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L.A.'s Art World Insiders

By Laura Eckstein Jones, Meg McGuire, Allison Mitchell and Abigail Stone

Photo by Kimberly Genevieve

11.27.17

L.A.’s art scene is as exceptional and ever-evolving as the city itself. Here’s a look at the artists and curators who are painting our city beautiful.

MEETING OF THE MINDS
Two dynamic forces unite for Made in L.A.

“Since L.A. is such an international city, in some sense it’s a microcosm of the world,” says Anne Ellegood (pictured on the left), senior curator at the Hammer museum. “With an exhibition like Made in L.A., we are committed to the dialogue between the local and the global.” Regarded as one of the city’s most exciting cultural events, the Hammer’s biennial exhibition, Made in L.A.—on view June through September—presents artwork created in the L.A. region, with an emphasis on emerging and under-the-radar artists. Co-curating the show is Assistant Curator Erin Christovale, who joined the museum in early 2017. “In L.A. there are a lot of artists who are risk-takers and put a new spin on their medium,” explains Christovale. “Here, there’s a mental space that’s more expansive, and artists tend to think outside the box.” When it comes to details on the exhibition, the duo are staying mum, but hint at one prevalent theme: the body. “In this political moment, a lot of us feel like our bodies and personal spaces are being attacked, so we want to represent that in the conversation,” says Christovale. “[Additionally], the show will reflect [on] the diversity of [this] city,” says Ellegood. “But it will also touch on how local issues can be thought through with an eye toward the rest of the world.” 

HOMEWARD BOUND
Artist Scott Campbell relocates his studio from NYC to the City of Angels.

“Los Angeles has had such a renaissance over the past five to seven years, especially within the art community,” says Scott Campbell, who’s well-known for both tattooing intricate designs on celebs like Orlando Bloom and for his fine art that ranges from paintings to watercolors to sculptures. “L.A. has become so relevant to the global art community, which is awesome—I now get to enjoy the sunshine year-round and not lose touch with my European clients and collectors.” While all of Campbell’s pieces are impressive, he’s most recognized for his intricately carved sculptures made out of U.S. currency. “Money is a powerful medium to work with, it’s like this Trojan horse,” says the artist. “People can’t ignore it. I literally cut up $10,000 worth of cash and turn it into art, which takes both time and money—two precious things.” Campbell continues: “People interpret these pieces to be politically motivated—and they really are. I was caught off guard when I started cutting up the dollar bills. Even with my punk-rock, anti-establishment mentality, I realized that I had an emotional attachment to money and a reverence for this stuff. I don’t want to, but I do.”

Photo by Dylan + Jeni 

BASIC INSTINCT
Curator Viet-Nu Nguyen lets her gut guide her artistic edit.

“I’ve always liked curations that are a little quirky,” says Viet-Nu Nguyen, a Harvard Graduate School of Design vet who has served as curator of the Ovitz Family Collection for the past 10 years. Nguyen’s career path can also be described as slightly unconventional. Although the suburban Chicago native interned at The Art Institute of Chicago during school break, she worked primarily in the architecture department. “I wasn’t even that interested in architecture at the time, but I guess that’s where the seeds were sown for my graduate studies,” she says. Post-grad, Nguyen moved to L.A., where she landed a job at the Sandroni Rey gallery. “The art world wasn’t too market-driven quite yet, [and] young artists were actually able to make a living,” says Nguyen. Now, the environment is quite different. “Unfortunately, everyone seems to be collecting with their ears, opposed to their eyes,” she says. “It’s hard to focus and even more difficult to trust your gut, but I hope that people slow down and actually look at things. They should take some risks and buy what they truly like.” Luckily, here in L.A., inspiring options abound. “Ever since I moved [here] in 2014, people have been saying ‘L.A. is the place to be,’” says Nguyen, who recently purchased a piece by local artist Kelly Akashi. “I like to say ‘L.A. is the new New York, and New York is the new L.A.’ I think I’m right about that. Have you noticed how bad traffic is in New York these days?”

ONE TO WATCH
Nick Darmstaedter proves to be the next big thing in L.A.’s art scene.

“There’s something romantic about the Hollywood dream and the people who move here to become stars,” muses Nick Darmstaedter, reflecting on what drew him back to Los Angeles after a decade honing his talent in New York, first at the School of Visual Arts, and then as a member of influential Brooklyn art collective The Still House Group. The artist shares his native city’s fascination with reinvention. His sure hand manipulates the simple detritus of American life—pennies, refrigerator magnets, car parts—into mesmerizing pieces that have earned him solo exhibitions at galleries ranging from Galerie Rodolphe Janssen in Brussels to Bugada & Cargnel in Paris to David Zwirner Gallery in New York. Not content to work on one thing or in one medium at a time, the artist is currently vibrating between three projects—a group of oil and enamel paintings on movie posters; an installation of found-object sculptures pedestaled on Amazon Prime boxes; and a series of oversize resin pieces, based on urinal screens—housed in three rooms of his sprawling, light-filled apartment in Koreatown’s historic Talmadge building. “Even as far back as the gold rush, there’s always been this sense of excitement in the West, this feeling that there’s room for something new, that it’s a place to grow and expand.” In other words, it’s the perfect setting for an artist whose star is shooting skyward. 

Vet-Nu Nguyen photo by JSquared