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Arts & Power

From top-notch curators to exciting new talents, we explore some of the most intriguing individuals shaking up the L.A. art scene.

Lauri Firstenberg, with new pieces by Sam Falls on display at LAXART


Forget Paris, New York and even Berlin: These days, it’s Los Angeles that’s being defined as the new center of the art world. Douglas Chrismas, of the city’s famed Ace Gallery, notes, “Wherever you are, be it Zurich, New Delhi or Mexico City, if you ask where the new energy is, without question, the answer will be Los Angeles.” Economic factors may be one reason young artists have flocked here; after all, there are still pockets of space that can be had at a reasonable price. Then, of course, there’s the sunshine and a strong creative community. Whatever the cause, the City of Angels has become the City of Artists, exploding with painters, sculptors and mixed-media masters. Following this proliferation of new and exciting talent are the collectors who are swarming to our shores in droves, like bees to honey (or perhaps, more accurately, a honey pot), looking for the next big thing.

Many L.A. artists—such as Aaron Curry, whose sculptural installation at Lincoln Center in New York is a critical smash—are enjoying their local profile while also finding success beyond the city’s reach. Drumming up beaucoup sales at auctions this year, art stars like Raymond Pettibon, Mark Grotjahn, Mark Ryden and Sterling Ruby are bringing even more attention to new work coming out of SoCal. And at 76, David Hockney, the adopted art patriarch of light-drenched L.A., is back in town and better than ever.

Adding to all of this is a strong collaborative spirit, something that has always permeated this city and set its art scene apart. In the words of painter Lari Pittman, who is currently exhibiting at Highland’s Regen Projects, “Los Angeles still feels artist-driven; we all watch each other’s back. I think artists have power here—not individually, but as a collective—whereas, maybe in other cities individual artists have power. It’s a nice thing.”

As L.A.’s art scene continues its evolution, Angeleno takes an inside look at its burgeoning world: the artists, gallerists and curators helping to change the local landscape with bold moves and even bolder strokes.

As Los Angeles takes its place as the epicenter of the contemporary art world, Lauri Firstenberg keeps her eye on the future. L.A. boasts an impressive list of leading arts figures—Firstenberg, a native and the founder of LAXART, a nonprofit think tank for contemporary art, is undeniably one of them. Established in 2005, LAXART functions somewhere between a museum and a gallery. “We were trying to fill a void,” explains Firstenberg of the Culver City venue. “What can an independent space offer that others don’t?” Conceived by the Berkeley- and Harvard-educated art historian as a five-year project for experimental programming, she and her team re-evaluated their relevancy in 2010. “What we heard from artists was that they needed this space more than ever,” she says. Firstenberg, who previously worked with local organizations REDCAT, LACE and MAK, listened and devised a new nonprofit model. “We’re an incubator for the next generation of curators,” she adds, and programming is appropriately dense. Through Dec. 21 are showings by Sean Shim-Boyle and Sam Falls; the latter’s exhibit includes a sculpture in Plummer Park and a billboard on La Cienega.

Like Falls’ show, Firstenberg’s ideas stretch beyond her walls. This year, she helped launch the Careyes Foundation, an artist residency program in Mexico, and she’s developing the Occasional, a platform for more slowly evolving art work. Essentially, shows will happen when they happen, but you can expect the first (and much more) in 2015, when LAXART celebrates its 10th anniversary and the team, once again, meets to reflect. 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., 310.559.0166,

Now in its fifth year, Art Los Angeles Contemporary is no longer the new kid on the block, growing into a mature, cultured player in the international art arena. Certainly there have been fits and starts, like in 2011 (a particularly off year in terms of content), but now the fair seems to be hitting its stride. As Los Angeles emerges as a worldwide art hub, 37-year-old ALAC Director Tim Fleming—formerly the director of Seven Three Split, a local, noncommercial gallery—is at the helm. “Our goal is to play a part in Los Angeles being known as a destination for learning about contemporary art, and showcasing the amazing amount of content L.A. has to offer, not to have a 200-gallery art fair,” says Fleming. “We like to showcase these galleries on an intimate scale.” The show will remain true to its edict, featuring one-third L.A. galleries (like Nicodim and newbie Hannah Hoffman) and two-thirds from parts elsewhere (like New York’s Foxy Production and Monitor from Rome). Despite its global reach, Art Los Angeles Contemporary is definitely the new, local home for artists in residence. Jan. 30-Feb. 2 at The Barker Hangar, Santa Monica Airport, 3021 Airport Ave., Santa Monica,

While everyone has been declaring Culver City the dominant neighborhood in the gallery circuit, a new contender has swiftly entered the proverbial ring: Highland. Attracting the city’s brightest names and boldest talent, the newly colonized district—with an epicenter radiating from Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard—has generated buzz due to the hot spot’s growing flock of established dealers and up-and-coming gallerists. Says Lyn Winter, director of communications at MOCA, “[Highland is] dividing the city from east to west, and bringing together some of the greatest art and design gallerists, all around one street.”

