There are two ways of traveling in search of art: one is go to far away places and another, perhaps even more challenging, is to turn a fresh eye on things that are there, right under your nose. After all the traveling that I've done in the recent months, last Saturday spent in LA turned out to be especially full of surprises. I promised to take a group of aspiring collectors on a tour of galleries, artist studios and collectors' homes and, literally, until the last moment I was still rearranging the schedule. It takes some friendly arm-twisting to persuade a collector to open their home to, basically, a bunch of strangers. And artists feel protective of their studios as well; they want people to see their art but prefer to let the art speak for itself and if asked to talk about it they often feel nervous.
With the astonishing exhibition of the Robert Rauschenberg art currently at MOCA, I thought it would make good sense to check out the exhibition of his prints at Ikon Limited, a gallery tucked inside Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Covering a fifty year span of Rauschenberg's career, there were a few dozen limited edition prints ranging in price from $4,000 to $30,000 and a couple of original works at about a quarter of a million dollars each. I wanted people in my group to realize that one can still buy a good print by a very famous artist without paying an arm and a leg. Though there is a good rule to follow: Stay away from large edition prints running into the hundreds. After all, most of the serious artists who are working in printmaking want to experiment with new ideas, not just make money by flooding the market with hundreds of prints of the same image.
Our next stop was in the Santa Monica Airport at the studio of well-known Los Angeles artist, Rachel Lachowicz. I became aware of her works, more than a decade ago, after seeing her sculpture of three urinals made out of flaming red lipstick: a brilliant feminist statement and, of course, a nod to the famous readymade by Marcel Duchamp. These days Rachel is preoccupied with working with yet another unusual material you would probably never associate with art-making-- eye shadow. Hundreds of tiny, metal containers--varying in shapes and filled with compressed, colorful powder--are welded together. From a distance these colorful dots are fused into images evoking iconic works such as Andy Warhol's "Flowers," Chuck Close's "Self-Portraits" and Ellsworth Kelly's abstract geometric compositions. Far from being gimmicky, Rachel's work holds your attention long after one discovers the amusing nature of the material she is using. She does not merely appropriate works of famous artists, but adds a new and unexpected dimension to them. As I hoped, the group of art aficionados I brought to her studio totally "got" her work and how could they not? Her sculpted paintings look gorgeous and smart at the same time. And the artist, herself, proved to be an engaging and wonderfully entertaining speaker.
Hmm... and talking about being smart; on a day when temperatures hit 110--, all twenty of us drove from the ocean breezes of Santa Monica to the sweltering heat of the Valley to the home of celebrated photography collectors, Mus and Stephen White. In the 1970's, their gallery on La Cienega Boulevard was the first Los Angeles gallery devoted to photography. Their house turned out to be the coolest place to enjoy the history of photography from 19th century daguerreotypes to choice works by virtually all leading 20th century photographers. One rarely has a chance to see a vintage photographic print unframed and not behind glass. I would compare it with the pleasure of actually tasting gourmet food versus merely looking at it in a display window. Listening to Stephen's utterly fascinating history of working first as a croupier in a casino and then as a probation officer in the LA prison system (before he embarked on collecting and dealing with photography), I started thinking about changing the name of my class from the "Fine Art of Art Collecting" to the "Fine Art of Living with Art".
2525 Michigan Avenue Unit G4
Santa Monica, California
Exhibition of prints by Robert Rauschenberg
On view until August 12
Rachel Lachowicz is represented by Shoshana Wayne Gallery
2525 Michigan Avenue Unit B1
Santa Monica, California
Stephen White's novel, A Lunatic Love Life,and
Mus White's Jasmine in My Hand
were recently published by Sunswept Press.