No More La La Land, Part II: How Los Angeles Became the Center of the Art World
February 29, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last October’s opening of Pacific Standard Time, the Getty Center-organized mega-show of Los Angeles art from 1945-1980, was greeted with much fanfare in the national and international press, though from different perspectives. While California publications viewed the linked exhibitions at 130 museums and galleries as a long-delayed retrospective of the area’s painting, sculpture, design and photography, those outside California seemed to regard PST as revelatory, as if Southern California and its enormously varied trove of artwork had just been discovered.
Nowhere was the reaction to PST more confused than in the New York Times. A review by Adam Nagourney–http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/arts/design/southern-california-claims-its-place-on-the-art-world-map.html
–lauded the exhibition while noting:
No one is suggesting that Los Angeles is about to supplant New York as an art capital; it is not lost on people here that the executive directors of three of the four biggest museums in Los Angeles are from New York.
Here Nagourney has it backwards: Michael Govan and Jeffrey Deitch are here because Los Angeles represents the art world’s present and future, not because they’ve taken up missionary work. Nor for that matter has Larry Gagosian, whose first gallery opened here in 1979 and whose Beverly Hills gallery opened in 1995. Ironically, Nagourney’s comment that New York still contains the greatest concentration of galleries, museums and buyers is exactly the same argument that Parisians made after World War II, when all signs pointed to New York.
The pertinent question is whether the art world centers on those who make art or those who consume it. If it’s the latter, New York still reigns. But if it’s the former–as it was in New York from approximately 1945-2000–the center of the art world moved west some time ago.
The reasons for this aren’t hard to fathom. New York has become increasingly inhospitable to young artists due to its exorbitant cost of living, which puts studio space out of reach for all but the wealthiest and most established artists. In the last thirty years, young artists have gone from Soho to Chelsea to Brooklyn to Queens in search of studio space, gentrifying each before being forced out by rising rents. The last stop seems to be the South Bronx, where studios reportedly are still within reach. When that area becomes gentrified, artists will be shut out of New York City entirely, leaving it to the one per centers. Unfortunately for them, a city can’t be an art capital without artists, however many hedge fund managers decide to take up collecting.
In fact, New York stopped being an essential destination for young artists years ago. Bypassing the city altogether, they found other, more welcoming places to live and work: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland and–most of all–Los Angeles. Those who came to study at Art Center, UCLA and Cal Arts simply stayed; others made Los Angeles their destination of choice. While rents here are hardly cheap, it’s still possible for young artists to find studio space, as well as a community of like-minded artists, a lively gallery scene, and more museums than they can reasonably visit in a year.
Beyond the art world, Los Angeles has a creative atmosphere unmatched by that of New York or anywhere else. That the film and music industries are centered here provides still greater ferment, allowing writers, animators, painters, sculptors, musicians and other creative artists to inspire each other’s work.
I’ve long felt that Los Angeles is the most creative city in the United States, if not the planet, and PST has gone a long way toward promoting that idea. But it was a recent radio interview with Werner Herzog that made me realize others feel the same way. Much to my surprise, I discovered Herzog has been living in Los Angeles for the better part of two decades, making a film a year and running the semi-secret Rogue Film School. When he stated that Los Angeles was most culturally important place in the world, the interviewer asked what about New York? Herzog replied that New York was “more on the receiving end of culture,” whereas the actual creative work was happening here.
In light of this, Adam Nagourney’s assertions that “the sheer sprawl of the city” and “the difficulty of encouraging people to walk inside for anything but a movie in a city that has glorious weather so many months of the year” work against Los Angeles as an art capital seem nothing more than desperate cliches. And the latter comment, made despite ample evidence of crowds at LACMA, the Getty and MOCA, is a New Yorker’s fantasy of life in LA, not the art-filled reality.