Among this big-name brethren are some of the first gallerists to move in, all with vast architectural spaces: New York transplant Perry Rubenstein reps Helmut Newton and L.A. favorite Zoe Crosher, while Regen Projects’ Shaun Caley Regen handles powerhouses like Matthew Barney, Marilyn Minter and Catherine Opie. Meanwhile, Michael Kohn, who reps L.A. art giants such as Wallace Berman and Bruce Conner, will soon be a new neighbor.

Another new standout is Kayne Griffin Corcoran, now located at 1201 S. La Brea Ave., just north of San Vicente. Fittingly, the three gallery partners—Maggie Kayne, Bill Griffin and James Corcoran—represent three generations of talent in the field. Artists Larry Bell, John McCracken, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha and David Lynch, whose show, Naming, opened this November, are on the gallery’s impressive roster.

Other exciting venues in the area include Merry Karnowsky, Hannah Hoffman and Redling Fine Art; and Esther Kim Varet of Various Small Fires recently announced she was moving her popular Venice gallery to Highland as well. Ace Gallery and The Icon (on Wilshire, just west of La Brea) help connect the new Highland group with galleries on Miracle Mile like Steve Turner Contemporary, Marc Selwyn Fine Art and ACME, all of which are within walking distance of LACMA and the Architecture and Design Museum.Art walk, indeed.

Exemplifying the frontier spirit of Los Angeles’ current art scene, Aaron Curry’s creative journey—from San Antonio to Chicago to L.A.— has led to a remarkably successful career for someone in his early 40s. Originally trained as a painter, Curry developed a sculptural process of biomorphic abstraction that echoes the work of modernist masters Miró and Henry Moore. After years exhibiting abroad, Curry recently received the biggest commission of his career: New York City’s Lincoln Center tapped him to create “Melt to Earth,” a multipart sculpture currently on view on its plaza through Jan. 6. Vividly colored and playfully figurative, the large-scale aluminum pieces maintain a rough-hewn profile in contrast to the slickly finished work of his modern forebears. A dedicated craftsman, Curry appreciates the value of hard work. “There has got to be this struggle,” he concedes, “because it’s superrewarding when you pull it all off.”

The ribbon-cutting at The Broad—Eli and Edythe Broad’s in-development downtown art museum—may be nearly a year away, but the checklist for its opening show is anything but final. “We are still refining the installation and will continue to do this up to the last possible moment,” explains Joanne Heyler, longtime director and chief curator of The Broad Art Foundation and now founding director of The Broad. “There could be major changes between now and opening, which is part of the excitement of working with a contemporary collection and an institution that is so active in the art market.” The $140 million, Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed building will offer 50,000 square feet of exhibition space on two floors. What is confirmed is the free admission and the museum’s “choreography,” as Heyler calls it: an unfurling of five decades of art as visitors move chronologically through the galleries. “The Warhols, Lichtensteins and Shermans that people expect of our collections will be there, but so will many other artists whose work we have collected for years,” she says. The inaugural installation will highlight some 250 works and offer two hefty tomes; one, a comprehensive look at The Broad’s collection and the other, devoted to its architecture. Like the exhibit, both will shed new light on one of the world’s preeminent collections, finally at home in L.A.

