LA Times Calendar : “Putting the ‘art’ in party” : December 2006

LA Times Calendar : “Putting the ‘art’ in party” : December 2006


LA Times Calendar : December 21, 2006
Putting the ‘art’ in party
At gatherings grand and humble, art makes for a potent mixer across L.A.

But the art world social scene here has never exactly been what you’d call avant garde. At least not when it comes to feting homegrown talent and younger arts patrons outside established templates — black-tie institutional galas and Two Buck Chuck-fueled boho get-togethers being the perfunctory modes of celebrating modern art. And in terms of connecting it in any organic way to the entertainment industry, fashion, celebrity, indie rock and hipsterdom, L.A. still looks east for inspiration.

In recent weeks, however, several art-related events — in Hollywood, Elysian Park, West Hollywood and Culver City, respectively — have signaled an evolution in how Los Angeles will party in the name of art.

Each event derived a cerebral glamour from differing points on the pop-art continuum, crossing time-honored social divides in the process and raising both money for and awareness about Angeleno cultural life in the process.

In the view of York Chang, a figurative painter and multimedia installation artist who also happens to be a commissioner of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission, changes in the art world social milieu may reflect a larger cultural shift.

“You’re seeing more and more people tapping intersections between art and our civic culture,” he said. “It’s great for the city. And all the partying is great for art. It plays an important function. At the heart of great art is great social energy.”

The November party “Baby’s All Grown Up” served as a meta-narrative deconstruction of what an art opening is and isn’t supposed to be, featuring the work of seven emergent local artists and the intrusive presence of surveillance cameras. Another event last month, pARTy 2006, distinguished itself from previous arts institution membership galas with a fresh infusion of Hollywood glamour: by commingling the glitterati (and many of their agents) with the city’s culturati. “Free Money,” a free weekly event at the Mandrake Bar in Culver City, manages to unite disparate Angeleno tribes — galleristas, fashion victims, starving artists and the skinny jeans set — by throwing casually outlandish theme parties. And earlier this month, the KCRW-sponsored fifth anniversary party for arts collective Create:Fixate, a bimonthly multimedia event, featured a cross-section of emerging lowbrow and fine artists, electronic musicians and purveyors of bohemian clothing and accessories, not to mention a troupe of dancing Santas.

“People communicate here through parties,” said Bettina Korek, an influential contemporary-art marketing consultant. “But a lot of people are getting sick of just going out for the sake of going out. They’re looking for an enriching experience. That leads them to want to make art a part of their lifestyles.”

In a spoofing mood

At Marvimon House, a cavernous former car showroom turned chic event space located in the shadow of Chavez Ravine, guests entering “Baby’s All Grown Up” were confronted first by a paparazzi-style photographer snapping pictures of everyone who entered the event, then by a boom-mounted digital video camera inside that swooped through the crowd in an effort to record the action — but also to “challenge the conventional definition of an art exhibition,” according to curator/co-organizer Veronica Fernandez, a freelance curator and art advisor.

“It’s a celebration of art but at the same time, it’s poking fun at the entire thing,” said Fernandez, who marked her 28th birthday that night. “It’s cynical.”

Art world grandees, a smattering of art school students and some big-ticket collectors — 150 people in all, most of whom paid $99 to attend — supped on a roundelay of gourmet hors d’oeuvres created from recipes by famous artists (post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne’s seared albacore crudo with citrus marinated jicama salad was one of the highlights, as was the fifth course: meatloaf sandwich à la Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell). Music came courtesy of the alt-country band Pillbilly Nights and DJ Eddie Ruscha (whose namesake father, Ed, is a certified pop art superstar).

Many attendees seemed visibly out of their depth so far east of the 405. But it helped that they could sip a different designer cocktail with every course amid sculptural floral arrangements by artist Holly Vesecky and installation art by rising stars such as Tim Doyle, Franco Mondini-Ruiz and Chuck Moffitt.

The idea was to have everyone interact with, eat, sniff and drink in the art rather than regard it from a detached emotional distance. “It’s a crazy environment,” said Cathy Akers, whose sexy-naif nature diorama sculpture, “Natural Selection 2,” was on display. “You’re part of the performance even if people are supposed to be looking at your work.”

A guest who identified himself as Johnny Radio added: “Everyone here is artsy and beautiful and — how can I put it? — hungry. There’s a high possibility of an orgy.”

Coming together

Sponsored by the New Yorker magazine and held at Gemini G.E.L., a venerable artist workshop and publisher of limited edition prints and sculptures, pARTy 2006 was nominally intended as a membership drive for young supporters of local cultural institutions: L.A. Opera’s ARIA group, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s President’s Circle Avant-Garde membership group, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s MOCA Contemporaries, the Los Angeles Music Center’s Proscenium Club and WOW, a nonprofit initiative of the Art Production Fund.

