“I LOVE LOS ANGELES,” declaimed Dave Hickey as he fingered a pack of cigarettes a few minutes before his talk last Wednesday at the Grand Central Market downtown. “It’s just like Las Vegas: You’re never far from your angels or devils.” These days it doesn’t feel like you’re far from anybody. Wait long enough and everyone will move to Los Angeles.
Hickey’s talk, organized by LA MoCA, kicked off one of the fullest weekends in the annals of art in the city. After “Pacific Standard Time” and “Made in L.A.” as well as dozens of middling art fairs and festivals, the city feels above apologizing for the traffic or quirky museum directors or boosterish advertorializing. No more do we cover for the weak philanthropy or thin gallery scene by endlessly repeating just how many great artists live in Los Angeles. Here, the sunlight will go unmentioned. As refugees from polar vortices stream in, we’re trying not to gloat.
Plentitude also brings the skin creep and eye-twitching, symptoms of the frenetic art devotee’s fear of missing out, a new disease to this easy city. Things I didn’t do in Los Angeles this weekend: a cocktail party at Sam and Shanit Schwartz’s and another at architect John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein House; dozens of artists reading from the collected writings of John Baldessari; the USC MFA open studios; the art fair at Paramount Ranch; and concerts by John Wiese (as well as the ceremony where he and seven others won grants from the Rema Hort Mann Foundation). I didn’t attend talks with Laura Owens and Miwon Kwon, Jeffrey Vallance and Jim Shaw; signings by Allen Ruppersberg and Jack Pierson; a performance by Dawn Kasper and a screening by Harry Dodge. I sadly missed much of the LA Art Book Fair. I did not photograph or interact with Hans Ulrich Obrist, though he was here for at least twenty-four hours. I skipped Moby’s house tour. But from all these misses, I happily carved out a quiet evening for Hickey and his gemmy ramble of provocative bon mots and old-white-mannish grousing.
“Anything hit you like tits on the subway?” collector David Richards asked me at the following night’s opening of Art Los Angeles Contemporary. Richards referred to a Hickey-ism posted online during his talk that a few artists caviled at. Not quite, though turning a corner and seeing a naked and healthfully engorged self-portrait by Leigh Ledare at Pilar Corrias’s booth had a similar effect. Around the corner, Tala Madani painted a man sticking a bottle into his pants; some kind of theme tumesced. (LA Rises?) Lisa Williamson’s suite of winsome cutouts at Tif Sigfrids Gallery made for a satisfying antidote.
After so many hours watching the Westside crowds file through the Barker Hangar, the cocktail chatter and selling interrupted by the zip and shudder of airplanes, I stopped for a reprieve at Mexico City’s Yautepec Gallery. There on the ground I spotted a flat-screen playing a cool blackness, a video by Calixto Ramirez. Eventually, the blackness disappeared as a man pulled his head out of a concrete hole. When one envies a man’s head stuck in a concrete hole, it’s time to go home.
“I think I see everyone I’ve ever known here,” said Art Metropole copresident Danielle St. Amour the following night. She sipped a beer and surveyed the shadowy crowd that circulated in the parking lot outside the new arts cooperative orchestrated by dealer François Ghebaly. Alongside Ghebaly’s own commercial gallery, numerous publication and nonprofit spaces held court that evening in the downtown warehouse redesigned by Francois Perrin. There was Fahrenheit, an exhibition space/residency organized by Martha Kirszenbaum with FLAX; Brian Kennon’s 2nd Cannons Press with a quasi-bookshop/gallery showing Victor Boullet; the offices of DoPe Press launching a new issue of PARIS, LA and editions by Elias Hansen; and the nascent library of Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, which hosted launches for Walter Scott’s The Wendy Critical Reader and Scott Benzel’s Part-Objects. A warren of galleries and offices led back through the building where in Fahrenheit, I spotted a video by Laure Prouvost, which in quality and beauty did in fact hit me like tits in the subway.
As the opening shimmied into a dance party, a crowd tumbled through the parking lot to the adjacent Night Gallery. Flickering red and blue washed over us as a police cruiser pulled over a luckless driver. One of the officers seemed surprisingly spray-tanned and muscular, yoked even for an LA cop. He and his partner began to “teach” the driver a lesson, and, of course, the uniform peeled away, his dangling belt got expertly handled, and we witnessed a flash of some tender ass cheeks. (Like kidskin gloves, people ahh-ed.) “Beat him with your night stick,” someone yelled, but the performance, by Ben Wolf Noam, remained relatively tame, to the vocal disapproval of a few concupiscent men and ladies.
The following night was decidedly wilder. At 1 AM, a text message beckoned me onto unfamiliar stretches of freeway to the furthest reaches of Boyle Heights. Down streets littered with abandoned tires and heaps of rubble, dance music thumped out of a corrugated building labeled GOOD and BAD with red spray paint. Inside, the late, late afterparty for the Paramount Ranch art fair, an hour’s drive away in Agoura Hills, raged on. An unfamiliar mob thronged around the DJ, dancing and stumbling and making out amid a cloud of cigarette smoke laced with green lasers. In recent months, one has grown less surprised at crowds of mostly new faces. A beaming Amanda Ross-Ho pulled me into a conversation with fellow artist John Riepenhoff. “I’m trying to convince him to move to Los Angeles,” she hollered into the billowing beats. He tucked a long lock of honey-dark hair behind his ear and looked askance at the crowd: “I don’t think I need much convincing.”