The first thing to greet you as you enter Blaine Halvorson’s captivating studio/gallery is a towering giraffe. Strangely enchanting, his by-appointment Culver City space—a word-of-mouth sensation among Hollywood art insiders—is an Aladdin’s cave of wonder, with contemporary art and macabre-chic historic curiosities blazing from every surface. “I was bored with white-wall museums and wanted to make people feel special and create a place they could lose themselves in,” Halvorson explains. After co-founding the lucrative, faux-vintage T-shirt company Junk Food in 1997—which he’s since sold off—he’s become a serious dabbler: designing clothes, cobbling shoes and binding books. His bespoke men’s line, MadeWorn, consisting of artfully distressed Civil War-era gentleman swag, is favored by Brad Pitt and Jude Law. He has also just launched a women’s collection with the same hand-me-down aesthetic. A self-described perfectionist, Halvorson is obsessed with the handcrafted and authentic. “The beauty of handmade is its uniqueness. The shoes I cobble are made from historical pieces of leather from 1890 to 1930: an old pair of chaps, a World War I tent, a mining bag,” he says. “I always tell the provenance, what it was before I cut the shoe pattern out of it, and doing this makes each pair truly unique, and to me that is art.”

We asked a cross-section of people in the Los Angeles art scene, from gallery owners to critics to interior designers, to reveal the local up-and-comers currently commanding their attention. Take note and invest now—these emerging artists may just be tomorrow’s superstars.

1. Peter Alexander
Los Angeles-native Alexander burst onto the public stage during the Light and Space movement of the ’60s and ’70s. Nye + Brown on La Cienega often showcases his pieces, as did Yale University with a recent installation. So who is on the artist’s radar? “Brian Wills is part of the new generation shouldering the mantle of the Light and Space movement,” he says. “His work, constructed of wood wrapped with thread, is deceptively simple. But the play of light and color over them is mesmerizing and seductive.”

2. Cliff Fong
Interior Designer
The creator of dynamic residential and commercial spaces, and co-owner of the design emporium Galerie Half, Fong, who has long bought art to finish the rooms of his clients, including Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, is known for his impeccable eye when it comes to spotting new talent. “Matthew Brandt has a very interesting process,” he says. “His work is composed of photographs but they’re treated more like paintings. Every time, he does something different to them. There are some recent works in which he etches an image in velvet with acid that are just incredibly beautiful.”

3. Peter Fetterman
Owner, Peter Fetterman Gallery
Fetterman’s Santa Monica gallery, located at Bergamot Station, represents classic 19th and 20th century photography, specializing in black-and-whites with an emphasis on human imagery. “Gregori Maiofis is a young photographer who divides his time between Los Angeles and St. Petersburg,” says Fetterman. “I’m very excited about his work. It’s really fresh and special. We’re doing a big show with him in 2015.”

4. Benjamin Trigano
Owner, M+B Gallery
After leaving Paris more than a decade ago, Trigano settled in Los Angeles and opened M+B Gallery, which represents both new and established artists, including Matthew Brandt. “Someone new we’re very excited about is the 20-year-old wunderkind Jesse Stecklow,” Trigano says. “He’s still finishing his B.A. at UCLA, but look out for an exhibition soon!”

5. Steven D. Lavine
President, California Institute of the Arts
According to Lavine, who has been president of renowned art school CalArts since 1988, “the newest star is 32-year-old New Zealand-born sculptor Fiona Connor. Her work is very conceptual and exciting. By creating replicas of actual environments—such as the double of the Hammer’s staircase she exhibited at the museum’s Made in L.A. show—and duplicating them almost exactly before returning them to their original environment, she challenges the viewer’s conceptions of space and their relationship to the objects around them. We think she’s going to have real impact.”

6. Edward Goldman
Art Critic, Art Talk, KCRW
Goldman, who came to L.A. from St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, has been the host of KCRW’s popular Art Talk, a weekly art review, since 1988. “My choice of an intriguing, emerging L.A. artist would be Heather Gwen Martin,” he says. “I recently saw her work at the L.A. Louver gallery’s Rogue Wave exhibition, which emphasizes the city’s best young artists. She spoke at her solo exhibition at Luis de Jesus Los Angeles, and proved to be not only a very good artist, but an interesting and eloquent speaker.”

Los Angeles has one of the most varied cultural landscapes on the planet.

Yet in terms of artistic diversity, it can lean a little lax. Sure, the city has its share of museums showcasing the works of Asia, Latin America, Europe and so on, from centuries past. But what about the 18-year-old artist of mixed race and culture making a splash right now?

Therein lies both the rub and the perfect entree for The Mistake Room. Run by the former associate director and senior curator for LAXART, Cesar Garcia, The Mistake Room will be an independent, international nonprofit art space when it launches in January. Devoted to presenting an array of creative projects from artists living outside the United States, the center aims to serve as an artistic nucleus. “Our mission,” explains Garcia, “is to function as a connecting hub, to connect L.A. to the world. It’s about being culturally relevant. We are an institution interested in working with the artists of our time, as it develops.”

