West Side Story

Los Angeles

Left: Don and Mera Rubell with Art LA director Tim Fleming. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Dealer and Art LA consultant Daniel Hug. (Photo: David Velasco)

There was something uneasy in the Los Angeles air last Saturday afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. But it was not the Santa Ana conspiring to nettle moods, merely an unusual spell of glumly persistent rain. Despite the weather and the sober occasion, a mob had formed at Bergamot Station for Benjamin H. D. Buchloh’s lecture “Strategies of Voiding the Void,” on Michael Asher’s exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. The turnout took Buchloh by surprise. “It’s just my East Coast and European prejudices,” he announced, surveying the tightly packed audience, “but I didn’t expect a Saturday afternoon would look like this in Los Angeles.”

The august Conceptualist’s exhibition—a claustrophobic, intimidating warren of raw metal wall studs demarcating the floor plans of every show the museum put on between May 1998 (Liza Lou; Beck and Al Hansen) and December 2007 (William Pope.L)—is practically an invitation for exegesis. The scene at the lecture was a familiar social arena; certain players arrived, only to be shuttled to the VIP area of reserved seats in the front row. Artists Christopher Williams, Mary Kelly, Walead Beshty, and Emily Sundblad, MoCA curator Ann Goldstein, art historians Miwon Kwon and Julie Ault, and Asher himself were all present. There were many more faces I didn’t recognize. “It’s more UCLA than CalArts in here,” whispered a student. Someone handed me his card. Behind me, sotto voce, a man actually uttered: “We should get together. Let’s do lunch.” Hollywood academia. (Which is really, simply, academia everywhere.)

Left: Dealer David Kordansky with artists Markus Amm and Eli Langer. Right: Dealer Emi Fontana. (Photos: David Velasco)

Buchloh is, unsurprisingly, an erudite and forceful speaker. Much of his hour-plus lecture focused on Asher’s work as a counteractive to the “aestheticization of everyday life”: For Buchloh, Asher’s repetition compulsion is an “epistemic resistance” to the imperative for innovation in contemporary art. Buchloh sees contemporary art’s “magnetism” as motivated by two factors: art’s seemingly magic ability to generate infinite surplus value, and belief in art’s redemptive potential, its capacity to produce instant—near-spiritual—gratification. He inveighed against museums’ focus on audience attendance and their spectacularization of architecture. This felt like the buildup to something, and indeed, midway through, he took a swipe at the Takashi Murakami survey at MoCA, attributing to Paul Schimmel a quote claiming that “Murakami is the most influential artist of the beginning of the twenty-first century.” He then added, “Which, I have to admit, sounds pretty amazing; breathtaking, even—though the twenty-first century is only seven years old.” The audience broke into thunderous applause. I didn’t know people could clap so loud while holding notebooks. Schimmel was actually seated in the front row. A few people craned to see his expression.

No one bothered to mention the bugbear lying just up I-10 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The latest edition of Art LA opened Thursday evening with a great deal more momentum than last year, but still relatively little fanfare. (Blame the rain.) This year, the fair hosted sixty-four galleries, nearly all of them high quality and upwardly mobile, with a significant international presence. Daniel Hug, the Los Angeles dealer and fair consultant (who also happens to be Moholy-Nagy’s grandson), credited the low fees (“about half what it costs to participate in Frieze or Miami Basel”), as well as timing and strategy. “Everyone—Volta, Liste—wants to be big, but why? We’re playing up our scrappiness.”

While no celebrities hit the gala, some notable local collectors (Benedikt Taschen, Sam Schwartz, Shirley Morales, and Stavros Merjos) made the trek. The Rubells had flown in from Miami that morning. Dean Valentine, who typically doesn’t even bother with other fairs, remarked that this one was “a billion times better” than last year’s. “It’s a bit like the days of the Gramercy Art Fair at Chateau Marmont.” Numerous dealers not in the fair came to scope out the scene—303 Gallery’s Lisa Spellman, Marc Foxx, Jeff Poe, Rivington Arms’s Mirabelle Marden, John Connelly. A smattering of artists made it, too.

Left: Artist Kori Newkirk. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Collector Benedikt Taschen with LA MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

A few good pieces stood up and saluted, among them Frank Benson’s large, leaning glass wall at Taxter & Spengemann. (A mix of Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, and John McCracken—so very LA.) Matthew Marks rep Sabrina Buell pointed out some smart sculptures at Tomio Koyama by artist Kishio Suga. Dicksmith Gallery dedicated their booth to soigné abstract oils by Alistair Frost. And David Kordansky—who is rumored to be opening a new space in Culver City—had excellent, crude new sculptures by Aaron Curry and Thomas Houseago. “Is the booth too brown?” he had anxiously asked passersby during Wednesday’s installation.

