Inside the L.A. Art World

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at090818e.jpgSummertime, and the livin' is easy...You are probably packing for a trip and looking for a book to read, so here's my suggestion: the recently published collection of essays by Los Angeles art insiders who spill their guts in conversation with Richard Hertz – himself a consummate insider of the LA art world, with experience teaching at Caltech and CalArts as well as heading the Department of Graduate Studies at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Among the thirty plus people who contributed to The Beat and the Buzz: Inside the L.A. Art World are a number of well-known artists, dealers, collectors, and museum professionals. The book is "one-third a history of the Los Angeles art world since 1970, one-third about the psycho-dynamics of how people make it, or don't, and one-third art world gossip and stories." Though I pride myself on knowing a thing or two about the LA art scene's movers and shakers, still I was amazed at how much they were willing to reveal about themselves.

at090818a.jpgLet's start with the irrepressible Ed Moses, one of LA's best-known and most well-respected artists, who in his 80's retains the spunk of someone half his age:

"In 1943, when I was seventeen, I decided to join the Navy...when I was twenty-two I got out of the service and decided I was going to become a doctor...but I could never memorize anything. For three years I got D's, F's, and C's, and with those grades I couldn't get into any medical school in the U.S. A friend of mine told me about an eccentric art teacher...who was teaching at Long Beach...[later] I transferred to UCLA. It had a shitty art department and I hated it. I stayed there for about a year and transferred to the University of Oregon. It was too conservative. I returned to UCLA, still hated Steinbeck's Cannery Row, and decided to go up to Carmel and Monterey. There I got a job on a sardine clipper ship..."

In the late 50s, Ed moved to New York, where he hung out at the Cedar Tavern with Franz Kline, de Kooning, and Rothko:

"I was just one of the punks. They'd tolerate us like I tolerate young kids now, which is just barely."

You will get many more golden nuggets from this wonderfully cantankerous artist if you read his entire essay.

at090818b.jpgAnother denizen of the LA art scene, Tony Berlant, an artist famous for his metal collages, observes somewhat sardonically:

"Like in a Fellini movie, the art world seems populated by a somewhat pathetic mob of people. The scene is filled with desperation, in particular the desperation to be recognized...People love to go to the openings. There is almost nowhere else you can go where you can have a free glass of cheap wine...I'm fascinated to see certain people I don’t know show up regularly. I often wonder who they are but don't really want to find out. Everybody has some kind of act, and the art opening has become a cultural icon."

at090818d.jpgCliff and Mandy Einstein, good friends of mine whose contemporary art collection is rightly considered one of the best in the city, share these thoughts on collecting:

at090818c.jpg"When you put things on walls to cover them up, you're decorating. You aren't collecting. The transition from decorator to collector is the day you buy one more thing than you can hang. Then you're saying, "I don't need it, but I have to have it." ... Art collecting is a joyful and fulfilling activity. It allows you to exchange discourse and passions with some of the world's most enlightened and interesting people. It motivates you to travel, to socialize, and to connect with people you might never meet..."

As for yours truly, my essay for this book is about arriving thirty years ago in this City of Angels, where I've had the good fortune to get to know a lot of amazing people in the art world – definitely not all of them angels, but that's another story.

Banner: Three paintings by Ed Moses, all from the series Untitled, 1975-1977
Acrylic and masking tape on Strathmore Board
Framed, 61 x 41 1/2 inches, signed and dated in pencil