Exhibit A: the institution’s inaugural show featuring Colombian-born, London-based Oscar Murillo, whose recent spectacular sales are, in Hollywood terms, akin to boffo box office. Comprised of various performance elements (among other things), Murillo’s L.A. show is poised to be the city’s hot ticket this January—even bigger, perhaps, than what awards season might muster. Unless, of course, it’s Oscar.

Two gallerists, one emerging and one established, discuss the state of L.A.’s art scene.

The New Guard:
Claressinka Anderson started Marine Art Salon in 2009 to foster an exchange between artists, young collectors and people new to buying art. Her Abbot Kinney gallery, Marine Contemporary, represents a diverse roster of exciting, international artists.
What are collectors looking for right now from Los Angeles artists?
As a city that once relied heavily on artistic production, but not so much presentation, I think L.A.’s galleries and museums are starting to compete on a global level. There’s something romantic and seductive about L.A. in terms of how it is viewed by New Yorkers. People outside of the city are interested in work produced here, and people who live here want to support our institutions more than ever before.
Who are some artists, curators or gallerists you feel are changing this dynamic?
Night Gallery downtown has helped reinvigorate the scene here, particularly for cutting-edge, emerging artists. The young, savvy women that head the gallery [Davida Nemeroff and Mieke Marple] are doing exciting things for the city. There’s also a new nonprofit space opening in 2014 by Cesar Garcia, The Mistake Room, which will focus on groundbreaking international programming, something L.A. really needs.
How do you feel about Jeffrey Deitch leaving MOCA?
Jeffrey was a controversial figure from the moment he arrived. An ex-dealer from New York, he was never going to have an easy time as director. While I personally didn’t like his programming at the museum, I understand what he was trying to do—namely, raise money by widening the museum’s audience—and I think the community here thoroughly enjoyed hanging him out to dry. I have to wonder if he would have received the same reception in another city.
Any hopes for L.A. producing a Basel- or Frieze-style art fair in the coming years?
Does the city need or even want that? Honestly, I think we are all experiencing a level of fair fatigue. I don’t think we need another Basel-level fair in yet another city.
What is the most exciting thing you have encountered visually or conceptually coming out of L.A. this year?
I really enjoyed James Turrell’s Perceptual Cell series, a part of his current retrospective at LACMA. The opportunity for a solitary viewing experience is rare, especially one enclosed in pure light. The Turrell show is another example of where L.A. is right now in the wider context of the art world—presented in conjunction with exhibitions at the Guggenheim in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. I think this type of experiential show appeals to a wider audience, but at the same time, it is still thoughtful and relevant to what is going on today.

The Old Guard: 
Having operated a successful gallery in Los Angeles for more than 25 years, Michael Kohn is switching gears, moving east from Beverly Boulevard to Highland Avenue in Mid-City. Look for the cavernous gallery space to open in early 2014.
What are collectors looking for right now for Los Angeles artists?
Over the last 25 years the art market has become big enough to be inclusive of various markets simultaneously. So the idea that there’s one sought-after thing no longer exists. However, so many L.A. artists have made their mark internationally, so one can support L.A. artists exclusively and still have a world-class collection.
Who are some artists, curators or gallerists you feel are changing this dynamic?
Erica Redling has very interesting exhibitions. And Hannah Greely is an L.A.-based sculptor making great art.
How do you feel about Jeffrey Deitch leaving MOCA?
I think Jeffrey had no idea how difficult and complicated the director position would be, and if he did, he would have thought twice about accepting the job. I’d like to see MOCA move into the Pacific Design Center, something I’ve said for 15 years now.
Any hopes for L.A. producing a Basel- or Frieze-level art fair in the coming years? Does the city need or even want that?
There are now so many art fairs that the timing is too difficult and the competition too thick. Nevertheless, the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair in January has progressively improved and could turn out to be a very important fair in the near future.
What is the most exciting thing you have encountered visually or conceptually coming out of L.A. this year?
Frankly, it is the new gallery I am building on Highland in Hollywood. Designed by Malibu-based architect Lester Tobias, this building will house a 75-foot-long main gallery with 22-foot ceilings and two other spaces, all pre-wired for video. I’m looking forward to expanding the role my gallery has played in the L.A. art scene since 1985.