Bangkok, Thailand. 31 December 2023 (2566!).
The new year – ปีใหม่, roughly bpee mai in Thai – is on the cusp. The switch to 2567 (Buddhist calendar) is imminent. Not sure if that number has any astrological significance but it will certainly improve my muscle-memory for typing the number ๗.
I was in LA and in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Enough pixels have been spilled on the difference, but before I talk about some great art I saw in LA, here’s proof that even little old StaFe has some underground action, and of course one from the Newer City of Angels – I bet you can guess which is which.
One detects a theme! Honestly, as I slowly get to know Santa Fe a little bit at a time, and get to know Los Angeles better (alas too slowly), I find that the part of the former I really like is the proletarian, Mexican-and-Indigenous part; and I like that part of LA as well. In LA it is a community that is very much “arted up” – is it in New Mexico as well? Sooner or later I’m going to find out.
So three cheers and again three more for public-service art like the two anonymous masterpieces shown above. Now onward…
This trip to LA was sadly very short, I only had time to see one friend and one set of galleries.
First, a very minor digression. In principle I understand the need for higher-end galleries to have big industrial spaces. This need starts with the megalomania infesting art production since perhaps the 80’s, and dominating the art market since about 2010 (rough spitball dates here). I’m working on a theory connecting this to postwar German industrialist patrons of the arts, but that’s for another day. For now you can just blame Andy Warhol if you like.
So you want to sell big paintings for big money and you need big spaces to display them, but you’re not (yet) the Zwirner family and you can’t afford to plop them down in the cool part of town. Although, note to the ambitious: Karma Gallery managed it somehow!
The normal solution is to get yourself a building, or part of one, in a part of town nobody ever walks around in, because anyway you don’t care about “foot traffic” at those prices. And so it is with Nicodim and its neighbors, Vielmetter chief among them. It was worth the going, surely, but dude, is a friggin’ coffee shop too much to ask? It’s not like I’m expecting you to serve me lunch!
(NB: Highlight of the trip was chatting with the Ugandan Lyft driver about Idi Amin, but the art was a close second!)
Right then. What did I see?
First off, and this show was actually my reason for going out there, I had a look at the very high-minded and frankly difficult work of Joshua Hagler. You may, dear reader, recall that I wrote about his wife’s work over at Several Artists. As the gallery worker said, they are both very serious.
There are a lot of things I find interesting about this guy, interesting enough that some day I will try to write more about him, but the two that are front of mind are: first, how much postwar German art has influenced him (me too of course); and second, how very ernst is his undertaking, in fact intellectual – and I’m sure this makes it a slightly difficult journey because despite the fashionably massive sizes, this is work aimed squarely at the art museum. I have a hard time imagining it brightening the lobby of an investment bank. In fact, as he is clearly gaining traction in the art world, I worry – not for him, but for the work itself – that some of it may well end up stuck in a freeport because it’s probably a good investment but it’s a challenge to look at it. In a good way, if you’re serious about art, but is that what the hedge-funder collecting class is about?
As if the Nicodemians knew your brain might need a rest after pondering the Haglerverse, another of their galleries – there are three in the same building – had a show of fun paintings (good ones at that, and closer to human scale) by Xinyan Wang. Another artist to follow!
I could go on, but the clock strikes Lunch and I have to make it to the champagne store before it strikes Alkoholverkaufsverbot, a daily scourge in the Land of Smiles. So just briefly, if you’re still here, go have a look at Todd Gray. Another Very Serious Artist but playful, and in his best work, mind-expanding. Saw him at Vielmetter and was sad I would miss his talk there.
LA, as always, awaits with world-class art. Unlike my old home of San Francisco, you can feel the city’s ambition. I look forward to my next trip, and hope to have a few more days for it.
Closing note: drawing from life is great exercise, and one should do it more than once every few months. Drawing the figure is particularly difficult, maybe the most difficult thing because you have to not only draw what you see, you have to also not draw what you think you see. Many thanks to John Trollett and the Tuesday Night Drawing group for their hospitality!
Happy New Year! Next update in 2567…