Art patriarchs John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha pick out Los Angeles’ brightest creative talent
For our recent March issue, we invited art heavyweights John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha (pictured at Ruscha's studio in Culver City) to pick out their home city's truest voices. Meet more of their creative crowd here...
Photography: Cedric Buchet
Los Angeles has cycled through periods of in and out in the art world since Ed Kienholz's 1957 partnership with curator Walter Hopps begat Ferus Gallery. What distinguishes the present boom-boom uptick is scale and level of investment, says Bettina Korek, variously described as ‚'one of the premier ambassadors of LA Art' by Los Angeles Magazine and 'a latter-day Peggy Guggenheim under the palm trees' by The Wall Street Journal. The third element to today's growth spurt is 'independent activity' by artists 'operating in more of a liminal space', she suggests - galleries established in apartments or studios.
Alice Könitz's elfin-sized Los Angeles County Museum of Art, opened next to her studio is one such example. Putting together well-received and diverse shows, these venues are fluid in nature. Mission 356 began as painter Laura Owens' studio, before morphing into a de facto arts centre, exhibition space, bookstore and event venue.
'More and more artists want to not only engage with galleries and museums but get out into life and directly address issues,' she notes of a city-wide trend, that includes artist-launched radio station KChung.
Korek's base of operations, ForYourArt, a platform for art and artists and headquartered across from LACMA, exhibits similar nimbleness. Established as an e-mail update of the art scene, Korek's endeavours now include ForYourArt's must-see Los Angeles art website, live panel discussions pulling in audiences of over 1000, and an initiative with Barbara Kruger and John Baldessari to encourage discussion of arts education via messages on the side of buses.
Diagnosed with cancer and preparing to undergo a double mastectomy, artist Bettina Hubby felt the need to issue an ultimatum to her circle: ‘Send boobs, not sadness’ it went.
Pictured: 'Thanks for the Mammaries, The Facebook feed', by Bettina Hubby, 2014
Three months post-op and hundreds of breast-likenesses later, Hubby curated a show comprised from responses. Though the Facebook page and exhibition (installation view pictured) 'Thanks for the Mammaries' are perhaps the most intimate examples, Hubby’s inclination as both artist and curator, is to reveal, collect, collaborate, conjoin.
Pictured: Installation view of 'Thanks for the Mammaries' at ForYourArt, featuring work by Terri Phillips, Dani Tull, Omar Lopex, Suzanne Adelman and Keith Walsh
‘I often throw out a net and pull in other people’s involvement in order to make my projects more rich,’ she says. She describes a traditional studio practice alongside more difficult-to-categorise projects, that chip away at Los Angelenos’ reluctance to engage with their city.
Pictured: 'Sex without the people (stockings showing, pants down)', by Bettina Hubby, 2012
Hubby, who conducted a highly choreographed art walk down the Los Angeles River in a piece that explored notions of ‘being present’ has become an aficionado of the construction zone. She has installed photographs of in-process construction on the chain link fences that cordon sites off, curated photographs of construction workers, and produced parties on site to create connections between blue collar worker and Los Angelenos who often look at them only through the windshield, cursing the disruption to their commute.
Pictured: installation view of 'Dig the Dig', 2013
‘If it’s not in the white box, you’re deemed not-a-serious-artist. I just think that’s so limiting in this day and age,’ says Hubby. ‘We’re not reaching enough people.’
Pictured: Installation view of 'Pretty Limber', at Klowden Mann, 2013
At present, Robert Wilhite is in Amsterdam installing a bar named Bob’s Your Uncle, commissioned by non-profit gallery Kunstverein (a woman who lives in the city is also given as reason for the trip).
Along with the boite’s defining element, the composition incorporates a set of barstools and a series of nine paintings, all shipped from Wilhite’s Los Angeles studio. This kind of fully-functional art is emblematic of Wilhite’s multidisciplinary practice. As well as producing sculpture, paintings, drawings, sound performances, and a play, Wilhite also designs furniture and flatware sold through the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Wilhite describes the Amsterdam piece as ‘a collision of De Stilj and Russian Futurism’ or ‘a throwback to those times when artists made complete environments.’
Wilhite was introduced to Gerrit Rietveld’s utopian expressions at the University of California, Irvine during the 1960s. Through Rietveld, Wilhite realised overt classifications - design, architecture, sculpture - were irrelevant. ‘What there was, was accomplishment through art,’ he says.
The list of artists whose parents steered 18-wheeler Peterbilts on long hauls through the desert is quite slim but Fay Ray is on it: her girlhood travels include her father's Imperial Valley, California to Mexicali, Baji run.
