Coast to Coast

Michael Wilson at the opening of “Greater LA”

Left: Dealer Joel Mesler with Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Right: The crowd at “Greater LA.” (All photos: Michael Wilson)

FRAMED IN GENTLE OPPOSITION to a perceived “cultural amnesia” about the art-world significance of Los Angeles, “Greater LA” gathers work by some forty-seven of the city’s artists in the appropriately sprawling environs of a supersize SoHo loft. Organized by art advisor Eleanor Cayre, New Museum curator Benjamin Godsill, and Untitled Gallery boss Joel Mesler, the show is thus aimed less at introducing new names and more at reminding New Yorkers that many of their fave raves likely share the same West Coast stomping ground. And while an introductory wall text quoting Anthony Kiedis’s lyrics for the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Under the Bridge” seemed to promise a melancholic take on the Californian lifestyle, the timely and neatly installed selection runs the formal, conceptual, and emotional gamut.

Last Sunday’s invitation-only opening (a frosty reception from the clipboards at the door sat awkwardly with hopes of a laid-back vibe) attracted a decent crowd, though LA and NY contingents remained entrenched in their respective camps. Artists hovered around their work, entourages in tow, as the likes of Mary Heilmann and Lisa Kirk, dealers Andrew Kreps and Laurel Gitlen, frieze’s Dan Fox and New York Times scribe Roberta Smith lapped the room. There was some uncertainty over the exhibition’s commercial status: Works were labeled but there was no price list in evidence, or indeed any clues for the uninitiated as to who might be holding any purse strings. Not more than fifteen minutes in, I overheard a typical exchange: “Is stuff for sale?” “It’s all sold.”

Left: Dealer Andrea Zieher and Tennessee Zieher. Right: Artist Lisa Kirk with dealer Nicelle Beauchene.

As I took note of some assertive fashion—a pair of ultra-deep-dish stacked heels there, a rigorously deconstructed suit there—a familiar figure appeared, more unassumingly attired but also, apparently, in confrontational mood. “I disagree!” he began, apropos of nothing. The man with the beef was critic Jerry Saltz, and his seemingly preemptive rebuttal turned out to be in answer to an earlier correspondence concerning unfriendly gallerinas (he’s an apologist, I’m of the “politeness costs nothing” school). On the show, the New York critic thought it at least made for a good test of the cities’ attitudes toward each other: “I’m glad it’s raining,” he grouched, suggesting that the inclement weather served a noble purpose in allowing our visitors a taste of true Gotham grime. “Sometimes LA thinks we have it all.”

Joined momentarily by curator Clarissa Dalrymple (“one of the most amazing people in the art world,” according to a suddenly reverential Saltz) before she took off complaining of a hot flash, we were collared by dealer Alice Judelson, who took me to see two paintings by Eduardo Sarabia hung at the far end of the room. “It’s all about his palette,” she assured me repeatedly of Sarabia’s Photorealist canvases, based on paint-smeared snapshots of the artist’s wife. “I love his palette.” I nodded and smiled, but the room’s heat was becoming oppressive and at the earliest opportunity I ducked outside for some air, clocking Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, dealer Gabrielle Giattino, and publicist Maureen Sullivan on the way.

“Are you shooting for Clinic?” Back inside for a final round, I was assailed by Mesler with a question that seems even more peculiar after an online search for the title. (Why would I be playing paparazzo at a Manhattan art opening for what I now know to be a Dutch fetish magazine?) Correcting his impression, I asked him if he’d like his picture taken. Not only did he relish the opportunity, he drafted a succession of companions, including Cayre (who switched with impressive ease from haranguing her co-organizer over a problematic sale to an all-smiles pose for the camera) and Newark mayor Cory Booker (who, according to Mesler, is a shoo-in for next president of the United States). If anyone’s ready for his close-up, it’s this guy.

Left: Joel Mesler with art adviser Eleanor Cayre. Right: New York critic Jerry Saltz.

Left: LAND president Lisa Anastos. Right: Dealer Alice Judelson.

Left: Dealer Rachel Uffner. Right: Dealer Lisa Cooley with artist Scott Calhoun.