Friday, June 28, 2013

The Art Set: California Dreamin and the Last Address

Installation view of James Turrell at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Photo: David Heald.
The Art Set: California Dreamin and the Last Address
Charlie Scheips

This summer New York is chock-a-block with significant exhibitions of major contemporary artists who are either from, or associated with, Los Angeles.

“Light and Space” artist James Turrell, (born in Pasadena in 1943) is having his first New York museum show since 1980 at the Guggenheim. Turrell has created an extraordinary transformation of the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s rotunda entitled Aten Reign (2013). A survey of other works throughout Turrell’s long career are featured in the various galleries that extend from Wright’s iconic central space.  

The Guggenheim has always been a difficult space for exhibitions — Wright himself believed that art should be brought out for viewing and then removed back into storage — he didn’t really care for anything taking away from the viewer’s experience of his architectural genius. But over the years, artists such as Jenny Holzer, Mario Merz, and Matthew Barney (to name a few) have successfully created memorable installations by simply confronting Wright’s soaring space head on.
James Turrell, Aten Reign, 2013. Daylight and LED light. Temporary site-specific installation, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © SRGF.
The Turrell exhibition just may be the most stunning dialogue with Wright's space as yet for his use of natural and artificial light to create a truly “other worldly” space where optical phenomena and our own physical sensations interact with a sense of transitory wonder and awe at the simplicity and complexity the work reveals.  

Besides Paul McCarthy’s WS installation at the Park Avenue Armory which I wrote about last week (see ART SET, 6.12.13), there is also the Bronx Museum’s State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970 to take in this summer. Adding to this host of artists from the West Coast is the Whitney’s recreation of Robert Irwin’s 1977 Scrim veil_Black rectangle-Natural Light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York that is staged once more in the fourth floor gallery space where Irwin first created it in the Whitney’s landmark Marcel Breuer building.
Robert Irwin (b. 1928), Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1977. Cloth, metal, and wood. Overall: 144 × 1368 × 49 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the artist. © Robert Irwin. Photograph © Warren Silverman.
Los Angeles’s late great ceramic sculptor Ken Price has two retrospectives on view both uptown and downtown. Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective is at the Metropolitan Museum through September 22 as well as Ken Price: Slow and Steady Winds the Race, Works on Paper 1962-2010 is at the Drawing Center in SoHo through August 18th.

Last week NYSD’s associate editor photographer Jill Krementz, did her usual brilliant coverage of Ken Price’s show at the Met (Guest Diary, 6.21.13). I didn’t run into Jill at the evening reception held there last Tuesday, but I did run into a lot of my old friends and acquaintances from my days living in L.A. during the 1980s. The reception was packed with many of the leading artists and collectors of L.A. who had been friends with Price including Ed Moses, Larry Bell, Vija Celmins, Tony Berlant, Frank Gehry (who designed the Met’s installation), LA Louver Gallery’s director Kimberly Davis and LA County Museum’s longtime curator Stephanie Barron (who curated the show) and LACMA’s Director Michael Govan.
The reception for Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum.
The Price grandchildren.
Joan Agajanian Quinn with Joanna Pousette-Dart. Michael Govan.
Curator Marla Prather with Jack Quinn.
Ed Moses.
Landscape historian Bryan Fuermann and Charlie Scheips.
Also there were Joan and Jack Quinn (Joan took all these great candid photos at the opening) were also lenders to the exhibition and great friends with Ken Price, his widow Happy, and the entire Price family. I first met Joan when I first moved to Los Angeles to work as David Hockney’s assistant.  At the time, Joan was the West Coast editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. Joan is a fabulously frenetic shutterbug and collector of masses of friends around the world including creative types of all genres — artists, fashion designers, actors — the gamut!

