THE LOS ANGELES ART WORLD is no different in summer than the art world is anywhere else. What does it do? It goes to the beach—namely, Venice Beach. At least, it did last weekend, when Hammer Museum curator Ali Subotnick staged a three-day, outdoor extension of “Made in L.A.,” the museum’s current show of new homegrown art, along the boardwalk.
Over the same few days, galleries in Culver City and elsewhere mounted the sort of group shows that are a dog-days tradition everywhere. Starting the week’s engines on July 10, the Venice branch of New York’s L&M Arts opened “Mash Up: Collage from 1930 to the Present,” put together by gallery director Sarah Watson. The show lived up to its title, mixing small, exquisite collages by Romare Bearden and Joseph Cornell with the organized chaos of a floor-bound Paul McCarthy process piece and a large new patchwork painting by Sterling Ruby.
During dinner at nearby Tlapazola, a Mexican place that serves especially potent margaritas, Watson lifted her glass and said, “To collage!” in a seductive stage whisper that drew cheers from the obsessive CK Wilde, a bricoleur of current and obsolete currencies, and Aaron Noble, who confided that when he isn’t painting he mans the bra shops for busty women that he owns with his actress wife.
Fascinating, the economies of the art world. The politics, too. The fallout from Paul Schimmel’s reportedly forced June 28 resignation from the Museum of Contemporary Art after twenty-two years as chief curator hung over LA like its inescapable smog. Schimmel remained mute, at least publicly, as did Jeffrey Deitch, MoCA’s newly embattled director. Unusually for someone in his position—that of a manager and fund-raiser—he now also holds Schimmel’s old job.
Members of the museum’s board of trustees, meanwhile, weirdly aired its laundry in the Los Angeles Times with statements that either supported Deitch or protested his “celebrity-driven” programming and, to some, his failure to increase the museum’s endowment. It was left to artists to point out the evident abdication of fiduciary responsibility on the part of the board itself.
But money was not the reason that John Baldessari, one of four artist-trustees, resigned on Thursday. He was upset by Schimmel’s ouster and a forthcoming Deitch-inspired show about the cultural impact of disco. On Friday, Barbara Kruger and Cathy Opie tendered their resignations, citing (among other reasons) a lack of transparency on the board, their own marginalization within it, and a wider crisis in cultural funding that museums have to address. All of this was painful to watch.
“Perhaps we’re just not the appropriate artists to represent this current version of MoCA,” Kruger and Opie wrote. Other people wondered why any artist would want to be on any museum board, doing the business of accountants and bankers instead of making art. At other museums, artists generally have advisory roles to boards that value their expertise.
Deitch’s continued and uncharacteristic silence fueled anti-MoCA sentiments on Facebook and Twitter, on KCRW radio and in the Times. (Privately, I heard that MoCA’s board and staff had such major internal communication problems that some form of couples therapy seemed in order.) Yet at every opening over the weekend, the situation was the elephant in the room. MoCA hardly came up during Friday’s Venice Beach Biennial reception at the home of Sandy Hill, whose large modern house is wedged between the boho cottages off the boardwalk. That’s where many of the fifty artists in the show planted their work, cheek by jowl with the artist vendors who showcase their wares there every week.
A few, like the man who created a large boa constrictor sculpture out of sand, piggybacked on the show, which Alex Israel virtually stole by placing full-scale replicas of Easter Island heads near the beach’s graffiti wall, facing the ocean. In the light of the sunset, they caught the mystical magic of the originals. “They’re props from a Janet Jackson video,” he allowed at the party, where I picked up a biennial catalogue bursting with images of the handmade signs that proliferate along the boardwalk (“Shitty Advice: $1”; “Occupy Yoga”), and featuring rather touching profiles of the beach artists Subotnick selected.
On the way back to my car, sidestepping skateboarders, bongo players, bike riders, hog callers, and beachgoers, I was thinking how indistinguishable Venice was from a carnival when I bumped into Deitch. He was looking for the VBB art on the boardwalk. “I can’t change who I am,” he said, implying that it would be silly to expect anything else of anyone, and that it was impossible to please everyone.
