Go West

Left: Stuart Comer, MoMA chief curator of media and performance, with dealer Sarah Gavlak. Right: LACMA chief curator of contemporary art Franklin Sirmans with LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne. (Photos: Stefanie Keenan)

“HOLLYWOOD” IS NOT JUST SYNECDOCHE FOR AN INDUSTRY; it’s also a very real, and seriously weird, place. Trawling the flickering neon of its mostly low-rent territory last Thursday and Friday, I found myself at a quartet of gallery openings, the most notable being the inauguration of Gavlak Gallery’s new H’wood outpost, with a dinner at old standby Musso & Frank.

I began in West Hollywood, the wealthy municipal enclave and boys’ town, where I caught “Soft Target,” a group show at M+B curated by artists Phil Chang and Matthew Porter. The only remaining contemporary gallery on Almont, a strip that’s hosted everyone from Gagosian to Regen Projects, M+B has emerged as a gathering spot for a fractured community of photographers. Beautifully captured by Alex Klein’s show “Words Without Pictures” a few years back, a lot of the dialogue on photography in the city revolves around group shows like this one. A gaggle of important shutterbugs were circling the gallery with plastic wineglasses: Jim Welling, Amanda Ross-Ho, Whitney Hubbs, Zoe Crosher, and Owen Kydd, to name a few. I lingered for less than a snapshot before scurrying out of the West and into Hollywood proper.

Left: Dealers Shaun Caley Regen and Jennifer Loh. Right: Artists Stephen Prina and Lisa Anne Auerbach. (Photos: Stefanie Keenan)

There is, of course, a Hollywood in Florida too. Besides this and a penchant for sun-kissed weirdos, the two states now also share a Gavlak Gallery. A few years after finishing her MA in critical writing at the Art Center in Pasadena, proprietress Sarah Gavlak went southeast in 2005 to found her first space in the snowbird town of West Palm Beach. Her savviness, coupled with the offbeat location, allowed her to exhibit a starry array of New York and LA artists. At the packed opening, I spotted many of Gavlak’s former Art Center professors and colleagues—writers Benjamin Weissman and Amy Gerstler, artist Stephen Prina—and the gallery itself shows a healthy smattering of Art Center alums: Lecia Dole-Recio, Alexis Marguerite Teplin, and Lisa Anne Auerbach. The last’s newest tapestry features advice she’s received from psychics (“If you let go, the energies can come to you”; “You’re weaving compassion”). Had she ever received any useful recommendations from fortune-tellers, I wondered? Auerbach rolled her eyes with restrained pity and answered a polite No.

En route to dinner, I stopped by a one-night “durational installation” by Joe Zorrilla at Hannah Hoffman Gallery. The ephemerality of the show reflected that of the works—propped wooden doors hinged only with dripping ice. A half-hour later, as the bartender shook my first martini at Musso & Frank, I found myself having moved from the short to the longue durée. Founded in 1919, Musso & Frank has hosted alcoholic writers like Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Fitzgerald alongside matinee idols like Chaplin, existing in some ethereal past under a gossamer nostalgia for a Hollywood that never quite was. Where else in Los Angeles can you find Lobster Thermidor and Welsh Rarebit?

A platinum-blonde Gavlak presided over the affair in a pink pencil skirt and top, perfectly matching the peonies clustered on every table. Gliding from table to table, she welcomed her “tri-coastal” patrons and artists, from Beth Rudin DeWoody and Alan Finkelstein to Pentti Monkonenn and Joel Kyack. Finkelstein had spent a spell in Warhol’s Factory and was a back room regular at Max’s Kansas City. “I guess I was just standing in the right place at the right time,” he said, conceding that there’s always a right place and time, depending on where you’re standing.

Left: Ooga Booga's Wendy Yao with artists Piero Golia and Nicole Miller. Right: Artist Judith Eisler. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan)

The following night I made my way downtown to REDCAT for Allora & Calzadilla’s first Los Angeles show. The exhibition takes as its subject an attempt in Paris, just after the French Revolution, to communicate with elephants using music. For the opening, an orchestra played the entire original 1798 concert including works like Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) and the Revolutionary anthem Ça ira. One strains to imagine whether the kidnapped elephants in the Jardin de Plantes were inspired or mortified by this mix, and I wondered if that spectacle resembled the shuffling crowd (dealer Shaun Caley Regen, curator Anne Ellegood, artists Nick Herman and Kelly Nipper) shifting docilely around REDCAT. Everyone appeared pacified by the melodious ensemble, but my heart wasn’t in it.

From there I grabbed Fundación Alumnos47 director Adriana Maurer Walls and colleague Eva Posas Rasgado and set off for a dinner thrown by ForYourArt, Ooga Booga, and Alumnos47 after a Friday Flights event at the Getty. Artists MPA, Eve Fowler, Piero Golia, Nicole Miller, and Flora Wiegmann clustered in a small side room of La Escuela Taqueria on Beverly Boulevard. The oversubscribed dinner kept me on my toes, and eventually I lost my chair and stood outside watching the diners trickle off to a party in Laurel Canyon or home to rest up for the next night’s round of openings, including Jane and Louise Wilson at c.nichols project and Jesse Willenbring at Thomas Duncan. Maurer Walls sat in the dark, cigarette in her hand. “I love Los Angeles,” she said. “The city never seems to end.”

Left: Artist Brian Roettinger, ForYourArt's Bettina Korek, and Hammer Museum curator Aram Moshayedi. Right: Asma Maroof from Nguzunguzu and artist MPA.