Dear John

Andrew Berardini at the opening of Sprüth Magers Los Angeles

Left: Dealer Monika Sprüth and artist Barbara Kruger. Right: Collector Eli Broad and artist John Baldessari. (All photos: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com)

ACROSS THE STREET from sunset tourists posing for snaps in front of Chris Burden’s Urban Light, jumping distance from chopped-up sections of the Berlin Wall, the first-floor windows of an International Style two-story building read over and over again, I WILL NOT MAKE ANY MORE BORING ART.

An exercise cooked up in 1971 for a class at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the words adorn these windows but also currently a hallway downtown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and are available on pencils as merch across the street at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a marketing tie-in for a retrospective five years ago for one of Los Angeles’s most iconic artists (who also designed LACMA’s logo): the white-bearded godfather, longtime professor, and jokester Conceptualist John Baldessari, here the debut artist for his German art dealers’, Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers, brand-new space on Wilshire Boulevard.

“It’s for the artists,” said a joyful Magers Tuesday night. “Barbara Kruger suggested it and John didn’t have a gallery in LA anymore. It all went from there.” Founded in 1983, the Sprüth Magers operation’s Los Angeles digs add to galleries already in Berlin and London, an office in Cologne, and a planned outpost opening in Hong Kong in May.

Left: Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin, Brenda Potter, dealer Marian Goodman, and artist Rita McBride. Right: Dealers Philomene Magers and Sarah Watson.

Row after row of fluorescent light bounces off paper-white walls and polished concrete floors. A heavy cement column here and there pokes through from Pereira and Associates’ 1971 design, clad in bright paint that leavens the place’s solidity. Surrounded by windows on all sides, a couple of walls lined the space to make room for the pictures. Baldessari’s paintings lightly deconstruct stock photos and add a line or two of unrelated narrative in a white bar that runs along the bottom: “Yeah I know me too.” “Some other way, I’ll figure it out.” “Maybe that is the simplest way to explain it.” In a second-floor office a Rosemarie Trockel knitwork banner—“Made in Western Germany,” it said—hung behind the eighty-four-year-old Baldessari, who sat receiving former students and contemporaries come to pay their respects. “I’m very pleased to be here,” he said, “I don’t have too many good shows left in me. I’m glad this one is here.”

Outside, a line had formed, or rather two. A “general public” queue circled the courtyard and stretched all the way to the street a few hundred people deep. Another VIP line ran from the entrance, but even this cut-through began to accumulate and run long to Wilshire. I heard more than a few curators, collectors, artists, and patrons exclaim some version of “I’m not fucking waiting in line.” Baldessari’s last opening in 2012 at the since retired Margo Leavin Gallery had been a modest, almost family affair, still certainly crowded but nothing like this. The professionals were plumb aghast at how wildly popular gallery openings had become in Los Angeles.

Left: Artists Larry Johnson and Allan Ruppersberg. Right: LA MoCA chief curator Helen Molesworth and Susan Dackerman.

The hundreds in line and milling with drinks in the courtyard were shoed away at 8 PM as the gallery turned off the lights. For another hundred and more, the night continued on at a steakhouse on the first-floor of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, table after table filled with familiar faces, all the museum curators, many of our most important artists, almost like a gala but more in between the gentle exuberance of a wedding and one of those cheesy Hollywood paintings where James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Jim Morrison all drink together. Except under the soft light of the restaurant it was Allen Ruppersberg chatting with Larry Johnson, Eli Broad passing by Maurice Marciano. Wolfgang Puck slinging his arm around Udo Kier, Joseph Kosuth brushing against Catherine Opie, Sidney Felsen sitting a few seats away from Irving Blum a few seats away from Paul Schimmel, Barbara Kruger leaning in closer to hear Ann Goldstein.

Around 11, many of the diners checked out of the hotel and drove to the afterparty up in the Hollywood Hills manse of collector and juice-magnate Eugenio López Alonso. Past Maurizio Cattelan’s stacked skeletons and Donald Judd’s stacked gold boxes and a Warhol Jackie O, Baldessari quietly sat on the living room sofa alongside longtime dealer Marian Goodman as the party raged past them and into the garden. Beyond the glass wall, revelers milled around a giant flat green elephant by Jeff Koons and the still cyan waters of the pool. The heat wave didn’t inspire anyone to leap in, but the warm night and the cool pool surely added to the reasons Berliners might open a gallery in the middle of winter in a sultry Los Angeles.

Maybe that’s the simplest way to explain it.

Left: Artist Thomas Scheibitz, dealer Andrew Silewicz, Peter Ballantine, and artist Anthony McCall. Right: Collector Beth Rudin DeWoody and Hammer Museum curator Aram Moshayedi.

Left: Eugenio López Alonso and Esthella Provas. Right: Dia director Jessica Morgan and artist Thomas Demand.