Rise and Sprawl

Los Angeles

Left: Stedelijk Museum director Gijs van Tuyl and Regen Projects associate director Jennifer Loh. Right: Artist Lari Pittman. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)

If the city of Los Angeles has always been synonymous with sprawl, why should its art world be any different? Last weekend marked the second wave of notable gallery openings inaugurating the new season in this ever-burgeoning city. Already, back-to-school camaraderie was beginning to give way to combat-zone shell shock. On Friday, while young skaters swarmed around Barry McGee at REDCAT, I navigated my way through the orange, smoggy dusk to preternaturally scrubbed West Hollywood for Lari Pittman’s opening at Regen Projects.

Nearly everyone who walked into the gallery’s new space on Santa Monica Boulevard was agog at Shaun Caley Regen’s renovation of the former Cappellini boutique. Though the venue recently debuted Charles Ray’s sculpture Hinoki while still raw, Regen Projects associate director Stacy Bengtson Fertig said the staff considered this reception their official opening. Regen, in sunglasses, admitted she still had trouble finding the light switches.

Cutting gracefully across the newly polished epoxy floor, Pittman exuded a well-pressed cool with his sculptural, slicked-back hair and newscaster-white smile. The quintessential LA artist moved through the crowd of high-end collectors, curators, and museum directors—including Sylvia Chivaratanond, MoCA’s Paul Schimmel, and the Stedelijk’s Gijs van Tuyl—with the equanimity of someone who has seven of his slick, sprawling paintings going for what was rumored to be a quarter of a million dollars apiece.

Left: Artist Michael Queenland and LAXART director Lauri Firstenbeg. Right: Artist Raymond Pettibon.

As the gallery closed its doors, I walked (walking in LA!) with Mark Bradford, who would soon be leaving for his opening at the Whitney Museum, to Morton’s for the gallery dinner, an intimate affair of around 150 people. Inside the cavernous, open-plan restaurant, normally a hub of Hollywood power brokers, I sat at the long banquet table alongside a laid-back Dennis Szakacs, director of the Orange County Museum of Art, a coterie of OC collectors, and one of the Hammer Museum’s favorite artists, Elliott Hundley. The OC contingency debated the merits of private schools in Newport Beach over their steaks and sea bass, while Hundley cited Pittman, his former teacher at UCLA, as an important influence on his work. After I pointed out that he was a sculptor while Pittman was a painter, Hundley declared, tugging at his sleeve, “But Lari taught me how to look like a painter.”

After the meal, the crowd stood out front with their drinks, pot smoke wafting over the heads of white-haired collectors sliding into their luxury sedans. Regen Projects artist Raymond Pettibon held court before a group of assembled admirers, myself included. He spoke in a quiet, halting voice until one guy asked him if the band he was talking about was made up of artists. With punk-rock bile, he barked, “I don’t give a fuck about art,” before returning to his sotto voce monologue.

Left: Dealer Lauren Miller and artist Anthony Goicolea. Right: Artist Tatzu Nishi.

The following night, the scene was split again between downtown and the west side, with MoCA hosting a reception for Cosima von Bonin and the LA presentation of the Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective and Culver City’s La Cienaga strip offering a gaggle of new shows. My evening began at LAXART, where director Lauri Firstenberg reclined on a sofa with artist Michael Queenland, who had transferred his New York apartment, lock and stock, to Los Angeles for the exhibition. LAXART had apparently put out a call for furniture, as one woman told me that she thought her table looked great in the bedroom. She thanked me effusively when I told her it really tied the whole exhibition together.

Down the block at Sandroni.Rey, people popped in and out of the gallery’s parking-lot annex—a shipping container—like hustlers at a peep show. Peeking in, I discovered they were enjoying Anthony Goicolea’s thirty-minute video, which depicts, by what I could surmise, the Bergmanesque sexual fantasy of a gay Amish Nazi: All the silent, handsome boys march through the countryside and shear sheep while impeccably clad in haute couture.

Next door at Blum & Poe, at his first-ever US solo exhibition, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi had hung his industrial chandelier comprising five streetlights. It poked down through the ceiling of the gallery and extended fifteen feet above the building. The familiar orange light cast by the sodium lamps gave the gallery’s rarefied air an oddly quotidian tinge.

After most of the crowd had wandered off to the Mandrake for drinks, I joined the Blum & Poe contingency at an Asian café in the nearby Helms Bakery building. Held on the restaurant’s patio, this dinner felt even more intimate, even taking into account the language split: Nishi and his fellow Japanese speakers on one side of the table and us Anglophones on the other. A grinning, bilingual Tim Blum bridged the divide. After dessert, I managed to ask Nishi, through a translator, how he liked the city. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied in his thickly accented English, “I looooove Los Angeles!”

Left: Collector Luca Legnani. Right: Dealer Lizabeth Oliveria and artist Manuel Ocampo.

Left: Collector Eileen Harris Norton. Right: Karla with Allen Ruppersberg and OCMA director Dennis Szakacs.

Left: Artists Justin Beal and Francesca di Matteo. Right: Artist Mark Verabioff.