Make It or Break It

Los Angeles

Left: Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, and artist Liz Larner. (Photo: Kenzy El Mohandes) Right: Dealer Lisa Overduin with artist Frank Benson. (Except where noted, all photos: Kevin McGarry)

IN JANUARY, Los Angeles swells with visitors and holiday lingerers who opt for a disadvantaged time zone over the chill of displaced weather vortices. Not to be outdone by the Golden Globes, LA’s art scene used this past weekend as the season opener for galleries across town. It provided a festive glimmer of the future of this local art world, which continues to reclaim forgotten buildings and neighborhoods as it katamaris over palm trees and traffic.

Case in point: Hollywood. In a year it’s been reborn as a lodestar in the city’s art topography. Hannah Hoffman’s space arrived this fall on Highland and Santa Monica. (Hoffman herself relocated from New York only about a year and a half ago.) On Friday, she hosted the opening of “The Body Issue,” a group show curated by Frank Benson. The UCLA-educated, Brooklyn-based artist was happy to make the flight and don a different though not altogether new hat. “I suppose the role of curator felt familiar to me,” he said, “because of my background in nonprofits, in putting together shows of my own work paired with other artists, and in collecting and sequencing images online.” It’s a rule-based exhibition of pictures in which 1) each photo includes the human figure as subject; 2) each image is shot in a “similar, sharply focused style”; and 3) each artist is represented by a single work. Among them are a blond in a blond hat by Elad Lassry; Talia Chetrit and Wolfgang Tillmans’s studies of body hair; and glossy portraits by Benson, Roe Ethridge, and others.

Dinner afterward was held at Rao’s, the newly opened Tinseltown outpost of East Harlem’s 117-year-old red-sauce Italian institution. Walking instead of driving the quarter-mile there from the gallery (while enduring a fifty-degree wind chill), Sam Falls offered some background: “Apparently the one in New York is notorious for not being able to get into, and also for not very good food,” but the converse was rumored to be true of this one. Inside we joined a lively posse including Lassry, Ry Rocklen, writer Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, and Hammer curator Aram Moshayedi for friendly conversation over meatballs.

Left: Artist Ry Rocklen with writer Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer. Right: Artist Elad Lassry with UCLA Hammer curator Aram Moshayedi.

The next night, hundreds more found themselves back at the intersection of Santa Monica and Highland for Regen Projects’ show of new sculptures by Liz Larner. “We have been together since the very beginning,” waxed Shaun Caley Regen of Larner and the gallery’s Paleolithic relationship. Some of the sculptures themselves alluded to mineral antiquity: heavily glazed, cracked ceramics mounted to the wall, opaque windows onto time and form.

“Black Prius? Black Prius?” This was the disconcerting call of the bottlenecked valet seeking the owner of not the first and not the last black Prius to be claimed before everyone’s rides were transferred to Mud Hen Tavern parking three blocks away. The rebranded gastropub, which, in a feat of foodiemorphosis, cannibalized a South Asian street food–inspired canteen, was hemorrhaging art-world friends from near and far. There were artists Walead Beshty and Sharon Lockhart, Lisa Schiff and a post-Holland Ann Goldstein. There was the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new curator Beau Rutland, and, disturbing the space-time continuum, Bill and Ted—aka actors Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, who were enjoying an excellent adventure cozied up by the fire pit.

Meanwhile, downtown, thousands of fashionable guests sieged the opening of the Ace Hotel, whose palatial digs in the remodeled United Artists building should help fix the art-world compass eastward. Now there’s a ruggedly cosmopolitan watering hole—and 2,300-seat gothic theater!—where the likes of Philippe Vergne’s MoCA 2.0, GBE Mission Road, and the forthcoming Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel can entertain.

Left: Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art's Beau Rutland with Alisa Ratner and dealers Shaun Caley Regen and Mathew Sova. Right: Curator Ann Goldstein with artist Walead Beshty.

It wasn’t the only enormous, forlorn auditorium to be reanimated this weekend. Some five miles west, in the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire, performances were brewing for an audience of roughly… zero. The nearly 100,000-square-foot building has laid vacant since the 1990s, with the exception of occasional film shoots, raves, and illegal boxing matches. But now it’s the future site of the Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation. Construction begins this year, and to kick-start the demolition process the Marcianos handed over its creepy, cavernous halls to Ryan Trecartin to use, carte blanche. As we wandered the closed set, the stillness was broken by parkourists slamming baseball bats through windows, zombie voices gargling down echoing tunnels, and, eventually, the trills of an alarm. “I think your phone’s ringing!” a sound technician warned Trecartin. “It’s OK, I like the red-alert sound.” Soon enough, the acres of carpet looked like the aftermath of a Barry Le Va frat party, beautifully littered with shattered glass.

Maurice Marciano’s response to the carnage was reportedly an invitation to “break more stuff,” a temptation that characterizes this epoch for LA’s art world in which its players are picking up the pieces and breaking new ground with equal fervor.

Kevin McGarry

Left and right: Ryan Trecartin shoot at the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple.

Left: Artist Sam Falls and curator Nu Nguyen. Right: Dealer Hannah Hoffman and Jonathan Olivares.

Left: Artist Sharon Lockhart and MoCA curator Bennett Simpson. Right: Robyn Carlsson (left) at the opening of Unlock Upstairs at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Michael Underwood/ABImages)

Left: Architect Michael Maltzan, artist Elliott Hundley, and Alphaeus Taylor. Right: MoCAtv's Emma Reeves and Regen Projects' Ben Thornborough.

Left: Barbara and Axel Haubrok and Regen Projects' Jennifer Loh. Right: LACMA's Jarrett Gregory and artist Nathan Hylden.

Left: Lionel Bovier and artist Isabelle Cornaro. Right: Ryan Trecartin shoot at the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple.