PETER FRANK

LETTER TO NEW YORK '96

Dudes!

Have you recovered yet? No, not from the elections; from our visit, and especially from that wild wedding. Now we know what happens when the New York and Los Angeles art worlds converge on an Upper East Side church in a driving rainstorm (One thing I noticed is that the New Yorkers were more skillful at finding cabs over to the reception. I've lost my knack; my first impulse was to go the basement and look for the valet. All I found down there was the deacon putting on his raincoat). René Ricard left before I got a chance to talk to him and find out what he thought of how he was portrayed in Basquiat. I thought the portrayal was too sedate (Although René was on his best behavior at the reception--unlike some people we know).

Thanks for arranging beautiful weather the rest of my stay. I never was too fond of tromping around SoHo or 57th Street in the rain (or snow, or icy wind --although dead of night was fine, except very few galleries were open), so the spate of meteorological clemency made it easier for me to cover a lot of ground. I still wasn't able to get out to the wilds of Williamsburgh (maybe I should just book a tour with you next spring and stop trying to do it at the butt end of my schedule). But I did cover the new West Chelsea gallery area, and got in more SoHo establishments than I usually do (among them several in that other frontier territory across 6th Avenue from SoHo proper--including the New York incarnation of Ace, every bit as cathedralic as its L.A. counterpart).

Is it my imagination, or is the New York scene reviving? It seemed to me to be rejuvenating--literally. Budding artistes in their '20s and early '30s are creating new, less formal shows, exhibition spaces, clubs, events and circumstances to an extent I haven't seen since the East Village tanked around 1986. New York now feels like Los Angeles at its spunkiest. And this despite everybody complaining to me about rents and loft purchase costs heading skyward since the beginning of the year, as if the real estate market were simply taking up where it left off before the recession. Maybe the new galleries are being backed by their landlords.

That must be the story, to some extent in West Chelsea (Are you guys calling it WeChe? And if so, is that pronounced WeeChee or WehCheh? Aw c'mon, you knew it was inevitable). For instance, that building on 26th with several dozen studios, two galleries, and who knows what-all else--this is art-friendly development. If the landlord is taking art as rent payment, (s)he is building up a killer collection. I'm duly impressed, albeit not overawed. It's a bit like the Brewery in downtown L.A., only smaller and, for art-world purposes, better situated. It does anchor the whole WeChe scene rather nicely. Not that the scene seems to need much help being anchored, what with all those big, glossy boxes sprawling on ground-floor spaces, looking out on cobblestones and rubble--just like SoHo in my salad days. If Paula Cooper, the first serious gallery in SoHo, is now in WeChe, well, there goes the neighborhood. Through the roof.

Annina Nosei's move also signals that WeChe has arrived. Annina adds both caché and excitement to the district (I didn't ask her what she thought of her portrayal in Schnabel's movie either--not that I was going to. In fact, I thought it was unfairly bitchy and two-dimensional. Annina's much more complex, much less slick than that. It may have been the film's unfairest caricature, turning her into a Mary Boone clone with an accent). What'd you think of Manuel Ocampo's show? Mo' better of the same, I thought, which is cool. And I finally found out where Manuel went after his year in Rome--he didn't come back to L.A., but moved to Spain. Interesting. I visited with another painter friend who's giving up his digs on 1st Street and also moving to Spain. Something's afoot. Keep an eye on Iberia, art fans. . .

Actually, a lot of Angelenos and ex-Angelenos were showing in town--an unusually high number of Southern Californians on view in Southern Manhattan. Guess Angelenos have gotten smart enough to demand fall rather than winter show dates (Slush, like smog, is exotic once, and once only).

Speaking of winter show dates and Angelenos showing elsewhere, the Beat Culture exhibition that we saw at the Whitney last year is now at the DeYoung Museum up in San Francisco until the end of the year. It's every bit as exciting, more coherent, and larger by about 50 items--most of which pertain to the San Francisco Beat scene. This serves to portray San Fran as the indisputable capital of Beatdom, rather than just equal in importance to New York and Los Angeles. I'll buy that argument: San Francisco was the only one of the three centers where Beat art and literature kept apace of and vitally fed each other (There wasn't much Beat writing in L.A., and the show unconvincingly passes off late Abstract Expressionism as New York's Beat art). Anyway, man, the show is, like, a kick all over again. If you do make that threatened pre-Xmas visit here we should all go up and check it out.

There's other good stuff in the Bay Area, too, and I didn't get to check out enough of it when there. I went up almost as soon as I got back from New York, which proved a bit dizzying (even though I didn't have to pack all over again), so I didn't kick into high gear until the art fair started, and then I mostly concentrated on it. What fair, you ask? The second Triton Art Fair, held in the jocularly avant garde Triton Hotel, which sits athwart the boundary line between the downtown gallery district and Chinatown. The first Triton was held at the time SFMOMA opened its new building south of Market Street about two years ago. That was a lot of fun, and did boffo business. The impression I got was that the Triton's second time around was a more qualified success. But that's typical of sophomore runs, especially when you don't have the coattails of a hot draw like the SFMOMA opening to ride. The most interesting thing about the Triton this time 'round was the prominent participation of Korean galleries. Keep the other eye on Korea.

Remember the first L.A. Art Fair in 1986, hard on the heels of MOCA's new building and LACMA's opening of the Anderson wing? It did great that year, and less well in '87--although 1988 and '89 were even better than the debut. By '91 or so, however, that fair was staggering, hit too hard in its youth by the recession. We buried the poor thing after '93. Now (despite rumors of other things brewing) L.A. has a slew of small, specialized fairs. Art Expo is baaack, evidently doing its best to transcend the purely commercial with some curated exhibitions (I was back east whilst it was on, so I can't tell you how it went), and our own hotel fair, the third annual Chateau Marmont thang, comes up momentarily. I'd say hop on a plane now and check it out, but you saw it before--and you'll see it again when you go to the next Gramercy Hotel fair, whose measured hipness mirrors the Chateau show's own. No accident, as the Gramercy gang is responsible for the Marmont-in (the Triton, on the other hand, is locally organized, and rather more eclectic in spirit). Anyway, it's a good opportunity for us to wallow in the cutting edge (if you like your meatphors scrambled) for a weekend.

I'm only now beginning to hear rumbles about the next L.A. Biennial. Our "Biennial" is more like a citywide art fair than a coordinated survey of contemporary art. Whatever it calls itself, it should be good. After all, in contrast to most such events, its second year was far superior to its first. I wonder who'll be converging on L.A. this summer. And from where. Hope we get a widely varied representation from all over the globe. I'd love to see again some of those Australian galleries who used to maintain great booths at the L.A. Art Fair, and maybe the Korean galleries will continue their outreach by participating. Also, it would be très def if any galleries from the former Soviet Bloc countries could take part, and how about somebody or something from the Netherlands or Belgium--or for that matter Argentina, Chile or Brazil? I wonder if the Biennial organizers are accepting wish lists.

At any rate, keep your third eye on Los Angeles.

P.