Saturday morning brought me to the Hammer, where LAXART founder Lauri Firstenberg (one of four curators who worked with Anne Ellegood on “Made in L.A.”) was leading a tour through the exhibition. It took most of the day. That evening brought me to Michael Kohn’s gallery in West Hollywood, where Kim Light had organized a handsome group show of antiformalist works that she associated with Bruce Conner, a longtime gallery artist. From there, it was off to Culver City, where I spotted Jack Black walking unnoticed among the packs of pedestrians making the rounds of galleries on Venice Boulevard. Nearly the same faces appeared everywhere—at Honor Fraser, Cherry & Martin, Nye & Brown, David Kordansky, and Blum & Poe, which was opening two group shows by guest curators (Piper Marshall, and Julian Hoeber and Alix Lambert, respectively) and one solo (by Maurizio Vetrugno), with a taco and In-N-Out Burger picnic to follow.
Matthew Brannon and Jan Tumlir curated the Kordansky show, “Drawing a Blank (On Forgetting, Refusal, Censure and Impotence).” The works on view—by Robert Barry, Louise Lawler, Yves Tanguy, Carol Bove, and Richard Hamilton, among others—were more evocative than that mouthful of a title, which Brannon credited to Tumlir. “I think it looks very much like a Matthew Brannon show,” said the writer. “It’s all about the tension beneath the surface.” A neat analysis of the moment, I thought.
“Welcome to bedlam!” said Tim Blum, as I elbowed my way into his leviathan gallery, where the large crowd of viewers included the building’s architects, a swarm of local artists like Jed Caesar and Carter Mull (both in the VBB), and at least two visiting Frenchmen, Olivier Mosset and Xavier Veilhan. The latter, who claimed Mosset as a mentor, was taking a break from installing “Architectones,” the sculptural intervention he’ll debut next month at the Neutra VDL Research House, curated by his sidekick Francois Perrin. It was hard to miss the Swiss Institute’s Marshall, who was shod in towering gold platforms, but I never saw Hoeber and Lambert. I did catch their upstairs “crime” show, which had the week’s most fetching title, “No Person May Carry a Fish into the Bar.”
Outside, in the back garden, I found Mel Chin and Caroline Huber, the curator whose late husband was Walter Hopps, as well as Slater Bradley, who surprised me with both his presence and the news that he had left Team, his longtime New York gallery. Passing on the burgers, I headed back to West Hollywood, where Kohn was hosting a sit-down for around fifty guests at Lucques, the restaurant that his wife, Caroline Styne, conveniently co-owns. “I’m fortunate in many ways,” he said, gazing across tables seated with Anna Anka (ex-wife of singer Paul), Rosette Delug, Hollywood decorator Waldo Fernandez, and a couple of artists, Dennis Hollingsworth and Owen Kydd. No one mentioned MoCA and the food was good.
Sunday, back in Venice, the artists in the biennial were identifiable by the white patches on their faces that their sunglasses saved from burning. In the early evening, several gathered at L&M for “Ghost Town,” an appealing exhibition that Drew Heitzler pulled together to benefit the Venice Family Clinic—from the look of things, a popular cause. “Drew’s great,” said Watson, who took down her collage show for the day, just to make room for his. One collector viewing the show was Charles (“Chip”) Conlan, a MoCA trustee who insisted that the museum was actually on better financial footing than ever, and that all the talk was based on serious misinformation. No wonder. Is silence not death?
Monday morning brought confirmation of the inevitable—that Ed Ruscha, MoCA’s one remaining artist trustee, had resigned from the board.
Left: Artist Drew Heitzler. Right: Dealer Sarah Gavlak with MoCA trustee Charles Conlon.
Left: Curator Piper Marshall. Right: Dealer Jeff Poe with collector Dallas Price-Breda.
Left: Artist Slater Bradley. Right: Producer Laura Bickford with dealer Honor Fraser.
Left: Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs with Linda Bozung. Right: Amy Baumann and artist CK Wilde.
Left: Artists Paul Sietsema and Carter Mull. Right: Artist Jesper Just.
Left: Dealer David Quadrini. Right: Artist Daniel Desure, collector Stefan Simchowitz and curator Russell Ferguson.
Left: Artists Mary Weatherford and Andrea Bowers. Right: On the boardwalk at the Venice Beach Biennial.