Despite the low costs—and thus low stakes—of this fair, few galleries took the opportunity to produce grand Art Fair Art gestures; those present were generally back-to-basics relational aesthetics (a rehash of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Magazine Station at West of Rome; Terence Koh and Bruce LaBruce’s fully operational re-creation of Twin Peaks’s Bang Bang Bar at Peres Projects). But the most ludic—and most discussed—was without a doubt Piero Golia’s smashed-up, thirty-five-seat bus for Bortolami. A few people took pleasure in noting that the Rubells were interested. “The Rubells are interested” is, of course, a leitmotif of fair culture. If there’s any truth to the talk, they are interested in everything.

As it so happens, the bus was bought by Colección Jumex founder Eugenio López to go in his backyard in Beverly Hills. Crushed to the precise dimensions of Bortolami’s booth and installed well before the erection of the fair’s cubicles, Golia’s work inherits the pragmatic dimensions of its administrative context—a foot violently bound to conform to the size of its shoe. Is the work, to put it glibly, the positive to Asher’s negative? (Buchloh, in his lecture, might as well have been addressing the fair. It teaches the same lesson, anyway: Everything new will always be the same.)

Left: Dicksmith Gallery's Thomas Hanbury. Right: LA MoCA curator Philipp Kaiser with dealer Shaun Caley Regen and artist Daniel Richter. (Photos: David Velasco)

A fair isn’t a fair without a little hoopla. Friday night, despite the inclement weather, Chinatown became an outdoor carnival, with openings or performances at most of the galleries in the neighborhood. At Kordansky, William E. Jones signed copies of his latest artist’s book, Tearoom, which highlights his graphic found footage of 1962 surveillance tapes of gay sex in restrooms in Mansfield, Ohio, a smart doubling of the act of surveillance and the (guilty) pleasures of voyeurism. (The piece is to be included in this year’s Whitney Biennial.) Holy Shit played their hip, droning guitar rock at Daniel Hug, while Peres Projects launched Teen Daddy, the latest incarnation of Javier Peres’s Daddy magazine. Afterward, people formed long queues outside nightspots Hop Louie and the Mountain Bar, each of which played out a narrative that was, at best, predictable.

Saturday night, amid a slew of openings, there was Regen Projects’ elegant, informal, dinner for painter Daniel Richter at Dominick’s on Beverly Boulevard, as well as a “conceptual book launch” at LAXART for the as-yet-unpublished fourth volume of Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, edited by 2008 Whitney Biennial cocurator Shamim Momin. Talk around town inevitably strayed toward current museum exhibitions (Murakami, Francis Alÿs) or Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s inexplicable arrival in Los Angeles with collector Maja Hoffmann. (“You can be sure of one thing,” someone noted. “He’s not here for the fair.”) Afterward, there was a mild if well-attended party at Shirley Morales’s home in the Hollywood Hills. The rain seemed to dampen everyone’s evening ambitions, meaning that people were either too sleepy or too cautious to make any real noise, and I decamped early. Taking Sunset Boulevard back toward my hotel, I opened the window and thought I caught the scent of jacaranda, even though it wasn’t the season.

Left: Artist William E. Jones with 2nd Cannons publishing founder Brian Kennon. Right: Artist Piero Golia with collector Michael Gold. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealers Pascal Spengemann and Kelly Taxter. Right: Dealer Honor Fraser with artist Rosson Crow. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Anton Kern with Hammer curator Gary Garrels. Right: Artist Amie Dicke with dealer Javier Peres. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Collectors Peter Benedek and Sam Schwartz. Right: Collector Dean Valentine. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Artist Matthieu Laurette with dealer Pablo Leon de la Barra. Right: Actress Lisa Marie. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Collector Eugenio Lòpez. Right: Dealer Patrick Painter with Russell Ferguson, chair of the department of art at UCLA. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Left: Artist Andrea Zittel. Right: Artist Walead Beshty with China Art Objects's Maeghan Reid. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Stefania Bortolami with collector Michael Ovitz. Right: Dealer Michael Benevento. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Hotel Gallery's Christabel Stewart and Darren Flook with artist Steven Claydon. Right: The Modern Institute's Toby Webster. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: My Barbarian's Alexandro Segade, Christopher Kreiling, and My Barbarian's Malik Gaines. Right: Dealer Lizabeth Oliviera. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Artist Martha Friedman. Right: Dealers Mary Leigh Cherry and John Connelly. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: LA MoCA director Jeremy Strick. Right: Artist Peter Coffin. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: The Box's Mara McCarthy with artist Julien Bismuth. Right: Dealer Susanne Vielmetter. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Whitney curator Shamim Momin with Wallspace's Jane Hait. Right: Artist Eddie Ruscha. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Erica Redling with Kate Johnson. Right: Holy Shit. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Anna Helwing. Right: Dealer Stephan Adamski. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Producer David A. Stewart, artist Steven Claydon, and producer Quincy Jones. (Photo: Heike Tosun) Right: Dealer Guido W. Baudach with Renwick Gallery's Leslie Fritz and artist Jason Krauss. (Photo: David Velasco)