Over the years Joan and Jack have commissioned literally hundreds of portraits of Joan. They were all brought together in a show at Santa Ana College in 2011 entitled Mysterious Objects: Portraits of Joan Quinn. I was called in to write the introduction to the catalog of the same title.
Mysterious Objects: Portraits of Joan Quinn at Santa Ana College in 2011.
Stephanie Barron, Frank and Berta Gehry, and Penny Little Hawks.
Jackson Price.
Jack Quinn and Larry Bell.
Joan Agajanian Quinn and Happy Price.
Alejandro Gehry and Happy Price.
Joan Agajanian Quinn and Wendy Larson.
Helen and Tony Berlant.
Helen Berlant, Vija Celmins, and Joanna Pousette-Dart.
Larry Bell, Frank and Berta Gehry, and Jack Quinn.
After seeing all these friends at the Price reception, I started thinking about the L.A. art world in the 1980s. With sadness, I had heard recently that legendary art dealer Margo Leavin, and her long-time gallery partner Wendy Brandow had decided to close shop after 42 years! I first met Wendy while I was working at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and she was helping us mount an exhibition of Will Hokin’s collection there. Margo opened her first gallery in 1970 and Wendy joined her in 1976.

By the time I got to L.A., Margo had taken over Tony Duquette’s old studio at the northern end of Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood. The Margo Leavin Gallery was a major monthly destination for anyone interested in both the best of the thriving local art scene that the gallery helped foster. She also brought dozens of major exhibitions of international artists to Los Angeles which otherwise would not have been seen at that time.
Margo Leavin and Wendy Brandow at the Gallery's 25th anniversary, Sept 1995.
Although its hard to fathom now, one must remember that MOCA had only just opened in 1983 in its “temporary contemporary” space in Chinatown while its flagship Arata Isosaki building was still under construction. The only other major art institution focusing at all on contemporary art there was LA County Museum whose galleries then were acres and acres smaller than the current sprawling campus of buildings it is today. 

After New York, in the 1980s, it was the Chicago art world where everything was happening. Chicago had a host of great museums, great collectors and the first major contemporary art fair held each year at its lakefront Navy Pier. Galleries like Margo Leavin fostered the interest in contemporary art for Southern California that helped make the city the great artistic center it is today. Just scan through the history of the hundreds of shows the gallery mounted over the years at:
Marcel Duchamp
Works in Edition at Margo Leavin Gallery
October 11 - November 9, 1973
Ellsworth Kelly
Wall Sculpture at Margo Leavin Gallery
January 12 - February 18, 1984
A few years after opening the space on Robertson Boulevard, the gallery took over an abandoned US Post Office building directly behind it facing Hilldale Avenue on San Vicente Boulevard. In 1989, Margo installed a major Claes Oldenburg installation entitled Knife Slicing Through Wall (in collaboration with the artist’s late wife Coosje van Bruggen and Frank Gehry.) It featured a six by twelve foot stainless steel knife cutting through the façade of the building with the walls peeling away as if the entire structure was being cut in half like a piece of cheese. I thought it was really great especially as a fitting “high art” twist to L.A.’s tradition of “novelty architecture” such as the old 1926 Brown Derby Restaurant and the “Tail o’ the Pup” hot dog stand.  
The Margo Leavin Gallery on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles. Photo: Douglas M. Parker.
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Knife Slicing Through Wall at the Margo Leavin Gallery on Hilldale Avenue. Photo: Douglas M. Parker.
The original Brown Derby Restaurant.
The Go-Go's at the Tail o' the Pup on La Cienega in 1980.
In 1990, on my very first trip to the Venice Biennale, I found myself at the Grand Hotel in Milan where Margo and Wendy also happened to be staying. We decided over drinks that night to go the next morning to see Leonardo’s Last Supper and then to a delicious trattoria that Margo knew of for lunch. The ladies also wanted to check out Romeo Gigli’s new showroom. I went along thinking I would just be vicariously looking at women’s clothing by the great designer.  

