( From Velvet Buzzsaw: “A bad review is better than sinking into the great glut of anonymity.)
Art and entertainment industry
Los Angeles may be a city rich in art, but it is first and foremost the city of what Americans refer to as the entertainment industry. Here everything begins and ends with cinema and television.
The capital of ultra glamour
Is it a disadvantage to be the capital of ultra-glamour when it comes to the creation and long-term promotion of substantial, serious and in-depth visual art?
It’s a question we might ask ourselves when we observe that the Marciano Foundation, which had been displaying very contemporary art with strong media coverage since May 2017, abruptly closed its doors in November 2019 following the desire to unionize within the establishment.
But the answer will be positive if we point out that the city boasts several prestigious museums, starting with Lacma in the city centre, the encyclopaedic museum which is even planning a particularly ambitious extension to open in 2023 costing 650 million dollars and designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor.
We can’t help but suspect that the fact such a huge sum was successfully raised can primarily be attributed to the personality of the man overseeing the project, the director of Lacma, Michael Govan. In the United States, these museum stars really do resemble film stars. The art historian has a hint of Richard Gere about him, cutting a slim and elegant figure with salt and pepper hair and a gleaming smile.
Naturally this former New Yorker doesn’t believe his Californian audiences are any less informed than those in the Big Apple (see his interview in 2018). “Los Angeles, with its business linked to Hollywood and pop music, is an incredible place to display art. You of course see the city from the outside, with all the fantasy that the film stars embody, but when you live here you realize that all these people who work in these industries, the photographers, the lighting engineers, the illustrators etc, are a prime target audience in that they’re especially receptive to the visual arts.”
Visual art + Showbiz=
It must be said that in Los Angeles, like in the rest of the world, contemporary art is terribly fashionable. In this megacity we see a proliferation of the happy (or not so happy) couplings from when the visual arts meet showbiz.
Kanye West and Vanessa Beecroft
It was here, for example, that on 24 November 2019 Kanye West presented his new biblical opera dedicated to King Nebuchadnezzar at the giant open air theatre the Hollywood Bowl, in collaboration with the Italian visual artist who’s been overlooked in recent years, Vanessa Beecroft.
It’s in Los Angeles that powerful “talent” agents, as they say across the Atlantic, are increasingly approaching famous artists to collaborate on or even create projects for feature-length films or adverts.
It’s also LA which is the birthplace and setting for a Netflix series, “Velvet Buzzsaw”, which paints a rather terrifying picture of the art world where a critic, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, ends up being literally eaten by carnivorous paintings exacting revenge for the commercial instincts of their owners.
Only in Los Angeles could a young actress like Emily Ratajkowski be quoted by a gallerist because she described the appeal of a figurative painting hanging in her living room with the remark: “I like Katherine Bernardt. She doesn’t take herself too seriously.”
Thomas Houseago & Brad Pitt
We already knew Los Angeles was a fan of sequins and celebrity, but the phenomenon hadn’t reached the art world at quite such a level. One of the most high-profile sculptors in the city is the British-born Thomas Houseago – in March he’ll be curating an exhibition at the Pinault collection in Venice. It’s no secret that his best friend, who can often be found hanging out at his studio, is superstar Brad Pitt. Handsome Brad is even trying his hand at sculpture. So of course the whole of Los Angeles is trying to imagine his hypothetical output, and plaguing Houseago’s visitors with questions. (I must confess it never occurred to me before, but just after posting a photo on Instagram of Thomas Houseago and Brad Pitt at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris I received an email from a Los Angeles journalist specializing in celebrity magazines who asked me when Brad Pitt was going to be exhibiting, how much his works would cost, and a whole host of other questions. I’ve rarely had any of my photos generate so much interest.)
“It’s a deeply superficial city,” jokes Philippe Vergne, the former head of Moca (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Los Angeles who’s now running the prestigious Serralves Foundation in Porto. It’s also no coincidence that his replacement was a defector from Moma, Klaus Biesenbach. He’s best known for his Instagram posts with celebrities and also sadly for his awful exhibition at Moma on the singer Bjork in 2015, which provoked a widespread outcry.
But more broadly, we must acknowledge that over time the City of Angels has become more of a serious player. There’s always been an important art scene in Los Angeles, with the prestigious school Calarts and figures who have now become key references like Paul McCarthy, the apostle for myths of American decadence (see his interview on the historic Los Angeles scene I did in 2016). The Hammer museum is organizing until 10 May an exhibition of drawings by McCarthy.
Hauser & Wirth
But that world has long been kept at a distance. The arrival in 2016 of the mega gallery Hauser & Wirth establishing gigantic premises in downtown Los Angeles, accompanied by an ambitious exhibition programme, was game-changing.
2019 was also the first year that a fair of international importance, Frieze LA, was held here. The English director of Frieze, Victoria Siddall, rejects all notion of superficiality in the city’s art consumption. “The only thing Los Angeles was missing was a moment in the calendar when all eyes in the art world would be on it. This is what’s happening now with Frieze LA.” The small fair (57 participants) is taking place from 14 to 16 February at Paramount Studios. As ever, film is never far away. And this new fair is also being held right after the Oscars.
But when you ask true insiders of the LA scene, like the gallerist Rob Fitzpatrick, they admit that you will generally find the same artworks in many of the houses of local collectors.
Max Hooper Schneider
One of these “rising stars” is Max Hooper Schneider (a native of Los Angeles represented by the High Art gallery in Paris) who makes installations depicting post-apocalyptic scenes.
The real boost to his young career was when he was featured in auctions in 2017 organized to raise funds for the foundation belonging to… Leonardo DiCaprio.
Once again, the “entertainment angels” have blessed the future of another local artist.
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