By LITA BARRIE, August 2021
For those who love to gallery hop, the inaugural Gallery Weekend Los Angeles made the city’s art destinations more accessible by mapping out specific neighborhoods and the gallery clusters within each. This citywide event featuring over 70 local galleries and art spaces was timed to coincide with the LA Art Show and the prestigious Felix Art Fair. For many art aficionados, it was also the first opportunity to reconnect in person after the isolation of the pandemic while discovering new gems in a sprawling cosmopolitan metropolis that is difficult to navigate without a map.
The foldout pamphlet for Gallery Weekend Los Angeles (July 28 through August 1. 2021), provides invaluable maps of four “Neighborhood Days”: West, North, Central and East. The galleries within each “neighborhood” held extended hours, openings, brunches, talks and book launchings on their designated day.
This four-day event was organized by Gallery Association Los Angeles (GALA), a coalition of galleries, that decided to pull their resources together during the COVID lockdown. Gallerist Jeffrey Deitch initiated the idea of the website, Gallery Platform.LA which was further developed by an operating committee of 15 gallerists, who then invited others to participate. The website debuted on May 15, 2020, with 10 gallery presentations each week along with editorial content. This collaborative platform cuts through the confusion created by an excessive amount of online viewing rooms (VRs) because it is more accessible to people who want to see what is happening citywide. It also helps lesser-known, small galleries reach a wider audience through their association with mega-galleries and A-list galleries.
As Marta Fontolan, director of Sprüth Magers, told me, “the platform started when people came together in a moment of precariousness” to “nurture and inspire more collegiality.” GALA members realized they could cross-promote and support one another’s programs in a mutually beneficial way. Fontolan emphasizes that “rather than branding the city as a superficial soundbite the weekend is an immersive experience of the complex and diverse make-up of the city.
Los Angeles has a history of galleries pulling together in difficult times. During the recession of 1993, the L.A. International Biennial Art Invitational “started in the same way, as a grass-roots, homegrown initiative,” according to gallerist William Turner. The LA International was organized by Christopher Ford and Sandra Starr in the first year, then Turner and Robert Berman became co-chairs from 1995 to 2003. Turner explains that, “the idea was that we were all supporting LA’s cultural expansion by using our gallery spaces to exhibit artists from abroad to foster dialogue between LA and the international art world.” The LA International continued to expand for six seasons, starting off so small it was nicknamed a “suitcase biennial,” then becoming a major event with over 2,500 attending the first night openings at museums. This citywide event also received more substantial funding and good press coverage in the LA Times, Artforum, Sculpture.
Olivia Barrett, who runs Château Shatto told me many gallerists agreed that “far too much significance was given to fair outings rather than the exhibitions and the gallery program.” The gallery-driven weekend “reinstated the primacy of the physical space” she explained “casting a psychological net over the city and turning attention to strong exhibitions and the cultural fabric of the city.”
The weekend had many high points, including INHERENT FORM, Regen Project’s stunning thematic group exhibition of legendary sculptors who explore the meaning of their material and form, beautifully presented on the gallery rooftop. Lawrence Weiner’s site-specific text ‘WHATEVER WAS SOMEWHERE ELSE BEFORE’ emblazoned on the wall helped to contextualize other works: the biomorphic parallels between Liz Larner and Elliott Hundley’s bronze sculptures as well as the optical parallels between Anish Kapoor’s stainless steel sculpture and Dan Graham’s 2-way-mirror pavilion for a roof terrace.
Gallery Weekend also ran concurrently with the Los Angeles edition of the Frieze Viewing Room. Hauser and Wirth presented In Focus: LA Artists exploring intergenerational mentor-mentee relationships between the gallery’s Los Angeles artists, most of whom either taught or studied at the city’s most esteemed art schools: CalArts, UCLA and ArtCenter. Mike Kelly, Paul McCarthy, Richard Jackson and Charles Gaines were influential educators for the next generation who built on their innovations: Jason Rhoades, Mark Bradford, Henry Taylor, Diana Thater and Gary Simmons. Selections from this group were simultaneously featured in the gallery’s digital offering as part of the Frieze Viewing Room, much like LA Louver’s group exhibition, Frieze Viewing Room: Los Angeles Edition which featured work from the 1980s by LA artists Ed Ruscha, John McCracken, Edward & Nancy Kienholz, Alison Saar and others.
It was also exhilarating to visit the post-pandemic expansions of Anat Ebgi Gallery and Luis de Jesus Gallery, both of which have relocated and expanded their programs. Carlson Hatton’s must-see exhibition of dynamic, multi-layered paintings in one gallery room at Luis de Jesus, navigates complex detours and returns by combining dense patterning, intricate figuration and subtle marking in emotionally-charged, vibrant colors. David Kordansky Gallery’s thematic exhibition,The Galaxy Song, explores the influence of the Grateful Dead and 1960s counterculture narratives and motifs on Matthew Brannon’s spectacular large-scale silkscreen prints that combine celestial painted elements and artists-fashion designers Elijah Funk & Alix Ross’ darkly humorous ceramics.