For those who don’t know what it was like before the Euro took the place of the old currency in Italy my experience at Gigli’s showroom illustrates it perfectly. To my surprise, the designer had also recently launched a Men’s line. It included a selection of fabulous sport coats and suits that featured an iridescent sheen to them. I chose a tan jacket that cast in the right light had a subtle lavender glow. I can’t remember how many thousands of Liras it was, but when I got my credit card bill a month later; it was almost quadruple what I had thought it had cost me. Luckily, I have a photo that art fair maven Brian Angel took of me at Florian’s on the Piazza San Marco that week to show for it. Two years ago I restaged the shot in the very same place more than two decades later!
Charlie at Florian's, Piazza San Marco, 1990 (above) and 2011 (below).
Margo Leavin and Wendy Brandow were institutions in the international art world all these many years and I am sad that on my next trip to L.A. I can’t do, as I’ve always done before, and make a bee-line to the Gallery. Bravo Margo Leavin Gallery and a fond farewell! What a great accomplishment to have operated such a successful gallery for all those many years. The Gallery now enters into the annals of Los Angeles’s cultural history.

Another one of L.A.’s major long-time galleries is LA Louver just off Venice Beach. When I was at the Ken Price reception last week, seeing so many familiar faces, I remembered the 1986 party I attended for the 10th anniversary of that gallery. The evening was also a foil for a surprise birthday party for the gallery’s founder — Englishman Peter Goulds.
LA Louver on N Venice Blvd.
I first met Peter a year before I moved to L.A. when he came to Chicago for the opening of a major Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). That exhibition included the fantastic Kienholz’s 1977 work entitled The Art Show (now owned by the Berlinische Galerie Museum of Modern Art) that was re-titled The Chicago Art Show for our presentation.

Peter and his long time gallery director Kimberly Davis have since become dear friends of mine  — first when we worked together on the many projects surrounding their long-time representation of David Hockney, and for decades since as I have followed their amazing program and promotion of their artists in museums and private collections around the world. 
LA Louver's Peter Goulds. Photo: Jim McHugh.
LA Louver's Peter Goulds (founder, director), Tony Bevan (artist), Elizabeth East (director), Kimberly Davis (director), and Glenys Johnson. Photo: Jim McHugh.
The LA Louver Gallery has for several years been at work creating an amazing archival website documenting their long history and the accomplishments of the many artists they have represented over the years.  After all my nostalgia for that wonderful era they were able to provide me with photographs taken during that 10th anniversary party almost thirty years ago. Do visit LA Louver’s wonderful website — I could spend hours surfing around it,

Now a flashback to that party in 1985 ....
Peter and Liz Goulds.
William and Shirley Brice.
Don Suggs and Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin. Ed Moses and Tom Wudl.
Charles and Gwenn Garabedian.
Ed Moses with Helen and Tony Berlant.
Richard and Phyllis Diebenkorn with Ed Moses.
Liz Goulds, Peter Goulds, and Tony Berlant.
Charles Garabedian, Don Suggs, and Ed Moses.
Charlie Scheips and David Hockney.
Richard Diebenkorn, William Brice, and Tony Berlant.
Peter Goulds and Kimberly Davis.
Peter Goulds celebrating LA Louver's 10th anniversary and his birthday.
But the 1980s is also a bittersweet time to remember for me due to the huge toll AIDS/HIV had on our creative world including many dear friends. I recently discovered a wonderful film by New York filmmaker Ira Sachs called Last Address that he has kindly allowed The Art Set to feature on this the first day of New York’s Gay Pride Weekend. In Sach’s brilliant short film he features the buildings where a couple dozen of New York’s most prominent artists including Robert Mapplethorpe, Félix González-Torres, Charles Ludlam and David Wojnarowicsz and others last lived before they succumbed — in the prime of their careers — to the epidemic. Sachs has created a special website for the film so viewers can also learn more about these artists and their work. A touching reminder of how loss can also be beautifully and poignantly remembered.
Ken Price photos by Joan Agajanian Quinn.
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