On the Road

Los Angeles

Left: Dealer Patrick Painter with artist Won Ju Lim. Right: Dealer Tara Sandroni Hirshberg with artist Hernan Bas and dealer Kristin Rey. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)

The Los Angeles art world opened last Friday and Saturday with a volley of bangs—and a whimper or two. While Chinatown exploded with openings on Friday night, I started my weekend sniffing cryptic fish dishes at the low-key dinner thrown by Sandroni Rey for artist Hernan Bas. We convened at the Social, an overpriced lounge usually infested with the Hollywood B-list but populated that night by a crowd familiar from Bas’s paintings: young, delicate, and mostly gay. Gallery director Nu Nguyen reluctantly admitted that the artist’s age was “twentysomething” when I noted that his CV revealed no birth date but proudly recorded the name of his high school. After dinner, I shared a cigarette with artist Paul P., in town for his opening at Marc Selwyn. We talked about his impending move to Paris with his boyfriend, artist Scott Treleaven. “Toronto’s so provincial. I almost moved to Los Angeles, but who wants to drive everywhere?”

The next night, the comment ricocheted around my car as I made the grisly crosstown trek to that art amusement park in Santa Monica called Bergamot Station. During a brisk walk-through, I saw no less than three different galleries hawking Ed Ruscha pieces. I stopped by the inaugural opening of Patrick Painter’s new gallery, where Jim Shaw had a show of dream sketches and bronze vices in the form of disembodied girls’ heads. Catching up with Painter, who was pounding Diet Cokes and chain-smoking on the front patio, I asked about his recent cameo on the HBO television show Entourage: “The last time I acted was in I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, Ed Wood's final script. I was Matt Dillon's roommate, you know. Art and Hollywood—LA is fucking mixed up."

Left: Anthony Kiedis with Gagosian's Martha Otero. Right: UCLA Hammer director Ann Philbin with Marc Foxx gallery director Rodney Hill.

My next stop—the Hiroshi Sugimoto show at Gagosian in Beverly Hills—bore out Painter’s quip. There, Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis was midtransaction with Gagosian salesperson Martha Otero. “Does the price include the frame?” asked the musician, as gray-haired patrons shuffled through the cavernous gallery with the eighty-dollar catalogue, waiting for Sugimoto’s autograph like teenyboppers at a rock show.

Back on the road, I shot down Wilshire Boulevard to the 6150 gallery-plex, and then elbowed my way through another multitude (where were all these people coming from?) to catch a glimpse of Sterling Ruby’s show of magazine cutouts on glimmering metallic backgrounds. Working the door, gallery partner Rodney Hill enjoyed a what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation chat with tanned Hammer director Ann Philbin. Ten feet away at ACME, I squeezed into “Cheerleaders and Bandwagons,” Katie Grinnan’s aptly named show, where the throng engulfed her fantastical sculptures.

Left: Norton Family Foundation curator Kelly Barrie with artists Ruben Ochoa and Edgar Arceneaux. Right: Artist Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber

Even though I was feeling saturated, thoroughness compelled me back into the car to close out the evening in Culver City, where the crowds were thickest and not seeing art was a foregone conclusion. The exception was the show of young Chicano artist Ruben Ochoa, whose re-creation of a freeway overpass filled the newish nonprofit LAXART. To cross the gallery (and pass under the work), one had to sign a liability release. With blurry visions of collapsing Serra prop pieces, I signed on the dotted line and headed in. Ochoa, clad in Miami Vice chic, could recently be seen driving a tortilla van–turned–art gallery to LA events, but now, rather than taking the gallery on the road, he’s taken the road to the gallery.

Time for the after-party—a poolside affair at the Avalon in Beverly Hills with more unassuming intimacy, curious-smelling food, and a gaggle of well-educated curators, including the California Biennial’s Rita Gonzalez, LAXART’s Lauri Firstenberg, and the Norton Collection’s Kelly Barrie (son of artist Mary Kelly). Chris Kraus wrote in Video Green that nobody talks about art in LA, but Barrie does. Lounging on a divan, the cool blue light from the pool washing over us, he anointed Rodney McMillian’s performance at Susanne Vielmetter the best show of the evening. With regard to the LA art boom, we agreed the big-market bang couldn’t last. “All economic indicators point toward an imminent collapse. But what makes LA great are the artists who choose to live here, not the marketplace.” Then, pausing to look over the party in full swing, he added with a rakish grin, “We're here now and we're having fun, right?”

Left: Artist Paul P. with dealer Marc Selwyn. Right: Artist Zoe Crosher and dealer Tim Blum.