Regen Projects Turns 25

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For many years, the LA contemporary art community has distinguished itself by maintaining that this is a great locus of creative production while New York is the commercial hub. While that certainly remains true, with gallerists often complaining that sales in LA can be lukewarm, it must be changing. This year marked the twentieth anniversaries of Christopher Grimes and Acme galleries. Many others are around the same age while LA Louver and Rosamund Felsen galleries date back to the late 1970s.

Sergej Jensen, "Untitled" (old vs. young), 2014
Acrylic on linen, 110 1/4 x 120 1/2 inches (280 x 306.1 cm)
© Sergej Jensen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Regen Projects, founded in 1989 by Stuart Regen. With co-director Shaun Caley, they were quick to spot and support young talent here and elsewhere, embracing artists who were influenced by the previous generation’s Conceptual art yet who integrated it with their own unique methods. Lari Pittman, Catherine Opie, James Welling, Liz Larner, Raymond Pettibon and Doug Aitkin come to mind as the LA-based contingent but Regen also was quick to show Matthew Barney, Richard Prince, Jack Pierson, Glenn Ligon and Lawrence Weiner. In 1991, the Regens were married. The gallery prospered then suffered during a recession. They rebranded as Regen Projects and relocated to 633 North Almont Drive. As success returned and accelerated, Regen relocated to Hollywood in 2012, buying a building and hiring Michael Maltzan to renovate it and seemingly inspiring a number of other dealers to move to the area.

Sergej Jensen, "Untitled (old vs. young)," 2014
Acrylic on linen, 110 1/4 x 120 1/2 inches (280 x 306.1 cm)
© Sergej Jensen. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

For this significant anniversary, Regen uses both gallery locations and her choice of artists is considered. The smaller Almont Drive location features the paintings of Sergej Jensen, which are a complete departure from what the Danish artist showed there two years ago. Instead of abstractions constructed of fabrics, he shows figurative works of muted coloration with references to themes from art history. One untitled work of two figures, one with backpack and walking stick, made me think of The Meeting, the 1854 painting by Gustave Courbet depicting an agreeable roadside encounter with his collector though different sources are equally at play. This incorporation of themes once thought daring, then classic, and now barely considered by contemporary artists, is a rich offering on many levels.

Installation view of "Gillian Wearing Fear and Loathing" at Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Photo by Brian Forrest
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

At the larger gallery at 6750 Santa Monica Boulevard, Regen shows "everyone," work by English artist Gillian Wearing, OBE, best known for her series wherein average people were asked to write down their private thoughts and then hold them up to be photographed and revealed publicly. The idea is continued in a video installation here with people donning masks before sharing their confessions on camera. The artist’s own identity is explored in the cast sculptures of her own hand with the remarks of different fortune tellers inscribed on the palms and in her own face cast as a silver mask. Both shows continue to January 24, 2015.

Gillian Wearing, "My Fortune and Misfortune" (detail), 2014
Resin, marble dust, oil paint and indelible ink
2 x 8 1/2 x 4 3/4 inches (5.1 x 21.6 x 12.1 cm)
© Gillian Wearing. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles

In addition to staying in business despite recessions and the premature death of her husband in 1998, Regen has been able to maintain close personal relationships with most of her artists, experiencing uncommonly few defections over the years. Years ago, I remember asking her about a controversial choice in the art presented by one of her artists. Her answer was simple but clearly one that works: "The artist is always right."