He also provided her introduction to surrealism. 'I have no idea how he found his way to this material,' she marvels of the calendars featuring surrealists he'd select from Hallmark greeting card stores. 'My dad introduced me to Salvador Dali very early on. I've just been never able to shake it,' she reflects.
Pictured: 'California Mystic: Black Thumb', by Fay Ray, 2015
Realised in three mediums - collage, painting and sculpture - Ray's work considers ideas about the female body. Black and white photomontage hue closest to her early Dada collages. Ray gathers ordinary objects often within her home and with textures that interest her, which she then photographs, configuring their torn fragments into black and white composites. Meanwhile, pink lips of conch shells protrude from a loose grid of white plaster blocks in 'Intimacy', a 2012 sculpture.
Pictured: 'California Mystic: Dark Healing', by Fay Ray, 2015
To manage the medias' different requirements, Ray maintains two studios, one designated as a dust-free photography studio. Both, in close proximity to the Santa Monica Freeway; the ocean and the desert, a straight shot east or west.
Pictured: 'California Mystic: Shells, Caning and Palms', by Fay Ray, 2015
The artist Analia Saban divides time between her Los Angeles base of operations, tucked behind an upscale Santa Monica shopping district in one of the last industrial warehouses on the Westside, and New York City, home to her husband.
Born in Buenos Aires, and with dealers in London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, Saban pauses as she considers what distinguishes Los Angeles viewers. ‘It’s hard to say because it’s becoming so global. The one thing [in Los Angeles] they’re so open to new ideas. I think it’s because the artists that came before me, broke ground in so many areas. We have such a long history of post-modernism, like video-art, performance art, conceptual art.’
Pictured: 'Claim (from Chesterfield Sofa)', 2014. Photography: Jennifer Westjohn. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers
Saban’s own work explores where the value of art, in every sense, lies. When we meet she is preparing for new shows (opening late February) at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York and Sprüth Magers in London.
Pictured: 'Draped Marble (Rosso Levanto)', by Analia Saban, 2014; Photography: Jennifer Westjohn. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers
Referencing Renaissance painters’ treatment of fabric, the shipping bill is likely to be pricey. ‘I wanted to think about marble as a flexible material,’ she explains, as she carefully manoeuvres through a dense maze of sawhorses over which, cracked, crumbled, veined slabs appear ‘soft-folded’ at their centres, to evoke ‘a towel or laundry that’s set to dry outside. ‘I didn’t think it was going to be possible,’ admits Saban.
Pictured: '33 Gallon Orange Trash Bag', by Analia Saban. Photography: Jennifer Westjohn. Courtesy of Sprüth Magers
When we catch-up with journalist Steve Lopez, the Pulitzer Prize-finalist is at his desk surveying a list of eight possibilities for his twice-weekly Los Angeles Times column. Today’s selection is likely to centre on the clash between big oil and the citizens of Hermosa Beach, a set-up for a classic newspaper story. But it’s the presence of the coastal town’s working class residents - the beach enclave is one of the last in Los Angeles county with such a demographic - that makes it a quintessential Lopez piece.
There’s an obvious allure to covering Los Angeles’ entertainment industry; Lopez follows a different route. ‘For me it’s about telling those stories, it’s about speaking for people who are practically invisible,’ he says. ‘That’s life, there’s such great drama in that.’ The backstory of an undocumented worker; a cellist grappling with homelessness and schizophrenia; a retired electronic store owner, and his wife; a former postal service clerk; all have proved suitable subjects.
Lopez found himself in LA after writing for newspapers in six other cities as well as a national magazine. ‘The thing about LA is that people continue to crash the borders, figuratively and literally, to get here. And it’s still trying to figure out what kind of city it wants to be.’
Photographer Mike Slack conceives images not as individual representations to be viewed in the gallery, but as tonal series to be held, leafed through, and absorbed in a book. The medium’s scale, its held-in-the-hand nature, its quality as a closed object, is ’more intimate’ he observes. ‘It puts you in the headspace you’re in when you’re reading.’
He's an English graduate who began shooting with his Polaroid SLR 680 on excursions through the American Southwest, visiting books stores as part of his day job in the publishing industry. ‘Looking at reality through your camera, it creates this certain psychic space that I’ve grown very attached to,’ he says.
Slack’s preference is to photograph place or environment rather than person; tone not subject. Though a detour called 'High Tide' began when Slack became obsessed with actors on his television who, momentarily, appeared to be in repose, mediation, or prayer, and captured them, holding his camera inches from his screen.
Pictured: a spread from 'Scorpio'
His carefully produced books are available through The Ice Plant, a small art press founded by his girlfriend, Tricia Gabriel, and which he now helps run. The duo share a home in Silverlake but don’t get out much. Their work space is a tight well-organised studio off the house. There’s a recognisable quietude to it, like Slack’s photographs.