Collector Call

Los Angeles

Left: Dealer Tim Blum, artist Takashi Murakami, and Maria Blum. Right: Jack Black. (Except where noted, all photos: Andreas Branch/Patrick McMullan)

“IT’S LIKE MOCA WEST,” said collector Alan Power. “Saves me a trip downtown.” Artist Alessandro Pessoli concurred: “It’s like a museum.” “The house that Murakami built” was collector Blake Byrne’s take. Then there was artist Drew Heitzler’s summation: “Pretty fucking awesome.” Just a few reactions I polled at the private reception last Friday night inaugurating Blum & Poe’s new twenty-one-thousand-square-foot space in Culver City.

The building is a shock-and-awe affair whose massive galleries are offset by a warren of private viewing rooms, conference spaces, atria, offices, and storage, as well as (for the gallery that has everything) an artist’s apartment. Los Angeles being a car town, it seemed only fitting that the main party would be held in the huge parking lot outside, the bar set back so that all the guests in attendance could admire, with Veuve Clicquot in hand, the behemoth looming before them. Gesturing toward the twilight sky, one joker proclaimed, “Tim and Jeff even arranged for a full moon.”

Though local grandees and city councilman would like to lay claim to Culver City’s ascendancy as Los Angeles’s central gallery district, most of the credit is due to dealers Tim Blum and Jeff Poe. With the opening of their brick-faced space at the confluence of the Merona Creek and La Cienega in 2003, Blum and Poe built a lodestar in Los Angeles that pulled in other galleries from Santa Monica to Chinatown, San Francisco to New York. They saw in Culver City what others eventually saw, too: big spaces, reliable freeways, and, most important, a convenient location—easy access to the east side, where most of the artists live, and the west, where most of the collectors do.

Left: Artist Tim Hawkinson. Right: Artists Dirk Skreber and Nigel Cooke.

And for the private opening, the collectors came: Dallas Price, David and Susan Gersh, Cliff and Mandy Einstein, Jerry and Linda Janger, Gail and Stanley Hollander, and Spider-Man himself, Tobey Maguire. Reports had it that one collector ran across the gallery to fight over a piece in midsale, the kind of behavior one hears (or heard) about at art fairs but rarely at gallery openings. No word on what the piece was, though the inaugural show itself consists of new works from all the gallery artists, including a few pieces by artists not yet shown at Blum & Poe, including a massive sculpture by Tim Hawkinson, as well as a painting by the Korean artist Lee Ufan.

Midway through the evening, Poe gave me a brief tour of the facilities, pausing in a back gallery off the garden in which was displayed a sterling-silver miniature of Murakami’s Oval Buddha (the one that took center stage at his MoCA-originating retrospective). Poe noted that the relatively diminutive space was the same size as the dealers’ first gallery in Santa Monica. How did he go from that to this? “I don’t know what I’m doing,” Poe said, looking around at the gallery. “It’s a process piece.”

I hung around in a corner of the back parking lot with out-of-town Blum & Poe artists Nigel Cooke and Dirk Skreber. We watched Murakami scurry about in a skirt and pink leggings with a Yoshinoya take-out bag clutched in his hand. Well after the advertised closing time, I caravanned with the remaining stragglers to the Mandrake for the afterparty. I hung around awhile, listening to Dave Muller DJ and watching Poe dispense liberal shots of tequila. I didn’t make it to the end of the night, though, and sadly missed a special performance by Gagosian’s Sam Orlofsky, who reportedly passed out at the bar sometime well after midnight.

Left: Actress Molly Shannon. Right: Dealer Tim Blum, artist Sam Durant, and dealer Jeff Poe.

I skipped back to Culver City early the following evening for the public opening and ran into another of the night prior’s revelers, who joked, “Tonight it seems they’re actually looking at the art.” Not surprisingly, the early crowd was mostly artists: Ry Rocklen, Brendan Fowler, and Leigh Ledare were among the first people I saw as I cut in through the grand glass doors. Jack Black sauntered in sometime later; Black, having introduced Gustavo Dudamel to a sold-out crowd earlier in the evening, skipped out on the finale for the young conductor’s already storied debut performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

The night was still young. I got into my car and set off for the Hammer Museum, which was hosting a reception for the Robert Gober–curated Charles Burchfield exhibition. The crowd was thinner there but still brimming with talent: Curators Peter Eleey, Douglas Fogle, and Shamim Momin were on hand, as were artists Lari Pittman, Roy Dowell, and Stanya Kahn. After wandering through Burchfield’s spooky, cartoonish landscapes and otherworldly scenes, I parked myself downstairs at the bar, where I ran into Hammer director Ann Philbin. Conversation inevitably turned toward Blum & Poe: “The market has never been that strong in LA,” she said. “Along with the arrival of Matthew Marks, L&M, and Gagosian’s expansion, this signals a real change. There’s something going on here in LA, and I love it.”

Left: Artist Robert Gober and Hammer deputy director Cynthia Burlingham. Right: Hammer director Ann Philbin with dealer Matthew Marks.

Left: Curator Aram Moshayedi and Artist Piero Golia. Right: Artist Ed Moses with Justine Bateman.

Left: PaceWildenstein's Marc Glimcher with dealer Michael Kohn. Right: LA MoCA deputy director Ari Wiseman.

Left: Collector Shirley Morales, Cliff Fong, and dealer Kelly Taxter. Right: Artist Rosson Crow.