LOS ANGELES - As the first semester winds down for Sotheby's Institute MA students globally, we’re particularly anxious to hear how the school year's been going for our students out in Los Angeles. This year marks the inaugural year of our MA in Art Business program in LA, a partnership with the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. We caught up with Jonathan T. D. Neil, Director of our LA campus, to find out what our first cohort of west coast students have been up to this year and to learn a little bit more about the art market in Los Angeles. 

Jonathan T. D. Neil, Director of Sotheby's Institute's L.A. campus.

When did the art market in Los Angeles really start to come into its own?

It would be difficult to pinpoint a moment when LA’s market really emerged, but the art scene in LA is really a product of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1957, Edward Kienholz and Walter Hopps opened the Ferus Gallery, which is where Wallace Berman, Billy Al Bangston, Lynn Foukles, and Ed Ruscha, among others, had their first solo shows. Warhol’s Campbell Soup paintings were first shown at Ferus in 1962, but few sold. Under Irving Blum’s direction the gallery kept afloat until the mid ‘60s, right around the time that LACMA opened its doors and the ‘light and space’ and ‘finish fetish’ artists began to gain recognition. J. Paul Getty established his namesake trust in the early 1950s, and in the 1970s Norton Simon lent his name, money, and collection to the Pasadena Art Museum, which had already been making quite a mark with its acquisitions and exhibitions of modern art (Duchamp’s first retrospective was mounted there in 1963). Perhaps the 1990s, when Blum & Poe opened its doors and Gagosian opened in Beverly Hills, could be pegged as the moment when LA’s market began to look more like it does today, but of course one could say that about the contemporary art world generally.

Everyone says that the market in LA is expanding. What's fueling that growth?

Money, of course, but also a culture of collecting that was not as widespread on the west coast as it had been in the northeast or even in the midwest (from Dallas to Minneapolis, the midwest has long been an overlooked force in the history of American patronage). Established collectors in Los Angeles have begun to look beyond local artists, and there are a number of newer entrants—people who have been acquiring contemporary art, in particular, for no longer than 10 years – who have put together impressive collections in a short period of time. Add to this the fact that LA is very artist-friendly, has strong art schools, relatively inexpensive real estate, plenty of arts-related programming, and you begin to see the sources of that expansion

What's happening in LA right now? What should people be on the lookout for?

In the near term, the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair (Jan 30 - Feb 2). Now in its fifth year, ALAC has matured into something truly LA’s own. Longer term, be on the lookout for the opening of Hauser, Wirth, and Schimmel somewhere downtown, as well as the opening of Francois Ghebaly’s new space on E. Washington Blvd., just around the corner from Night Gallery. This area south of the 10 and just west of the LA River is poised to become a new center of energy.  

What are the key advantages of studying art business in LA?

The growth of the market, the presence of artists, the moves into new locales—there’s a sense that there is real opportunity out west. This has always been part of the American mythos for sure, but to be on the ground in LA and to speak with the artists and dealers and curators is to hear an optimism that has gone out of the conversation in New York. Combine this optimism and opportunity with a rigorous foundation in the fundamentals of finance, strategy and marketing provided by The Drucker School at CGU, and with Sotheby’s Institute’s specialized art business courses, and there’s very little that one can’t tackle here.


What kinds of things are the MA in Art Business students experiencing?

We've been busy! Outside the classroom, we organized a day in the galleries in Culver City and at Bergamot station speaking with the artists and gallery owners and directors about their work. Students previewed the fall sale at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) with owners Peter and Shannon Loughrey, who joined the students for a dinner afterwards. We also toured the California Pacific Triennial at the Orange County Museum of Art with Chief Curator Dan Cameron, who fielded the students questions in a Q&A afterwards. On their own, the students have been going to openings and lectures (I was pleased to run into a number of our students at a talk given by The New York Times chief art critic Roberta Smith) and some have begun internships at various LA galleries. This winter we’ll spend some time at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair, which will be somewhat of a teaser for our big spring trip: Art Basel Hong Kong.