L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
On January 5th, 2nd Cannons Publications, artist Brian Kennon’s publishing venture, sent out a press release. It announced “the last exhibition in our Chinatown project space/vitrine,” a small closet-sized enclave at 510 Bernard St. with a glass sliding door. 2nd Cannons has been hosting miniature shows there for the past 3 years. The release continued, “We will not be moving to Culver City (if we were moving we would move to Hollywood),” an obvious jab at the recent exodus of galleries to Culver, the industrial turned industry neighborhood, that, over the past few years, has become home to a growing “main drag” of commercial galleries.
The final 2nd Cannons exhibition is a haphazard eruption of an installation: a large gray poster that’s been scrawled on, a cagey, psychologically manipulative letter that creates a web of desire around identity (reads one line, “Edvard Munch told me that Dr Jacobsen told you that Francis Bacon once told David Sylvester by being homosexual he was relieved of the heterosexual commitments in life, and by that he meant he could work more”), and a bubbling, spilling beer-can filled fountain. All this has been assembled on behalf of The Institute for Social Hypocrisy, the front for Paris-based artist Victor Boullet’s publications and collaborations. The installation has an angsty, irresponsible rebelliousness to it, and feels like the work of someone who’s been wronged.
It was that feeling, coupled with the line from the press release–we won’t be moving to Culver–that led me to, at first, assume the closing of 2nd Cannons’ vitrine, and even the nature of its final exhibition, must somehow be in reaction to galleries leaving Chinatown. I had some small basis for this assumption; other spaces, like the white cube occupied by alternative arts org Human Resources L.A. (which will likely reopen in Chinatown, or nearby) had been indirect victims of larger galleries leaving. But 2nd Cannons is just closing its vitrine (it’s primarily a press, after all), and its last exhibition is just that: an exhibition of art by an artist who manufactured the eruption and grouped together its unapologetically discordant references.
I have it in my head that Culver City should be resented, and I know I’m not being fair—it’s that liberally educated, young person instinct to hate change when it moves toward something more “established” but to love it when it breaks things apart. It’s also a bit of nostalgia. Some of the first, most exciting art encounters I had in L.A. were in Chinatown—at China Art Objects, Peres Projects, and David Kordansky Gallery in particular. All of these spaces subsequently moved to Culver; Kordansky first, Peres second, and then, just this fall, China Art Objects. And while Chi-town galleries have been heading west—collectors are reportedly reluctant to venture all the way Eastside–Santa Monica spaces have been moving East. Angles Gallery, which used to be right off the ocean, is now on La Cienega, while Mark Moore, which spent fifteen years at Bergamont Station, is now on Washington Boulevard, across the street from Roberts & Tilton, its former Santa Monica neighbor (besides the company they’d be keeping, what pulled Mark Moore to Culver was the opportunity to own and design a space of their own–a perfectly worthy desire).
China Art Objects’ newly renovated space is perhaps better suited to their changing needs than their charming former Chung King Road location (now home to Pepin Moore, a gallery with an impressive roster all its own), and, while Francois Ghebaly‘s narrow new garage-like space is a lot stranger than either his Chung King Road or Bernard Street locations, it does feel like it’s right where the action is, tucked into that busy intersection of Venice and La Cienega.
When painter David Hockney moved to Los Angeles in the 60s, all the galleries were on one strip in Hollywood–“They were run by young people and they showed young artists,” he recalls. “On a Monday evening people parked their cars, and walked up the street and looked in. It was very pleasant.” And it was a way for Hockney to meet artists, and art fans. Where the galleries were is among one of the least compelling of all Hockney’s recollections of early Los Angeles days, however. It’s more interesting to hear about how he visited Physique Pictorial in a “very seedy area of downtown” and met a “complete madman” with a “tacky swimming pool surrounded by Hollywood Greek plastic ceramics,” or about how he found cheap studio space with an ocean view in Venice.
It’s the traversing of space that’s always been most interesting about the way art in L.A. works–the ability to move in an out of the art world or “to work off the grid” (as artist Katie Grinnan discussed two Sundays ago, during a panel at Art Los Angeles Contemporary). And even if one neighborhood, like Culver, becomes more of a “center” than any other, it’s hard to imagine that the city’s penchant for flux would be tamped completely. (Recently, I spoke with gallerist Tom Solomon, whose space remains in Chinatown for the time being, and he hesitated when I suggested he’d moved often–he’s had, more or less, four L.A. spaces in roughly two neighborhoods, and also ran White Columns in New York. Talk to Michael Kohn, he suggested, or others who have been far more nomadic.) Moving is a deep-seeded part of life in any creative scene where sensibilities and finances change in an instant, but even more so here. “You hear about the landscape of galleries, even in the ’80s, that are now closed,” said Grinnan the Sunday before last. “That feeling that L.A. is in constant flux does make you feel like there’s all this territory to do things. It has a sense of invisibility also, where you can find these pockets where nobody is watching. It’s easy to find those pockets.”