W ith California representing the fifth largest economy in the world, is it any surprise that it is now hyped as the next art hub in the Western Hemisphere? Private museums and foundations opening one after another, the projected re-vamping of LACMA, the much-anticipated opening of the city’s new Institute of Contemporary Art, the development of a trendy and exciting downtown Art District featuring the high-flying Hauser and Wirth, are all proving to be of huge interest to the art-loving community.
Los Angeles (or Tehran-geles, as some know it!), is home to approximately half a million Iranians, with a fast-growing visitor population from Arab countries, resulting from direct flights from Dubai and Doha. The climate and lifestyle appeal to Middle-Easterners, and local residents are waking up to the joys of art appreciation. In early June I arrived there for the filming of an interview with US-based Iranian artist Reza Derakshani in the grounds of LACMA’s beautiful Sculpture Garden. Reza will be having a solo show at Sotheby's Hong Kong S2 space in November, for which this educational element is intended. Holding the largest collection of Middle Eastern Art in North America, LACMA in partnership with Artvocatsy and Sotheby's, also hosted a panel talk on June 6 that featured Curator Linda Komaroff, collector Houman Sarshar, Photography Curator Rebecca Morse, and myself. An unprecedented attendance response gave indication of the appetite for educational initiatives, and subsequent press coverage made the information available to a larger public.
Visiting the brand new Marciano Art Foundation space was another eye-opening experience. At only three weeks old, it is already making headlines and wowing LA crowds with its imaginative re-purposing of a former Masonic Temple that had lain empty for nearly 20 years. This glorious building, centrally located in the Windsor Square neighbourhood offers stunning exhibition spaces, with a mission to broadly communicate historically significant developments in art history while continuously considering current sociopolitical conditions and contemporary visual culture. With over 1500 works dating from the 1990s to the present, by more than 200 artists, the Collection embodies a variety of formal and conceptual approaches in all mediums.
The inaugural exhibition aptly named ‘’Unpacking” attempts to showcase the collection’s breadth and depth, with references to archeology and cultural diversity. A major site-specific installation by Alex Israel, and Jim Shaw’s ‘The Wig Museum’ infuse this exploration of past and present with irony and wit, though the impact of a monumental Cindy Sherman in the entrance hall gives no doubt as to the contemporary feel of the collection.
Adrian Villar Rojas’ striking 17-foot “Two Suns” explores the staging of relics of so-called lost cultures: here, David lies prone, not clear whether dreaming or defeated. Naturally my eyes were drawn to a prominent and beautiful El Anatsui which, along with great works by Latifa Echakhch and Walead Beshty, hint at an awareness of cultural diversity within the collection.
My trip fittingly ended with attending Sotheby's own preview cocktail for a fabulous S2 show by Chinese artist Li Jin, subtitled ‘A Devout Foodist’s Journey to the West’.
Chairman Andrea Fiucszinski calls the show a ‘gustatory tour de force’, and I must say the artist’s sharp, witty and irreverent observations of people, food and places taken from his extensive travels, prove not just celebratory but uplifting.
Sketching and painting from LA to Las Vegas and NY, Li Jin generously shares his sense of fun, luscious women, and ribald wit. This menu of 40 paintings of exuberant ink on paper and two enamelled sculptures, are a definite must-see on the LA art circuit.