Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brand Anxiety

11-12 February 2010

As a few of you may be aware, David McAuliffe and Nowell Karten of Angles Gallery hosted a ‘town hall’ style panel forum Wednesday night, led by dealer Marc Richards. (I’m sure there’s quite a bit posted all over Facebook by now – including, apparently, a bit of me.) I wasn’t quite sure what the agenda was going in; but 20 minutes or so into it (and I arrived there late, so we’re really talking about 30 minutes), it was clear that it was rather broad, mostly Marc Richards’ own, as far as I could tell, and as long as his arm. Oh my goddess was it long – as long as the gallery was over-heated (or simply underventillated, given the number of people in the gallery – not blaming David and Nowell who, after all, are new to this space, formerly Blum & Poe’s). An hour or so into it, I was dying under my layers of scarves and silk and cashmere and I was envying those smart people who had just worn T-shirts under their coats, sweaters and jackets. Broadly, the ‘topic’ at hand seemed to be the overall commercialization of the art market (which sounds a bit oxymoronic – as I’ve written before in artillery, it’s simply more obvious, routinized, economically cyclical and, yes, perhaps a little crass) and it’s nexus to public institutions, specifically museums of contemporary art. But, as I said, the larger points got a bit lost in Marc Richards’ endless questions and unwillingness to exercise a bit of editorial control over panelists and audience commentators. (Sure I include myself.) Whether anyone wanted to admit it or not, including Marc Richards, the focal point – or at least the trigger point – seemed to be the appointment of Jeffrey Deitch as the new Director of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art – which seemed, to put it mildly, odd and soooo off the point. Aren’t we all past this yet? Or even if we aren’t – and it appeared that more than one participant Wednesday night had mixed feelings about it, some of them, positively schizzy – you’d think we’d all be willing to just hold back the brickbats for a second (okay, four months) and ‘suspend disbelief’ for a moment. Frankly, speaking as the skeptical soul I am, I think it would be a relief.

Second to MOCA’s leadership, Richards’ agenda seemed to focus on MOCA itself, its management and trusteeship, past and current, its finances – and boy did Cliff Einstein and Dean Valentine both have a couple things to say about that, yet, tellingly, not nearly enough; and finally – what I thought going into this event, was going to be the main topic of the evening – the overall Los Angeles commercial art market, the emerging artists working within the economic parameters of that market, and the local L.A. art market’s and L.A.’s artists’ relationship to the larger, international art world and art market. You would think that last topic – already pretty broad – would be enough, but nooooo. And so I sweltered for well over two hours.

To address this last topic presumably, Richards brought, in addition to Dean Valentine, television executive, collector, and Hammer Museum trustee (and, as I learned this particular evening, a former MOCA trustee), Sarah Watson – who most of us have known from the Gagosian Gallery here and who has taken over directorship of the L.A. outpost of New York’s L&M Gallery, which is still under construction – to complete his panel. Those of us who have known Sarah from her long stint at Gagosian know her to be engaged by and supportive of local artists. It would have been nice to hear her weigh in further on a subject she is probably uniquely positioned to address – and there were a few emerging artists in the audience who were there for just such input, including an irrepressible Yun Bai – who, once based in Atlanta, held forth at some length on the dazzlements and disillusionments the politics of the Los Angeles art world has thus far presented to her. (Richards asked her if she might be available for a future panel.)

What is interesting about gatherings like this one is that you find out that people you think you know – or at least feel familiar with as ‘ known quanities’ in one context or another – turn out to be, something not quite completely ‘knowable’, whether in the art world or any other other social world they might inhabit. Some seem puzzling indeed, perhaps unknowable even to themselves, with a raft of tics and insecurities you might never suspect from seeing them at openings, auctions or museum functions. One common lingering insecurity is – incredibly, and, less-than-relevantly in 2010 – L.A.’s status as an “international” art center. I sat next to roving collector Lenore Schorr and directly in front of Don and Mira Rubell of Miami, who seemed to agree that L.A. has a kind of ‘second city insecurity’ problem – both respect to its status and its attitude towards its own L.A.-based artists – attitudes, as the Rubells were quick to observe, not unrelated to each other.