|There are moments when true frustration at the pace of the art world gets to us all. Have you ever had an obtuse friend bring images of his or her latest artworks to the opening of your show? Ever received the letter from your former art school classmate raging that you only spent thirty seconds chatting with them at your opening? The same opening where you encountered more than one friend inquiring, “Heard about anything good going on tonight?”
Our friends and colleagues in the art world are often the very people who hold us back. Have you ever turned down an invitation to an exclusive art world dinner because you felt obligated to go to an opening at an out of the way space for an artist with whom you once socialized? We are all frustrated by the occasional rude friend who can only ask us for an introduction to a powerful art world ally instead of congratulating us on our occasional success. Why are friends such clods? They are seemingly never there when we are lonely or need some help and encouragement, but are always happy to sit down and gab the minute we have the attention of art scene powerbroker.
So much of our time outside the studio is spent in awkward social situations. Artists and those attracted to high visual culture tend to not have the skill set necessary to navigate the tortuous routes of pleasantries interwoven with networking. And those who do, who flit about with the beauty of a butterfly and the precision of a bunker buster, they cannot make an artwork to sustain their career if their life depended on it. These types are gone pretty quickly. Along with those cads called friends who cannot leave you alone when you are actually accomplishing something.
But there are people who last through all of this; people who make great art and important cultural contributions. They get out to the same openings through which we all awkwardly make our way. And they have been involved in this ritual longer than most of us have been alive. As we make the rounds, shake the hands and try to take in the art, they loom as assurances that we are more than new skin for the old ceremony.
|In the center of Ace Gallery’s Beverly Hills space are two comfortable settees on which one can rest and ponder whatever is on the gallery’s walls. At a September weekend reception, my girlfriend and I took a break from the twirl and sat down, admiring the crowd of monied collectors, aspiring model starlets and four generations of artists milling in front of the many big abstract paintings on display. Sitting next to us, peacefully meditating on the scene was Ed Moses, at 79 perhaps the dean of the Los Angeles art world. Utterly serene, almost motionless, he took in this gathering.
My girlfriend noticed the moment, “I could see this filmed as the last lingering scene of his biopic.” I agreed, adding only that it would be perfect if we could see him like this in a gallery of his own paintings. “Oh no,” she said, “That would ruin everything. This is L.A., even if you’re Ed Moses, you’re always at someone else’s opening.”
|A few days deeper into Autumn I asked artist Llyn Foulkes if he had gone to any upcoming gallery openings--almost 90 openings had been tabulated for the weekend. He’d hit a few. “I was on the phone with Irving Blum,” he began, unclear as to whether this phone call kept him from making the scene, “he wants to come see the studio, we had a great talk. I apologized for being rude to him in the 1970s. They’re all calling, they’re interested in me again. . .”
Foulkes, 71, then offered a fascinating anecdote of the late Walter Hopps phoning him, semi-coherent, earlier this year, rambling about putting together a big show on the history of the Los Angeles art world. Foulkes said Hopps contacted him three times, each call delivering a pitch about the show as if it were the first notice. “Walter saw the end coming and he wanted one more shot at glory. He wanted to attach his name to as many people as possible in case any of us end up being remembered as,” and the sarcasm stretched a smirk across Llyn’s face as his voice went up another octave in mock epic excitement, “THE Los Angeles artist.”
|Meanwhile, painter Roland Reiss--chronologically somewhere ahead of Foulkes and behind Moses--had spent the big September weekend at the opening of a group show in which he was included. It was at a Downtown alternative space, where almost any emerging artist can whet their desire to be part of the L.A. art world.
With his attractive, younger wife at his side, pleasantly greeting all comers, he’s proud of his newest painting and happy to see you. Reiss has been in Documenta, the Whitney Biennial and a thousand prestigious exhibits in between, but now he was here and his indefatigable demeanor would have you believe there was no place else to be.
|At an L.A. Artcore-sponsored awards banquet in October, the ageless artist Lydia Takeshita, Artcore’s founder and executive director, agilely mingles among the thirty tables prior to a short program of introductions and honors of art luminaries. One of the honorees laments that without State support, the very existence of community arts groups are in peril. The applause is polite, the crowd seems in agreement.
But deeds, not words, run Lydia’s community arts organization. The speakers give way to an auctioneer who proceeds to bid up forty paintings on hand to raise money for Artcore. The white-haired wonder that is Ms Lydia smiles broadly at each crack of the gavel. She sees her community arts organization net over $30,000 in one night; not a dime of it from the State. Just results.
|It is a lonely art world once the glamour has been extinguished and mortality remains the sole certainty. And yet, even the artists who have been to the mountaintop continue on their idiosyncratic rounds with the faith of the pilgrim and the consistency of the postman. There is something redemptive about their continued presence that makes the art world go ‘round. Something about their showing up to validate the long-term viability of this entire social structure clumsily carrying culture into the 21st century, something that makes the gaps in between our victories easier to tolerate, enjoyable in and of themselves.
Mat Gleason is the publisher of Coagula Art Journal, President of the Brewery Artwalk Association and was recently appointed Director of the I-5 Gallery in Lincoln Heights.