Gagosian’s phenomenal exhibition of Albert Oehlen’s monumental 40 foot paintings riffing off puzzling motifs in John Graham’s Tramonto Spaventoso, is installed in a custom-made, octagonal structure based on the Rothko Chapel in the gallery’s new location inside the Grand Theater gallery at Marciano Art Foundation. At the Beverly Hills location, Gagosian has two stupendous exhibitions: Nancy Rubins’ evocative abstract sculptures which transform found objects and industrial materials into beautiful rhizomatic patterns and Frank Gehry’s mesmerizing installation of giant suspended balletic fish lamps. Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Los Angeles’ meditative installation of Jamaican-American artist Nari Ward’s sculptures transforms found street materials into objects of contemplation.
Sprüth Magers’ historically important exhibition of John Baldessari’s final series of paintings, The Space Between (2019), explores the spaces between people, things and ideas in text and image works. This homage to Baldessari is well-timed to underscore the way legendary LA artist-teachers leave a legacy that lives on through the next generation of artists which is an important through line in the weekend exhibitions. LA has more art schools than any city in the world.
The unexpected gems in smaller galleries include, a witty exhibition at Five Car Garage - in Emma Gray’s residence - of Michelle Carla Handel, who just won the 2020 Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant. Handel’s exquisitely crafted work plays with reflection and perception using materials that are never quite what they appear to be on closer viewing. At Château Shatto, the Australian-born owner, Olivia Barrett has a third solo show of fellow Australian, Helen Johnson. Five suspended large-scale paintings explore “institutional beings” who embody and replicate the attitudes they absorbed working for institutions.
The optimism Gallery Weekend LA generated was palpable as I visited consistently crowded galleries where we all became ambassadors for the city, by ushering visitors to other galleries nearby. LA is a city of artists much like its sister city Berlin. Interestingly, Gallery Weekend Berlin started in 2004 as a private initiative of Berlin galleries, then established itself as a leading German art event for contemporary art. The LA event certainly felt like an exciting beginning of something similar.
LA has always been a city of innovation for artists, scientists and filmmakers. It is a gigantic laboratory where innovators come to figure out how to go to outer space (JPL), how to make electric cars (Tesla) and how to make films (Hollywood). It is a do-it-yourself culture where artists repurpose junk to make assemblage art, use reflective industrial materials to explore new perceptions of light and space; combine text and images appropriated from street signs, and use cinematic “Rembrandt lighting” inspired by old master’s chiaroscuro technique, to create luminous hyper-realistic paintings. It is a city of cross-pollination where creatives in different fields, inspire each other. Even the mentor-mentee relationships between intergenerational artists in acclaimed LA art schools exude a spirit of innovation because the most legendary artist-teachers — like John Baldessari, Charles White, Charles Gaines, Mike Kelly, Paul McCarthy, Larry Pittman, Barbara Kruger and Catherine Opie — do not teach a style of art, they teach new ways to think about art.
Crisis brings out the best in Angelenos because LA is a frontier culture: a city of not-giving-a-fuck, with a “no rules” approach to creativity. Gallery Weekend Los Angeles breathed new life into an artist city known for “sunshine and noir” by providing a spotlight on an art landscape that is multidimensional. WM
Lita Barrie is a freelance art critic based in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in Hyperallergic, Riot Material, Apricota Journal, Painter’s Table, ArtnowLA, HuffPost, Painter’s Table, Artweek.L.A, art ltd and Art Agenda. In the 90s Barrie wrote for Artspace, Art Issues, Artweek, Visions andVernacular. She was born in New Zealand where she wrote a weekly newspaper art column for the New Zealand National Business Review and contributed to The Listener, Art New Zealand, AGMANZ, ANTIC, Sites and Landfall. She also conducted live interviews with artists for Radio New Zealand’s Access Radio. Barrie has written numerous essays for art gallery and museum catalogs including: Barbara Kruger (National Art Gallery New Zealand) and Roland Reiss ( Cal State University Fullerton). Barrie taught aesthetic philosophy at Claremont Graduate University, Art Center and Otis School of Art and Design. In New Zealand, Barrie was awarded three Queen Elizabeth 11 Arts Council grants and a Harkness grant for art criticism. Her feminist interventions are discussed in The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand and an archive of her writing is held in The New Zealand National Library, Te Puna Matauranga Aotearoa.view all articles from this author