In application, however, the party was a perfect storm of cultural bigwigs and Creative Artists Agency suits, movie producers, socialites and demi-celebrities, artists and those wishing to bask in their reflected limelight at a time when nine-figure contemporary art sales (such as David Geffen’s recent $140-million “de-acquisition” of a Jackson Pollock painting) have become the new normal.

Veteran club promoter-turned-DJ Brent Bolthouse spun Lou Reed and Creedence Clearwater Revival records just yards from a print workshop crammed with big-ticket works on paper by John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra. Model-actress-celebutante Devon Aoki rubbed elbows with the likes of MOCA chief curator Paul Schimmel and Rosette Delug, a board member for the Armand Hammer Museum. And a disparate group of boldfaced names, including actress Jordana Brewster, LAXART director-curator Lauri Firstenberg, celebrity interviewer Steven “Cojo” Cojocaru and model-turned-gallery owner Honor Fraser, could be spotted among the 500-strong throng of Angeleno jeunesse d’orée.

The seemingly effortless — yet far-reaching — social networking efforts of Bettina Korek, who organized the event, weren’t lost on guest Erin Wright, a board liaison for LACMA.

“What she’s done that’s so interesting is to get together Hollywood with people who read and people who think,” Wright said. “It’s the arts and music in town coming together — a great amalgamation of interests.”

Andrew Berardini, who contributes to Artforum’s Scene & Herd column (, assessed the scene more bluntly. “This event is the art world trying to crash into the entertainment world — or vice versa,” he said. Operatic tenor David Lomeli began to serenade the crowd with a rendition of “No Puede Ser.”

“Look around you,” Berardini said, gesturing at the well-dressed crowd throwing back complimentary Don Julio Tequila margaritas and Reyka Vodka pomegranate martinis. “It’s working!” Indeed, that night nearly three dozen new members signed on to the various patrons groups, in some cases at $1,000 a pop.

See art and be seen

Even further down the economic food chain, the crashing of worlds can be heard. The arts collective Create:Fixate may have begun life as a downtown loft venue showcasing emerging artists. But five years in, the bimonthly extravaganza — which is “freaky, like in a Burning Man kind of way,” in the words of one repeat attendee — draws a crowd intent on seeing art but also on being seen while seeing art. Pajama parties, people on stilts, hot tubs and drag queens have historically been part of the equation.

No exception was its “Alive in Los Angeles” event earlier this month that commemorated Create:Fixate’s wood anniversary. Sponsored by KCRW and the Onion, the event had more than 30 visual artists participate, including experimental sculptors, photographers, fashion designers, video artists and painters.

And unlike most pinkie-in-the-air, Chardonnay-in-the-gut arts soirees, this one had a family-friendly component: the so-called “Creativity Kids Zone,” where the “Hannah Montana” demographic could finger-paint while their parents, ahem, created and fixated.

The Audio Lab involved live bands, spoken-word performers and nearly half a dozen DJs, including John Tejada, Der Kontraktor, Slang Min and Drifter.

On the edge of now

Along with the Mountain Bar in Chinatown, Culver City’s Mandrake has become L.A.’s ranking art bar — a drinking hole situated on the La Cienega gallery corridor that’s run by and for artists. The former gay leather joint regularly exhibits new work and hosts art talks in its cavernous back room.

But every Wednesday since September, the Mandrake has also been home to “Free Money,” a casual, guest-list-free event that pulls in those on the cutting edge of now (fashion plate-actress Chloë Sevigny, for one) with “conceptual” iPod DJ-ing and outlandish themes — “proto rave,” “John Peel night” after the venerable English indie rock DJ, and “the Kate Moss make-out party,” intended as a woozy, sexy supermodel homage, rank among “Free Money’s” more memorable nights.

According to Ezra Woods, one of the event’s three “hosts” (part of a collective called Indole that resists being pigeonholed as party promoters), “Free Money’s” unique chemistry is indivisible from its gallery-centric location. “The arty crowd here is definitely a selling point,” he said. “The art world is definitely fabulous. And the gallery crowd attracts other creative people: writers, fashion designers, dancers, some actors.”

Last week was “singles night” at “Free Money.” And although no one would quite cop to being on the make — no Binaca blasts or Drakkar Noir here — an unmistakable Echo Park hipster contingent made its way to the Westside for the event. As did a clutch of local cultural shot-callers: among them, MOCA’s assistant director of board affairs Ari Wiseman; Eugenie Joo, director of the gallery at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater; cultural commissioner York Chang and Andrea Feldman Falcione, curator of ’80s power agent Mike Ovitz’s powerhouse modern art collection.

As the night wore on, women with $2,000 purses mingled with scruffy artists whose street-savvy fashion style tended toward a look that can be described only as “post-grooming.” People danced to the Brit-pop of Pulp and Morrissey beneath the “no dancing” sign in the back room, Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” flickered from a projector against a wall.

“The mix of people is really interesting,” said Tiffany Tuttle, designer for the footwear line LD Tuttle. “It’s cool but not too cool for school.”

Which, when it comes down to it, seems to be the way L.A. likes to put the “art” in party.

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