance would a young gallery in Los Angeles represent a 76-year-old artist, male or female?
What can be also said about the Los Angeles artworld is that in many respects it has come to be what the Williamsburg, Brooklyn artworld imagined for itself, as providing fresh new artists for the Chelsea galleries. What has happened recently is that the new Lower East Side galleries are the spaces that are perceived to be feeder galleries into the Chelsea gallery market, while the LA artworld is thick with talent and raw desire that feeds directly into Chelsea. Yet this is a fiction of sorts too. There are already in the Lower East Side a handful of powerhouse galleries, including Salon 94, which will have 2 LES spaces, and the soon to open decades old power broker Sperone Westwater, whose gallery space will be one of the new sensations of the New York artworld when it opens.
LA is supposedly an unformed artworld entity. It supposedly lacks institutional definition but has superior resources to incite great contemporary art production. It has been a badge of honor for the most prominent of LA artists to not have had a commercial gallery show in Los Angeles in a decade, meanwhile having had dozens of commercial and museum shows worldwide. The upcoming Paul McCarthy opening in September 2010, at the new LA power player L&M Arts Los Angeles, will be the artist’s first exhibition in LA in over a decade.
Berlin – LA : A Tale of Two (Other) Cities.
Softcover, 80 pages (colour/bw ill.), offset, 130 x 205 mm
Published by Mousse Publishing, Milan
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles. He has recently been named a 2010 United States Artists Project artist.
The USA site went live on December 7, 2010